Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Projected Starting Lineups:
Raptors: Kyle Lowry – Danny Green – Kawhi Leonard – Pascal Siakam – Serge Ibaka
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Avery Bradley – Tobias Harris – Danilo Gallinari – Marcin Gortat
Raptors: Norman Powell Out (shoulder)
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee), Jerome Robinson Out (ankle), Lou Williams Questionable (hamstring)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers narrowly avoided their first three game losing streak of the season last night with a 123-119 win over the tanking Phoenix Suns. After trading baskets with the Suns for much of the game, and then trailing by as many as 9 points late in the 4th, the Clippers were able to pull through with a small-ball lineup in overtime. Still, while a win is a win, sneaking by the Suns (without Devin Booker, and lacking TJ Warren for half the game) is not a particularly encouraging sign for the suddenly slumping Clips. Their defense remains a mess (though that small-ball lineup did lock in for around eight minutes), the offense far too stagnant, and the effort variable. Against teams that aren’t the Phoenix Suns, that won’t be enough.
The Raptors, interestingly, are also in a bit of a rut, having lost three of their last four games after starting the season 20-4. Kyle Lowry in particular is off his game, as he’s averaging just 3.7 points per game over the last four contests, and is shooting 3/25 from three in that stretch. I fully expect him to score over 20 points tomorrow because of that. Anyway, the Raptors are deep, with a bench that can legitimately compete with the Clippers’, and also have a superstar in Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi is actually averaging career highs in points and rebounds this season, and while his defense isn’t quite where it was a few years ago, he remains one of the best players in the NBA, capable of taking over games at both ends. Outside of Leonard and Lowry, keep a close eye on Pascal Siakam, who has been incredibly dangerous this season, and is Montrezl Harrell’s rival for most improved player.
- What to do at center: The Clippers have struggled with rebounding in recent games, and a lot of that has had to do with their issues in finding a center for long stretches of games. Montrezl Harrell has cooled off somewhat after a red-hot November, and his size and lack of instincts on defense have been taken increasing advantage of over the past handful games. Doc Rivers has started Boban Marjanovic the last two games after he had a good stint against the Grizzlies, but the big man hasn’t played all that well, and his presence seems to have upset the Clippers’ delicate chemistry on offense. While Marcin Gortat has his weaknesses, he seems to fit in well with the Clippers’ starters, and I’d expect to see him out there tomorrow night. However, Doc has gone to lineups with Gallinari at center against the Suns and Heat, to mostly good results, and Gallo should be able to guard Serge Ibaka on the perimeter. If all else fails, look for the Clips to go small.
- Beverley and Bradley continue to misfire: Avery Bradley and Pat Beverley have been disappointing this season. Their oft-hyped defense, while solid, hasn’t lived up to the “Clamp City” expectations, often failing against quicker or larger players. And both have been positively miserable on the offensive end, with many a clanked shot between them. Last night was no different: the two shot 5-15 from the field and 0-6 from three, though they did provide some redemption by each making a pair of free throws down the stretch. The Clippers have done well to start the season, but in order to keep their offense in gear, Bradley and Beverley need to start hitting their outside shots.
- Play Shai: After playing just 19 minutes against the Heat (partially due to foul trouble, and partially questionable rotations), Shai looked like he was on his way to another quiet night when he played just 11 minutes in the first half against the Suns. However, Lou Williams’ hamstring injury opened the door for Shai to get big minutes, and he responded in typical fashion, scoring 10 points in the 4th quarter and overtime on a series of tough midrange jumpers and layups. He ran the offense calmly, played solid, smart perimeter defense, and just generally helped keep the Clippers afloat. He’s probably the best guard on the team, at least with Lou slumping, and he needs to get minutes commensurate with his talents. Play the man.
- Kawhi Leonard, future Clipper?: This game probably won’t have much an impact on Kawhi Leonard’s decision this summer, but it is a chance for the Clippers to impress Kawhi, who they have been linked to since June. Leonard will be, along with Kevin Durant, one of the marquis free agents come July, and the Clippers would love to have his services. A win and a strong showing by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tobias Harris might leave an imprint on the stoic superstar. The Clippers have to hope so, anyway.
Check out the wonderful Raptors HQ for the Raptors’ perspective.