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Cavaliers-Clippers Preview: Déjà Vu?

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The reeling Clippers could really use a win. Will Cleveland play nice on national TV?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: The Cavs really are playing nice (although fans attending the game might disagree).


When the Clippers beat LeBron on the road for the first time ever in December, it seemed like another sign that they were finally casting off their old demons. Instead, those demons turned out to be Hydras, resurfacing twice as numerous and thrice as fatal (potentially). It wasn’t just a win in Cleveland, it was an authoritative trouncing that for a moment quelled the #SameOlClippers talk brewing after a three-game losing streak.

Wait, how long did you say the Clippers’ current losing streak is? Three games? Huh... Who wrote the preview for the last Cavs game? Hmm...

The Big Picture

Here’s what I said in this space last time:

Let’s start with the glass half-full approach: the Clippers’ 14-5 start to the season still ties with the ‘06 and ‘15 teams for the best record in franchise history through 19 games since moving to Los Angeles. They’re still a great team, and I have little reason to doubt that the full course of the season won’t bear that out.

WELP. This take didn’t age well at all.

There hasn’t been much light of any kind in La La Land recently, just gloominess and despair as the Clippers slip deeper into a seemingly inescapable funk. When they went through a similar stretch last March, they snapped out of it suddenly after J.J. Redick hit a game winner against Portland and the team announced Blake Griffin was medically cleared before their next game. There may have been other factors in play, but I really think they need an emotional jolt to get them going again. A comeback win in crunch time against a contender-level team would be huge for their psyche.

This game also marks the end of the toughest remaining stretch of the schedule. The Clippers haven’t played back-to-back games in the same city this month. They finally get to stay home for a few days, as they play the Knicks on Monday and at the Lakers on Tuesday.

The Antagonist

While they weren’t hit as hard as the Clippers were on the injury front, Cleveland is only just now getting healthy after losing several starters for extended periods of time. Kevin Love made his return in Thursday’s win over Utah, exactly a week after J.R. Smith’s long-awaited comeback from thumb injury. Both should be good to go tonight.

The Cavs have seemingly perfected the art of coasting through the regular season before turning the boosters on in the playoffs, something the Clippers wish they could do as effortlessly as Cleveland does (to be fair, being in the East helps. So does having LeBron). Both teams have struggled on the defensive end this year, but those issues have become even more pronounced since the All-Star Break. Cleveland’s 26th since mid-February; the Clippers are 29th, giving up a scorching 112.4 points per possession (just a decimal point ahead of the last-place Lakers).

Although LeBron is no longer undefeated against the Clippers at home, the Cavaliers are still 3-1 at Staples during the CP3 era (second only to the Pacers, one of only four teams with a .500+ record in that time span).

Minor Keys

  • The Cavaliers have made at least nine threes a game for the past 20 games, including games with 19 and a regular-season-record-25 from this month alone (the latter ties their own playoff record from last year... both coming against the Hawks, who seem to be the Clippers to the their Warriors).
  • The Clippers have given up several cubic boatloads of open three-pointers over the past few weeks so this game will be a huge clash of styles, except whatever you call the total opposite.
  • Will Doc stagger? Early foul trouble for CP3 in the December game probably ended up being a huge blessing in disguise, as it forced him to fully stagger Blake and CP3’s minutes in the first half of that game. He’s feinted at re-committing to staggering at times over the last 5-10 games, but never to the point where we don’t see full bench minutes. Oddly enough, he’s been more willing to stagger DeAndre Jordan’s minutes than either of his superstars.
  • Connections, plagiarized shamelessly from the last rodeo:

Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue followed Doc Rivers from Boston to L.A. and became one of the most respected assistants in the business. Although he lost out on the Cavs’ head coaching gig to David Blatt in summer 2014, Cleveland brought him on board anyway by naming him assistant head coach and giving him the richest contract for an assistant in NBA history. It ended up working out for Lue, whose success is well-deserved. In an interesting twist, Blatt’s final game as head coach was actually against Doc and the Clippers; he got the ax the next day and Doc’s protégé took the reins.

Connections: Raymond Felton played part of a season in Denver with J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen. He later reunited with Smith and played with Iman Shumpert on the Knicks under Coach Mike Woodson for two seasons, beating Paul Pierce’s and Doc Rivers’ Celtics in the first round in 2013… Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Kevin Love were college teammates at UCLA, then played together for part of one season in Minnesota. Love also played with Wesley Johnson for two seasons on the TimberwolvesChris Paul and LeBron James were once photographed riding a banana boat together.

Of course, since then Cleveland dumped Birdman and added a lot of bench help. CP3, Deron Williams, and Raymond Felton went 3-4-5 in the 2005 draft. Felton and Williams actually share the same birthdate (June 26, 1984). Even crazier, J.J. Barea was born on the same day; all three were on the Mavs together last year.

Prediction

Clippers 112, Cavaliers 98. Why not? Club O, now and forever.