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Clippers Host the Struggling Pistons and Returning Lob City Era Favorite Blake Griffin

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Saturday’s contest marks Griffin’s first return to the Clippers’ home court since being unceremoniously traded by the franchise last year. 

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Where: Staples Center

When: 12:30 p.m. PT

How You Can Watch: FSPT

How You Can Listen: AM 570 LA Sports

Projected Starting Lineups

Los Angeles Clippers: Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marcin Gortat, Tobias Harris

Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Injuries

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (left knee soreness) – OUT

Pistons: Henry Ellenson (left ankle sprain) and Ish Smith (right adductor tear) are OUT; Zaza Pachulia (right lower leg contusion) is QUESTIONABLE.

The Big Picture

Blake Griffin makes his much-anticipated return to Staples Center on Saturday to face his former team on their home court for first time since being traded to the Detroit Pistons last January. Griffin played his first eight seasons with Los Angeles, averaging 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 35.1 minutes per game. The reunion between the Lob City era favorite and Clipper fans is likely to be an emotional one.

The visiting Pistons (17-23) are on a four-game skid and have lost nine of their last 11 outings. They are currently out of playoff contention, occupying ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Clippers enter Saturday’s contest with a record of 24-17, on track for a 48-win season and sitting pretty in fifth place in the stacked Western Conference. The Clippers are coming off a 121-100 loss to the league-best Denver Nuggets Thursday, but are still performing solidly, having won seven of their last 11.

Last season the Clippers and Pistons split their 2-game series, with Los Angeles claiming the most recent battle 108-95.

The Antagonist

The Pistons are in the midst of a major collapse after starting the season surprisingly hot. The nose-diving squad has lost 16 of their last 20 games including a 112-102 road loss to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday. The Motor City ballers are one of the least productive teams in the league, averaging 106.9 points (24th) and 21.8 assists (27th) per contest, and shooting 43.5 percent from the floor and 32.7 percent from beyond the arc (29th).

Turnovers have been a major problem for Detroit. The franchise is averaging 15.2 turnovers per game, with disastrous results. Case in point: the Pistons allowed 34 points off 20 turnovers in Thursday night’s loss to the Kings.

Detroit’s underwhelming recent stretch of games is no fault of ex-Clipper Griffin. He is one of few silver linings for the franchise. In this, his first full season with the Pistons, Griffin is averaging a career-best 25.1 points and 5.3 assists per game, along with 8.3 rebounds. He has logged 15 games with at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists, 29 games with 20+ points, and 12 games with 30+ points. Moreover, he is – knock on wood – injury free! The talented power forward is well on his way to earning his sixth All-Star nod.

Keys to a Clipper Win

Bench Performance: The Pistons are 9-15 when outscored by opponents’ reserves. The Clippers’ bench is one of the best, if not the best, in the league. The Clippers reserves have scored 20+ points an NBA-leading 31 times this season, thanks in large part to wonder twins Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Williams and Harrell rank first and fourth, respectively, in the NBA in bench-scoring this season and are the only set of teammates averaging at least 15 points off the bench in 2018-19.

Harrell has been particularly impressive this season. He remains one of the best bargain contracts in the league, and is a serious contender for the Most Improved Player honors. The energetic 24-year-old has logged 14 games with 20+ points in 41 appearances this season after doing so only nine times combined in his first three pro seasons (173 appearances). Additionally, 10 of his 13 career double-doubles have come this season. He is currently shooting an impressive 63.2% from the field, third best in the league. Most importantly, Harrell is an energy-changer, and personifies the Clippers’ grit and grind culture.

Control the Pistons Front Court: If the Clippers have an achilles heel, it is in the paint, and more specifically, at the center position. Detroit is averaging 45.8 rebounds and 47.5 points in the paint per outing this season, and boast one of the NBA’s more talented front courts in Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. The match ups down low may be a factor in this contest.

As noted above, Griffin is averaging a career-best 25.1 points, 5.3 assists and 8.3 rebounds this season and he does not show any signs of slowing down. In the five games he has played so far in January Griffin is averaging a better-than-average 27.8 points on 52.5 percent shooting and 6.0 assists per game, to go along with 5.8 boards. Drummond has been similarly impressive, logging 17 games with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds this season, along with eight ballgames with 20 rebounds. Drummond is currently third in the league with an impressive 32 double-doubles (including 15 double-doubles in last 17 games played).

Ball Movement / Shot Selection: The Pistons rank first in the NBA in opponent 3-point percentage, holding teams to 32 percent shooting from distance. The Clippers are an excellent 3-point shooting team, but may struggle against the Piston’s perimeter defense. Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari are both averaging over 42 percent from beyond the arc, and Patrick Beverly has come on recently, converting 21 of his last 43 attempts (48.8%) from three-point range over his last 13 games. Ball movement will be essential for these Clipper sharp shooters to continue their success with the long ball.

Prediction

The Pistons have not been particularly good on the road (6-13) or against teams at or over .500 (6-19). Barring unforeseen difficulties, the Clippers should take this game without too much difficulty.

Interested in the Pistons’ perspective on this match up? Find it over at Detroit Bad Boys.