Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch: ESPN, Prime Ticket
Projected Starting Lineups:
Warriors: Steph Curry – Klay Thompson – Kevin Durant – Draymond Green – DeMarcus Cousins
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Avery Bradley – Tobias Harris – Danilo Gallinari – Marcin Gortat
Warriors: Damian Jones Out (pectoral),
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have lost four games in a row, with the last three being at home with a day’s rest. Their defense has continued to struggle, allowing over 120 points in three of those four losses, and never looking capable of getting stops for more than a few possessions in a row. The starting lineup has not improved either, falling behind time and again in the 1st and 3rd quarters, and looking out of sorts at both ends. In short, the Clippers are struggling mightily, and their bench is no longer enough to save them.
A six-game winning streak has propelled the Warriors back to the top of the Western Conference, keyed by a destruction of the rival Nuggets in Denver. Golden State once again boasts the top offense in the NBA: with both Steph Curry and Kevin Durant turning in near-career seasons, and Klay Thompson heating up from deep, the Warriors are as tough to stop as ever. Their defense is not as good as it was in previous seasons, but it’s still solid when they try, and when Draymond Green is on the court. DeMarcus Cousins returning gives them one more weapon on offense, though his rust and lack of familiarity with his teammates might hurt them a bit in the short run.
- Lou Williams’ playing time: For all the talk of a lineup switch (which I still think is coming sooner or later), another potential salve for the Clippers’ issues is simply playing Lou more. Lou is averaging 25.5 minutes per game this season, down from 32.8 last year, and while it’s great that he’s getting rest and the Clippers aren’t relying on him quite as heavily, his minutes need to be increased. He’s by far the Clippers’ most impactful player by Net Rating, and it’s easily seen on the court. When he’s on the bench, the Clippers’ offense is middling, while it’s one of the most dangerous in the NBA when he’s in the game. Considering their defense is bad regardless, playing Lou a few more minutes won’t hurt much there either. He probably needs at least 28 minutes a game, quite possibly 30.
- Cousins is the X-factor: DeMarcus Cousins returning in this game could be the Clippers’ doom, or he could give them a chance to sneak out a victory. The Clips have struggled defending large, talented big men all year, and a healthy Boogie Cousins absolutely falls into that category. If he’s on his game, the Clippers have nobody on their roster capable of stopping him, and he could easily put up big numbers in (presumably) limited minutes. On the other hand, his rustiness and lack of chemistry with teammates could give the Clippers an edge, especially since Cousins wasn’t the best defender even before his Achilles injury. If he disrupts the Warriors’ offense, and weakens their defense, the Clippers’ odds of victory increase significantly.
- Home court advantage slipping: Since starting the season 12-3 at home, the Clippers have lost 6 of their last 8 games at Staples. As the Clippers have declined, some of the energy and joy that was so present in home games at the start of the season has fallen away too. The Warriors will bring many of their own fans to Staples tomorrow, and the Clippers will need to come out strong, or they might get drowned out in their own building. Guys like Lou, Montrezl Harrell, and Pat Beverley feed off the energy of the home crowd, and a couple wins at home could be the exact thing to get this team right.
- Standings watch: It’s the second half of the season, which means every game has standings and tiebreak implications. The Clippers currently sit in 7th place in the West, but are only percentage points ahead of the Lakers (with LeBron’s return on the horizon) and the surging Jazz. Most of the teams ahead of them in the standings seem relatively secure as postseason squads, so the Clippers really need to turn on the juice if they’re to remain in the hunt. The best bet of a team falling is probably the Spurs due to their talent deficit compared to other top teams, but it’s so hard to bet against a Popovich team. Regardless, a loss tonight would probably push the Clippers out of the West’s top eight for the first time since November.
Check out the Warriors’ perspective at Golden State of Mind, and check in later for the game thread.