The Big Picture
The Clippers kicked off the unofficial second half of the season with about as unfriendly a back-to-back as you can have. One night after coming up short against the Warriors in Oakland, the Clippers had to fly back to Los Angeles to take on a well-rested Spurs team that had just been hanging out in L.A. for about a week. They put up a fight, but ultimately came up short.
On the bright side, Chris Paul is back. CP3 returned on Friday from his thumb injury and promptly contributed 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals in 33 minutes of work. He looked expectedly rusty, connecting on just six of his 14 tries from the floor, but things are just more comfortable now that he’s back out there.
So, for the first time in what feels like ages, the Clippers are at full strength. Even Brice Johnson is healthy enough to play for the first time all year. And now is the time for the Clips to start making some serious headway in the west. They’ve fallen to 5.5 back of Houston for the No. 3 seed in the conference, though Utah is just a game ahead of LAC for the final home court spot.
There are still two head-to-head meetings between the Rockets and Clippers before the season ends, and L.A.’s March schedule features plenty of winnable games. With three of the next four coming against the Hornets, Bucks and Bulls (with the Rockets in between), now would be a fine time to start stringing some Ws together.
The Hornets have been doing the exact opposite of stringing some Ws together for quite some time now. Charlotte has won just six of their last 25 games, and they’re 2-12 in their last 14 contests overall. It’s been quite the bizarre downturn for a team that looked like one of the better outfits in the Eastern Conference through the first couple months of the year.
Tonight’s game will be Charlotte’s fourth on a seven-game western road swing. They’ve plummeted down to 11th in the east, though they’re still only three games back of a playoff spot.
There is some legitimate talent here, though injuries have stretched Steve Clifford’s rotations quite thin in recent weeks. Cody Zeller is nursing a bad quad and Miles Plumlee has a calf issue, which means Frank Kaminsky has been forced to masquerade as a starting center for the last several games.
They depend heavily on All-Star Kemba Walker to spark the offense. He’s been stellar for the majority of the season, but he can only do so much for so long. Through nine games to this point in February, Walker is shooting under 40 percent from the field and about 34 percent from three-point range.
Speaking of bad shooting, Nicolas Batum has been mired in a shooting slump that has essentially spanned the entire length of the season to this point. Charlotte splurged $120 million to bring the jack-of-all-trades Frenchman back as a free agent last summer, and he has promptly rewarded them by shooting about 40 percent from the floor all year long.
When your two best offensive players have been as prone to shooting slumps as the Hornets’ have been of late, you’re bound to go through some serious dry spells.
While the offense has been shoddy, the defense also hasn’t been as strong as it was last season. Steve Clifford has a reputation as one of the smartest defensive minds in the league, but his team been getting killed by the three-ball this season. The Hornets allow opponents to make an average of 11.3 triples per game, which is the worst mark in the league. Opponents take over 31 threes a night against Charlotte, which is also the most by a fairly wide margin.
Matchup to Watch
Chris Paul v. Kemba Walker
CP3 missed the first meeting between these clubs a couple of weeks ago in Charlotte, but he has a way of getting up to square-off against other top point guards. Paul grades out as the best defensive PG in the league (by DRPM), and you can bet he’ll make it his mission in this game to keep Walker’s shooting slump going.
Paul has done an excellent job of keeping Walker in check in years past. In eight career head-to-head matchups, Kemba is averaging just under 17 points per game on just 36.8 percent shooting from the floor and 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
On the flip side, CP3 has enjoyed a good bit of success at Kemba’s expense. Paul has posted career averages of 18.5 points, 11.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals on 48 percent shooting from the floor and 41 percent shooting from deep in the eight previous meetings with Walker.
The Fancy Table
Game Day Song of Choice
We usually go with a regional theme with the GDSoC but North Carolina doesn’t really offer us a whole lot by way of appealing options. So, I’ll just post whatever I want here instead.
This is a good song:
And so’s this:
The Clips and Hornets will get things going from Staples at 6:30pm PT. You can catch the game locally on Prime Ticket and nationally on NBATV.