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Game Preview: Clippers Face Jazz, Playoffs Still in Sight

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The LA Clippers head to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz, their postseason hopes hanging in the balance.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Game Information

When: 6:00pm PST

Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: (G) Tyrone Wallace, (G) Austin Rivers, (F) C.J. Williams, (F) Tobias Harris, (C) DeAndre Jordan

Jazz: (G) Ricky Rubio, (G) Donovan Mitchell, (F) Joe Ingles, (F) Derrick Favors, (C) Rudy Gobert

Injuries

Clippers: Danilo Gallinari (hand), Milos Teodosic (foot), Jawun Evans (groin), Avery Bradley (groin), Patrick Beverley (knee)

Jazz: Raul Neto (wrist)

The Big Picture

Including tonight’s matchup, the LA Clippers have just four games remaining in the regular season. Only four games left and, still, we’ve yet to find out whether or not the Clippers will even enter the Playoffs. The same can be said for every team in the Western Conference, seeds 4 through 10, because it’s just that close. The 10th place Clippers and the 4th place Utah Jazz are separated by just 3 games, a margin that will shift drastically either way based on the outcome of tonight’s matchup. It probably feels like we’ve been discussing postseason seeding ad nauseam for months now, and that’s because we have. No team in the West, seeds 1 through 10, has won less than half of their last 10 games. And the West has been unrelenting since the All-Star break, in spite of a pretty vast array of injuries to notable rotation players.

Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, and Jawun Evans have all been shut down for the year, with Milos Teodosic and Danilo Gallinari not slated to return any time soon. That means the majority of their backcourt rotation, and one of their primary offensive options, won’t be around to make an impact in some very crucial Conference matchups to close the regular season. Two-way players Tyrone Wallace and C.J. Williams have stepped up during times when it really mattered, and second-unit guys like Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have played well above expectations. Tobias Harris, Austin Rivers, and DeAndre Jordan have managed shifting rotations very well, providing pretty consistent contributions at both ends of the floor regardless of who joins them out there. Sindarius Thornwell and Boban Marjanovic have also provided nice boosts in very limited minutes, becoming fan favorites in the process. Every one of these players will need to give everything they’ve got over the next week, just for a chance to keep competing.

The Antagonist

The Jazz have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games, and 15-5 in their last 20. Since the All-Star break, they have had the third-best Net Rating and the fourth-best winning percentage in all of the NBA. The return of Rudy Gobert in late January, the consistency of Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio, and the stellar coaching of Quin Snyder have all been major factors in their success this season. But it cannot be overstated just how important their rookie phenom, Donovan Mitchell, has been for them. At just 21 years old, selected 13th overall from Louisville in the 2017 NBA Draft, he has made a strong case for Rookie of the Year contention. Mitchell is averaging 20.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals per game on 43.7% shooting from the field, 34.0% from beyond the arc, 80.8% from the line. He leads all Jazz players in scoring and in minutes per game, ranks 2nd on the team in steals and 3rd in assists, and has done it all, efficiently, as the second-youngest player on the roster (only behind 20 year-old Tony Bradley).

Offense vs Defense

The Clippers have been a surprisingly good offensive team this season. Despite their overall health and roster changes, they have been top-10 in Offensive Rating for some time now, ranking 6th in the NBA since the All-Star break and 8th for the entire season. They also rank 3rd in the league points per game since the All-Star break, averaging 112.8 per contest. They are often outmatched in talent and shooting prowess, but they make up for it with sheer aggression. The Clippers rank 2nd in the NBA in both free throw attempts and personal fouls drawn, 3rd in points in the paint (51.6), and 4th in second-chance points (13.8) per game. They have a very tough task tonight, however, against a Jazz team playing defense at an elite level.

The Utah Jazz have an NBA-best Defensive Rating of 96.6 since the All-Star break; the next closest team has a rating of 100.7, a difference of 4.1 and roughly the difference between the 2nd and 12th-ranked defenses. They are 3rd in Defensive Rating for the entire season, and also rank 2nd in opponent points in the paint, limiting teams to just 41.6 per game in the painted area (and well-below the Clippers’ 51.6 average per game).

To attempt to remedy the defensive fortitude of the Jazz, the Clippers will need to play aggressively early-on at the offensive end tonight. The need for defensive engagement notwithstanding, the Clippers need to do what they do best and play downhill offense. If they can get the Jazz into foul trouble early in the game, they give themselves a huge advantage that plays to their strengths. Transition offense could also be key for the Clippers, who cannot afford to let a smothering Jazz defense get set in the half court.

Final Thoughts

The fate of the Clippers’ season could hinge greatly upon the outcome of tonight’s game. A loss would be a major blow, but fans have got to at least be pleased with the performances this season. The Clippers are on pace to finish with a win-loss record pretty close to many predictions; those predictions were made, however, before the loss of Beverley for the season, before the Blake Griffin trade, and before the beginning of Gallinari’s series of injuries. The Clippers, given all circumstances, have outperformed expectations; they’ve started developing their youth, own two first-round picks in this year’s draft (one lottery), have remained competitive, and have been consistently fun to watch. But they may be a week away from not playing again until October, so just be sure to enjoy this team while it lasts.