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Game Preview: Still Eyeing Playoffs, Clippers Face Nets in Brooklyn

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The LA Clippers, coming off of a tough loss in Philadelphia, look to bounce back against the Brooklyn Nets.

LA Clippers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Information

When: 4:30pm PST

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

How to Watch/Listen: Fox Prime Ticket (LA), AM 570 (LA), YES Network (NY), WFAN (NY)

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: (G) Avery Bradley, (G) Austin Rivers, (F) Tobias Harris, (F) Danilo Gallinari, (C) DeAndre Jordan

Nets: (G) Spencer Dinwiddie, (G) Allen Crabbe, (F) DeMarre Carroll, (F) Quincy Acy, (C) Jarrett Allen

Injuries

Clippers: Jawun Evans (abdomen), C.J. Williams (ankle), Patrick Beverley (knee)

Nets: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin), Caris LeVert (knee), Jeremy Lin (knee)

The Big Picture

Despite being 9th place in the Western Conference standings, the LA Clippers are just half a game out of 8th place and only 2.5 games out of 5th place. The 6th through 9th seeds are all tied in the loss column (26), meaning a team could rise or drop multiple spots in a matter of hours. All the same, the Utah Jazz are just a game behind the Clippers, thanks to their current 9-game win streak. While tonight’s game alone won’t drastically affect the overall standings, the mere 3.5 game difference between the 5th and 10th place teams in the West helps to illustrate just how much every game counts.

A multitude of injuries, a blockbuster trade, and an ever-strengthening conference should have left the Clippers in lottery certainty a while ago. There have been 18 different starters for this group, including 6 rookies. The ability for this team to adapt and evolve has been pretty spectacular, thanks in large part to head coach Doc Rivers. The Clippers will need to continue to adjust and improve, especially following their tough 112-98 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Antagonist

The Brooklyn Nets are a young and developing team but, despite their 19-38 record, are never an easy matchup. Most of what's been discussed about the Clippers’ overachieving season can be applied to the Nets, except in much greater magnitude. Their team features more youth, fewer draft prospects (now and for the next couple of years), and zero star power at the moment. Sure, the Nets haven’t lost nearly the same win-share totals that the Clippers have this season due to injury, but losing Jeremy Lin for nearly the entire season and missing D’Angelo Russell for most of it have been major blows. The Eastern Conference has also been much more competitive than expected. Making the playoffs are a longshot for a group with 38 losses and only 25 games remaining, but there is no incentive for this group to do anything but win.

The combination of GM Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson, a player development specialist, gives Nets fans plenty of reason for hope. Atkinson shouldn’t be judged by the team’s record but, rather, for their ability to push tough teams to the edge on a nightly basis (as evidenced by their recent double-overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans). The Nets are consistently outmatched in talent, and still, they play every game like it’s their last.

The rapid development of Spencer Dinwiddie has been fun to watch, and seeing Allen Crabbe finally begin to play to his potential on a more consistent basis has been a relief. D’Angelo Russell will still need some more time to return to form, as will Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson when they likely return later this week. The emergence of rookie Jarrett Allen may also makes things tough for the Clippers in the paint.

The Nets are 6th in the NBA in Pace and 9th in Assist Percentage, so expect them to play motion-heavy, uptempo basketball all night long. They may not have enough to win tonight’s matchup, but they should at least force the Clippers to utilize their depth just to keep up.

The New Guys

The Clippers have gone 5-5 in their last 10 outings, and would certainly like to see that figure flip in their favor. While trading away Blake Griffin didn’t do much to help their odds, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley have acclimated themselves fairly well (yes, Boban has been a great presence, too). The Clippers are 3-1 with their new-look lineup, and it’s been about more than the numbers.

Harris can play and defend either forward position, while Bradley can play and defend either guard position. They are also both capable of playing in uptempo, transition-focused sets as well as slowed-down, grind-it-out half-court sets. Their versatility makes things easier for everyone on the Clippers, and tougher for everyone else.

Bradley has been clunky, at times, on offense. While the Clippers would certainly prefer to see him take open threes or slash to the basket rather than jacking-up contested the mid-range jumpers he’s become so comfortable taking, Bradley will need some more time to jell with this group. Despite the mediocre assist numbers for the season, the Clippers have become more of a motion-based offense, especially more than we’ve seen from them in recent years; Bradley thrived in this type of offense in Boston just a year ago under Brad Stevens, so he may become a bit more fluid in the coming weeks. And what he lacks in offensive decision-making, he more-than makes up for in defensive ability. Defense is his calling card, and not a bit has wavered as a Clipper. In the games he’s played so far, he has been deft in switches, active in passing lanes, and has smothered in isolation. The Clippers have incrementally evolved this season into a defensive-minded group; it has been something that has either kept them in, or won them, games they probably shouldn’t have otherwise. Bradley will help fortify this mentality going forward.

Harris has been a surprisingly natural fit. Right out of the gate, Harris looked like he belonged with this group. In his first game with the Clippers, he displayed his full offensive arsenal. While he’s not the passer Griffin was, he does just about everything else at a pace or level that better-fits this team. With Harris, the ball never sticks; he’s a quick decision-maker, and it pays dividends because it keeps defenses guessing. He can shoot off the dribble or off a catch, from just about anywhere on the floor. He can drive, post up, or face up, leaving most defenders at a disadvantage. At just 25 years-old with an expanding repertoire, there's no telling just how good Harris can be. In the meantime, his repertoire can help a Clippers team really needing a win before heading up to Boston.