Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM Pacific Time
How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Projected Starting Lineups:
Magic: D.J. Augustin, Jonathan Simmons, Mario Hezonja, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic
Clippers: Lou Williams, Austin Rivers, Sindarius Thornwell, Tobias Harris, DeAndre Jordan
Magic: Aaron Gordon Out (Concussion), Terrence Ross Out (Knee Surgery), Evan Fournier Out (MCL Sprain)
Clippers: Danilo Gallinari Out (Fractured Hand), Avery Bradley Out (Sports Hernia), Patrick Beverley Out (Knee Surgery)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers continue to win games and slowly inch ahead in the standings. While they still sit in a virtual tie for 8th place with the Nuggets and Jazz, they have worked their way to within 1.5 games of the 5th seed, which is also knotted up between three teams. Since the Spurs and Thunder face each other tonight, a Clippers’ win would get them to within a half game of the 7th seed (and also keep them ahead of the teams below them). Their schedule starts to get incredibly difficult next week, and they need to win all the easy games that they can. Even though the Clips played last night, the Magic did as well, and they had to travel as well (admittedly, just from Sacramento). This is a game the Clippers must win—they won’t be able to win all their games against playoff teams, so they need to pad their total against lottery teams.
The Magic are awful. They are tied for the 3rd worst record in the NBA, and have actually been much worse than that most of the season. Since starting the season 8-4, they have gone an incredible 12-42, which is a winning percentage of 0.222, and which would easily be the lowest in the NBA this season. They have suffered through some injuries- starting guard/6th man Terrence Ross has missed most of the season, and Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic have missed around 20 games apiece- but would be a lottery team even with a healthy roster. They simply lack talented players, and the talent they do have doesn’t seem to fit together well at all. Even when the Magic have drafted well, or made smart acquisitions, they’ve let those players slip away from them, and hung onto others who are worse players. With Ross, Fournier, and Aaron Gordon out, the Magic are missing three key players, and they’ve only won two of their past 10 games. This is a team that has been looking forward to the end of the season for weeks already, if not months.
- Starting Lineup Change: Clippers’ fans (and our own Clips Nation writers) have been asking for a starting lineup change for several games now, and last night Doc Rivers made his move. He swapped out Milos Teodosic at point guard for Lou Williams, and Wes Johnson at small forward for Sindarius Thornwell. This paid immediate dividends. The offense looked more crisp and dangerous with Lou running it, while the defense appeared energized by the addition of Sindarius. Right now, they are simply better than Milos and Wes, and while there is merit to have a strong bench, starting out each game with a deficit puts a lot of pressure on the bench to make the difference up. This lineup switch might not be permanent, but I’d expect it to last for a few games at least.
- Taking the Magic Seriously: The Magic are a very bad team, but the Clippers can’t approach this game with a laissez faire attitude. Every NBA team is dangerous, and the Magic players aren’t trying to lose on purpose—they can absolutely beat the Clippers if the Clips come out flat and don’t try hard enough. The Clippers have mostly been terrific this season at keeping a high energy and activity level, but showed some slippage earlier in the week against the Nets. As long as the Clippers put effort into their game tonight, especially on defense, they should be able to pull out the win.
- Return of Jawun Evans: Jawun Evans played last night after missing 18 games with a groin injury, and while he didn’t score (or even attempt a shot), he looked to be moving well on the court. It was nice to see him full-court pressuring opposing ball-handlers again, and there are certainly going to be games where his energy and spirit will come in handy in the coming weeks.
- Injury Watch: Doc Rivers said yesterday that Avery Bradley is “not close at all to a return”. With only 18 games left in the season, it seems likelier than ever that we have seen the last of Avery this year. Danilo Gallinari, on the other hand, is progressing well per Doc, and there’s a chance (unlikely, to be fair) that he meets his earliest return date on March 16. That would mean only missing three more games, and returning in time for the Clippers’ big road trip, which would be very nice.
Check out the Orlando Pinstriped Post for the Magic’s perspective.