Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 12:30 PM Pacific Time
How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Projected Starting Lineups:
Pacers: Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
Clippers: Austin Rivers, Tyrone Wallace, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, DeAndre Jordan
Pacers: Trevor Booker Questionable (Sprained Ankle)
Clippers: Patrick Beverley Out (Knee Surgery), Avery Bradley Out (Abdominal Surgery), Milos Teodosic Out (Plantar Fasciitis), Jawun Evans Out (Sports Hernia)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are two games back of a playoff spot. That doesn’t sound like much, but with just five or six games to go for most teams, two is a lot. As Lucas detailed here, the Clippers need to go at least 5-1 in their final six contests to have a good chance at making the playoffs, which is a tall order. If their offense in any of these upcoming games is as bad as it was against Portland on Friday, the Clippers are probably going to lose—they aren’t winning any games on their defense at this point in the season. Four of their games are against teams they are competing with for those final two playoff spots, and each of those is an absolute must-win. But at this stage, really, every game is close to a must-win.
The Pacers have been really good this season. So good, in fact, that they have an outside chance at finishing in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers are one of those playoff teams that are puzzling, because it’s difficult to explain why they have won so many games. They only have one star (Victor Oladipo), who is awesome but not quite a superstar. Their young rising big man Myles Turner has made some strides this season, yet hasn’t approached the breakout that many people were expecting. Hell, their other three starters probably wouldn’t even be thought of as “quality starting players” compared to competition league-wide. The Pacers have won mostly through sheer competency of play, a somewhat deep bench, and very strong health. They keep games close enough for Oladipo to win them in crunch time, and it’s a tactic that has worked all season long.
- Gallo Back: Danilo Gallinari finally returned from his broken hand against the Blazers, scoring 11 points on 3-6 shooting in 25 minutes played. He shot the ball well enough, and certainly was an upgrade over Wes Johnson in the starting lineup, but failed to make much of an impact on the game. On a night when many of the Clippers were struggling with their shots, a big game from Gallinari could have really helped them. It’s hard to blame Gallo in his first game back, yet the Clippers paid him big bucks this summer for exactly these kinds of games, and they need him to come through in a bigger way in the days to come.
- Revenge: The Clippers played the Pacers for the first time this season just nine days ago, losing a close game 109-104. They were torched repeatedly by Bojan Bodanovic, who scored 28 points on 12-18 shooting and made shot after shot to stop various Clippers’ runs. The Clippers will have to do a much better job staying attached to him in transition and running off down screens; they can’t let him get going. They were without Gallinari in that game, as well as Tyrone Wallace and CJ Williams, so hopefully the reinforcements (as well as playing at home) will help propel the Clippers to a victory in this opportunity for payback.
- Austin Rivers Bounceback: Austin had one of his worst games in over three years in a Clipper uniform on Friday, scoring just three points on 1-8 shooting from the field (0-2 from three) and 1-3 from the free throw line. To top it all off, he barely contributed anything else to the effort, coming up completely blank. He wasn’t much better against the Pacers last week, scoring 10 points on 3-12 shooting, although he did have eight assists in that one. Even with Gallo and Ty back, the Clippers desperately need more production from Austin. He’s been quite solid for most of the season and has evolved into a real NBA starter. If the Clippers are to win five or six games in the next two weeks, they are going to need him to play at that level, if not better.
- Keeping Turnovers Down: While the Clippers’ offense was dormant against the Blazers, the one thing they did correctly was cut down on their turnovers. They had merely 10 in that game after weeks of seemingly giving the ball away at least 15 times a night, sometimes 20. Turnovers help expose the Clippers’ poor transition defense, which is the area where the Pacers feasted last game. The Pacers, like most teams, are far less effective in the halfcourt, so keeping turnovers at a reasonable level is a huge key to victory.