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Game Preview: Clippers Open Road Trip Against Bulls

The LA Clippers, embarking on a three-game road trip, face the Chicago Bulls.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

When: 5:00pm PST

Where: United Center, Chicago, IL

How to Watch: Fox Prime Ticket

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: (G) Lou Williams, (G) Austin Rivers, (F) Sindarius Thornwell, (F) Tobias Harris, (C) DeAndre Jordan

Bulls: (G) Kris Dunn, (G) Zach LaVine, (F) David Nwaba, (F) Lauri Markkanen, (C) Robin Lopez


Clippers: Danilo Gallinari (hand), Avery Bradley (groin), Patrick Beverley (knee)

Bulls: Paul Zipser (foot)

The Big Picture

The LA Clippers have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games, are currently sporting the 7th-best offense in the NBA, and are now 7th place in the Western Conference standings. While it should be noted that the difference between 3rd and 10th place in the West is a mere 4 games, it must also be noted that the Clippers have utilized 31 different starting lineups this season and have never been at full health. What Doc Rivers and this Clippers team have done, especially in stellar wins against teams like the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors, Rockets, and Warriors, has been nothing short of remarkable. But with very real playoff hopes still alive, and a very tough schedule ahead, there’s no time to reminisce about moral victories.

With just 17 games remaining in their regular season, the Clippers have 10 on the road as well as 3 pairs of back-to-backs. And 14 of their remaining matchups come against teams with winning records. Any single slip-up going forward could mean the difference between opening the postseason against a favorable opponent and heading for the lottery. While the team recently welcomed the return of Jawun Evans, Avery Bradley has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, and Danilo Gallinari doesn’t appear ready for a return any time soon. Sam Dekker has seemingly fallen out of the rotation, Wesley Johnson has seen a decline in minutes, and the statuses of impactful two-way players C.J. Williams and Tyrone Wallace are up in the air, at least for now. The current active rotation has found ways to score and defend down the stretch in games, even in spite of some pretty subpar outside shooting. They will need to find ways to remain focused and engaged for entire games defensively, even against lesser opponents; tonight will be no exception.

The Antagonist

The Chicago Bulls, as many had predicted entering the season, haven’t been great. Trading away star Jimmy Butler, in exchange for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, kicked things off during the summer. They would also end up buying-out Dwayne Wade, in addition to moving Nikola Mirotic prior to the trade deadline. What remains is a young group that has dealt with a variety of injuries, as well as some bizarre on-and-off-court chemistry issues. Lottery-bound, with a 23-43 record, they aren’t favored by many NBA metrics. And they aren’t poised to be competitive any time soon. That said, there’s some upside: the Bulls own their own first-round pick in each of the next seven drafts, including a first-rounder from the Pelicans. They also have some developing talent to look forward to.

The Bulls have Lauri Markkanen, a 20 year-old 7-footer from Finland (via Arizona) who has shown offensive versatility and all-around upside; he’s averaging 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds (team-leading) per game, shooting 42.6% from the field, 34.5% from deep (on 6 attempts per game), and 86.5% from the line. They also have Dunn, arguably the centerpiece of the Butler deal (for the Bulls, anyway), who has been quite impactful. Only 23 years old, and drafted 5th overall in 2016, Dunn is averaging 13.5 points, 6.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game, shooting 42.6% from the field, 33.3% from deep, and 72.2% from the line. Bobby Portis, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, and the uber-athletic LaVine round out the core of the rotation the Bulls will continue to roll out for some time.

The Bulls are coming off a road victory against the Hawks, where they posted 129 points. They have no single go-to scoring threat, but that is precisely what could make them dangerous on any given night. The Bulls have 6 players averaging double-figures in scoring, 7 if you round up Valentine’s 9.8 per game. Despite the overall level of youth and NBA inexperience, the Bulls cannot be slept on regardless of their record.

Ball Movement

The Bulls currently rank 10th in the NBA in assists per game, averaging 23.5; they also rank 8th in the league in assist percentage, with 60.4% of their made field goals coming as a result of an assist. By contrast, the Clippers rank just 20th in the NBA in assists per game, averaging 22.4; they also rank just 22nd in the league in assist percentage, at 55.8%. And in their last five games, they are averaging an assist percentage of just 53%.

It is important that the Clippers trust one another enough to move the ball more often, especially in the first three quarters. More important, however, is the emphasis the Clippers will need to place on disrupting passing lanes for the Bulls. The Bulls, as illustrated by their scoring distribution and assist numbers, opt to score by committee. If the Clippers can pressure ball-handlers from the jump, they have an opportunity to eliminate a glaring advantage for the Bulls.

Scoring in the Paint (and at the Line)

The Clippers rank 3rd in the NBA in points in the paint, averaging 50.9 per game. By contrast, the Bulls rank 26th, averaging 41.4 paint points per game. Further-reinforcing the inside threat the Clippers pose, they rank 2nd in the league in personal fouls drawn per game (22.3) and 3rd in free throw attempts per game (25.5). Once again, in stark contrast, the Bulls rank dead-last in the NBA in personal fouls drawn per game (17.5), and 28th in free throw attempts per game (19.3).

Combine the previous figures with the fact that the Bulls rank last in blocks per game (3.7), and it becomes clear that the Clippers must capitalize upon transition offense, scoring downhill whenever possible. That the Bulls score most of their points away from the paint, while attempting the 7th-most threes per game (30.7) in the NBA, leaves them more vulnerable to long misses (long rebounds); this allows the Clippers optimal opportunities to push the ball up the floor before Chicago’s defense can get set. The Clippers will have to be very aggressive in transition.

Final Thoughts

Tonight’s matchup has trap-game potential, and it is definitely not one the Clippers can afford to lose. The Clippers face one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, in a conference where the 3rd and 10th place teams are separated by a mere handful of games. Every game from now until the end of the regular season may have postseason implications, so the Clippers must take advantage of every opportunity they have, even without a fully-healthy roster.