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Preview: Clippers Searching for a Win in Milwaukee

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After a rough loss in Minnesota last night, the Clippers have lost four games in a row, and desperately need a win to stem the tide.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

When: 5:00 PM PT

How to Watch: TNT, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

Clippers: Milos Teodosic, Austin Rivers, Sindarius Thornwell, Tobias Harris, DeAndre Jordan

Bucks: Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson

Injuries:

Clippers: Danilo Gallinari Out (Fractured Hand), Patrick Beverley Out (Knee Surgery), Avery Bradley Out (Abdominal Surgery)

Bucks: Malcolm Brogdon Out (Torn Quadriceps), Matthew Dellevadova Out (Sprained Ankle), Tyler Zeller Doubtful (Sore Ribs)

The Big Picture:

After winning five of their first six games in March, the Clippers have stumbled, losing their last four contests and falling to 10th in the West. More importantly, they are 2.5 games back of the 8th seeded Jazz with just 12 games to go. The Clippers aren’t even close to mathematically eliminated (theoretically they could still get as high as the 3rd seed), but the situation is increasingly grim. The problem isn’t even that the Clippers are losing games, it is how they are losing them. The Clippers (or at least some of their key players) appear completely burnt out. The boundless energy and active play that characterized their best play of the season has faded away, and while the Clippers continue to put forth effort and are clearly trying to win, their execution has slipped. Outside shooting in particular has fallen off, probably due to tired legs, and the Clippers simply can’t hang in against competitive teams down the stretch of games. If they don’t turn things around soon, they will be out of the playoff race sooner rather than later.

The Antagonist:

While the Clippers have spent the entire season desperately trying to piece together rotations and scrambling for wins, the Bucks were anointed as “the next team to fear” in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for them, progress has seemingly stalled on their rise up the conference mountain. Head coach Jason Kidd was fired in January, replaced by interim Joe Prunty, but the same problems that manifested under Kidd have persisted after the change. The Bucks defense is horrible despite an abundance of length and athleticism due to bad schemes and poor defensive instincts/training. Their offense often doesn’t seem to be running much of anything at all, instead devolving into isolation basketball with a non-spread floor. The Bucks will make the playoffs because of the sheer talent on their roster and the incompetence of the teams who could have threatened them, but it hasn’t been a pretty season.

Notes:

  • Containing Giannis: Giannis Antetokounmpo has flourished despite the chaos around him, putting together yet another stellar season leading the Bucks in almost every statistical category. After making huge leaps in each of his first four seasons, Giannis has only improved incrementally this season, though that still makes him one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. The Bucks start him at power forward, making Tobias Harris the likely candidate to guard him from the jump. However, the Clippers can’t afford to have Tobias in foul trouble again, and if he’s still feeling ill he will stand no chance against Giannis. The only other real options on Giannis are Wes Johnson, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell, and all of them might have their chance on the Greek Freak before the game is over. None of those choices are even close to good, and the best the Clippers can really hope to do is shut everyone else on the Bucks down and hope Giannis doesn’t score 50.
  • Sean Kilpatrick in Rotation: After a four game stretch with two DNP-CD’s and two with a miniscule amount of minutes in garbage time, Sean Kilpatrick reentered Doc Rivers’ rotation in a big way against the Timberwolves. He received over 20 minutes (some of those admittedly also coming in garbage time), replacing Jawun Evans as the Clippers’ 4th guard. Sean’s minutes were a mixed bag. On one hand, he scored 15 points on 10 shots, and drained several threes while everyone else on the Clippers was throwing up bricks. On the other hand, he frequently looked out of sync with the rest of the team on both ends. Most of his shots came outside the rhythm of the offense, and he was attacked mercilessly in the pick and roll by the Wolves. Turning to him for some buckets isn’t necessarily a bad idea by Doc, but at this point it just seems wiser to roll with Evans’ energy, defense, and passing. With only a few days left until the Clippers’ two-way players become available, it doesn’t make sense to waste minutes on a player who almost certainly be with the team in a week. At the same, Doc Rivers doesn’t have much to lose at this point, with the season slowly crumbling around him.
  • Energy: The Clippers just played a game yesterday and then had to travel to Milwaukee (albeit not a long flight) and are likely to be very tired for this contest. Doc pulled the plug on the Wolves’ game early yesterday to rest his starters, so at least only Austin Rivers and DeAndre Jordan played over 30 minutes. Still, at this point in the season, five minutes of extra rest probably won’t do all that much good. The Clippers will need to muster every last bit of energy they have to compete in this one tonight, and can’t get in a huge hole to start, as digging themselves out of a large deficit might be beyond them. Hopefully they can keep the Bucks within reach all night and capitalize on their mistakes to pull a win out.

Check out the awesome Bucks blog Brew Hoop for their perspective on the game.