Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 6:00 PM Pacific Time
How to Watch/Listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Patterson, Ivica Zubac
Jazz: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert
Clippers: Paul George - Out (shoulder)
Jazz: Ed Davis - Out (fractured left fibula); Dante Exum - Out (knee)
Additional Clipper Absences
Amir Coffey - Out (G-League); Johnathan Motley - Out (G-League)
The Big Picture
The Los Angeles Clippers (4-2) have already faced the Utah Jazz (4-2) once in this young season, losing 110-96 on October 30, 2019. The Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers kept things close through two quarters in the match-up, but the Jazz broke the game open in the third behind 18 points from Mike Conley. The Jazz outscored the Clippers 38-20 in the frame and entered the fourth quarter with a comfortable 19-point lead. The lead was trimmed to 10 with a handful of minutes left on the clock, but a comeback never felt like a real possibility.
Many fans questioned why the Clippers would sit Kawhi in just the fifth game of the season, but are we really going to question the decision-making skills of the reigning NBA Finals MVP and a coaching staff that includes multiple coaches with championship rings? No. The Clippers are going to utilize a “load management” strategy throughout the season with Kawhi, even in these early match-ups, to minimize his risk of wear and tear injuries and keep him fresh for the post-season. Get used to it. Moreover, having Kawhi sit out this particular away game against the Jazz on a back-to-back was quite clever. Heading into Sunday’s game Doc and company have already faced Utah and seen what they bring to the floor, while Utah has yet to face a Klaw-led Clippers. Advantage, Clippers. By choosing to rest Kawhi during last week’s meeting, the Clippers have maximized the likelihood of walking away from this three game stretch with two wins and one loss.
The Utah Jazz entered the season with a lot of buzz. In fact, many believe them to be a top-four seed in the stacked Western Conference (FWIW, I disagree). During the offseason, the Jazz were thoughtful and aggressive in retooling their roster and building around their young core of reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and phenom Donovan Mitchell.
Utah’s addition of veteran Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic has already improved their capacity on the offensive end of the floor. And with Gobert leading the way, the Jazz currently boast the number one defense in the league, holding opponents to 94 points per game. They certainly looked solid last week, holding the Clippers to an embarrassing 96 points.
Keys to the Game
Finding Offensive Balance
The Clippers have struggled offensively during stretches of their last four games, and have been heavily reliant on Leonard when he is on the floor. The roster does not lack for guys who can go off at any moment, but improved floor spacing and better ball movement would lead to increased consistency.
In the last game against Utah, the Clippers only had three players in double figures: Lou Williams (24), JaMychal Green (23) and Montrezl Harrell (13). (Green’s performance was particularly noteworthy - he poured in 23 points on a career-high 5-of-6 shooting from three-point range and also snatched eight rebounds.) Of course, Kawhi was not on the floor, so the Clippers did not have the benefit of his scoring (29.2 points/game) or playmaking (6.2 assists/game). Still, Los Angeles needs other players to step up with regular contributions on offense if this team expects to make a deep run in the post-season.
Defense Leads to Transition Offense
The Clippers looked fantastic in transition against the Lakers in the season opener, outscoring the “other” LA team 22-5 in fast break points. The squad has since struggled; outscored in transition by every opponent except the Charlotte Hornets. When the Clippers defense falters, forcing the team run a half-court set, they are far less effective scorers. Structural cracks in the offense and the need to improve chemistry are most apparent for this roster after an opponent bucket. If the Clippers’ defense can tighten up they will have more opportunities to run the floor, making the half-court offense less important while they continue to develop and gel as a team.
Perimeter defense is particularly important in this match-up with Utah. Conley, Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles all have the ability to sink the long ball, and burgeoning superstar Mitchell is very adept at getting buckets nearly anywhere else on the floor. Spida has scored 20+ points in five of the Jazz’s six games this season and logged 24 points against the Clippers defense in last week’s battle.
The Clippers’ Big Men Need to Have Big Games
Ivica Zubac held his own against Gobert in last week’s loss. Zu had eight points, eight rebounds, one assist, and two blocks in just under 18 minuted of play. Gobert had 13 points and 7 rebounds in nearly 33 minutes on the floor. The Clippers need another solid performance from Zu to pull off a Sunday win.
Just as importantly, Montrezl Harrell needs to avoid fouling. Harrell found himself in trouble early on in the last outing against the Jazz, which severely limited his time on the floor. Montrezl played under 14 minutes over four frames, nearly half his regular minutes. His offensive output was similar reduced; he only contributed 10 points in the loss (he is currently averaging 19 ppg). Need more from Monsta Trez this time around.
Turnovers have been a serious problem for the Clippers in their opening six games. They are averaging 16.7 turnovers per contest, the highest since their 1993-94 season. This number should go down as the season goes on and players build better chemistry and improve communication, but currently it remains an area of concern.
The Clippers committed 19 turnovers in their last meeting with the Jazz, with Lou Williams and Jerome Robinson contributing five each. The squad should fare better Sunday. Lou will be back in his familiar role coming off the bench and Robinson is unlikely to see the same number of minutes he saw last time around (just under 19), assuming he hits the floor at all.
The Clippers enter Sunday’s contest on a one-game win streak, having handed the San Antonio Spurs their first loss of the season last Thursday at Staples Center. The Jazz are coming off a one-point loss to the previously winless Sacramento Kings.
Although Utah is a skilled team, strong at both ends of the floor, the presence of Fun Guy Kawhi and a desire to avenge last week’s loss will give the Clippers the edge and energy to take this contest and improve to 5-2.