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Clippers vs. Hornets Preview: Close Calls, Kemba and a Need to Keep Winning

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The Clippers take on the Hornets at home in a game they should win.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Los Angeles Clippers
Kemba Walker and Lou Williams are two of the league’s top four scorers in the fourth quarter.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 7:30 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

Hornets: Kemba Walker/Devonte’ Graham/Nicolas Batum/Marvin Williams/Bismack Biyombo

Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Avery Bradley/Tobias Harris/Danilo Gallinari/Marcin Gortat

Injuries:

Hornets: Cody Zeller (hand) is out. Jeremy Lamb (hamstring) is questionable.

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) is out.

The Scene:

After a lull in early-mid December, the Clippers have gotten back on track, winning six of their past nine games, including two in a row. On Jan. 8, they face their second consecutive team from arguably the league’s worst division (the Southeast) when the Hornets visit Staples Center. It’s a position the Clippers (23-16) have relished so far this season, taking four wins against the Southeast Division in five tries. Picking up wins against the East is something that is a virtual necessity in the ever-competitive Western Conference.

“We know it’s a tough conference,” Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari said. “Every game feels like it’s got to be like a playoff game for us and it’s like that for everybody in the West.

“I think your attention, your focus is higher.”

That attention will need to remain against Charlotte (19-20), which is coming off a 119-113 win over the Suns on Sunday and have been in a bevy of close games all season. However, Sunday’s victory in Phoenix was just the seventh win by the Hornets in 17 games decided by six points or fewer.

The People:

1.Danilo Gallinari. Much has been written about the All-Star caliber first half of the season from Gallinari. He’s pacing a 45-40-90 shooting season and is averaging career highs in points (19.5) and rebounds (6.2). He’s scored 20 points or more in 21 games, which coincidentally is the same number of total games he played all of last season.

“I’m feeling great; physically, mentally. I can’t wait for the next game,” he said Monday.

2. Kemba Walker. Walker had an epic second half in the Hornets’ victory over the Suns on Sunday, scoring 18 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. He averages a league-best 8.6 points per game in the fourth. Clippers’ perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams is fourth in the league, averaging 7.4 points per game in the final frame. Considering the number of close games both teams have taken part in through the first half of the season, it would not be surprising if Tuesday’s contest comes down to whether Walker or Williams goes off in winning time.

3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. After steadily earning 25-plus minutes for much of November and December, the Clippers’ prized rookie has seen his playing time dip since Christmas. Prior to Sunday’s 13-point, 23-minute outing, Gilgeous-Alexander had played fewer than 21 minutes in four-straight games. The inconsistent usage has coincided with Patrick Beverley’s stellar shooting of late, but it seems paramount for the Clippers to continue to build on Gilgeous-Alexander’s strength through the second half of the season. On Tuesday, he’ll share the floor with fellow rookie Miles Bridges, who was selected by the Clippers and dealt to the Hornets for Gilgeous-Alexander on draft night. Bridges is averaging 6.8 points and 3.6 rebounds with a couple of dunk-contest worthy throw downs through 37 games. Gilgeous-Alexander, on the other hand, is at a clip of 10.2 points, 2.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 39 games, while looking mature beyond his years in a playoff contender’s lead guard role.

The Turning Point:

The Clippers are in search of defensive consistency. When they’ve been at their best this season, the Clippers have avoided live-ball turnovers and allowed their defense to set up in the half court. Head Coach Doc Rivers said Monday that transition defense, or lack thereof, may have bled into other aspects on that end of the floor. He said there has been noticeable improvement their in the past week: “Two of the last three games we’ve been pretty good defensively, and I think right now we are trending back to being a good defensive team.”

Take Note:

The Hornets and Clippers are among the top three teams in the league in reserve scoring… Charlotte is 2-8 in its last 10 games against the Clippers with the last road win coming in February 2009… The Hornets have shot 44 percent or worse in 10 road games (1-9)... Beverley has made 19 of his last 37 3-point attempts (51.4 percent)...