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Clippers vs. Cavaliers Preview: LA looks to keep pace in West against lowly Cleveland

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Game Information:

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH

When: 4:30 p.m. PST

How to watch/listen: FOX Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

LA Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Danilo Gallinari, Ivica Zubac

Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton, Brandon Knight, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Ante Zizic

Injuries:

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (sore left knee) — OUT

Cavaliers: Matthew Dellavedova (concussion) — OUT

MCavaliers:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won eight of their last nine games and are somehow still in eighth place in the Western Conference because every team in front of them, except for the Oklahoma City Thunder, is also on a tear. LA has been playing good, but not great, according to Doc Rivers, and probably still has to level up a notch before the postseason. Luckily, the team is coming off a six-game homestand which included some quality time for the five new players to get acclimated to the Clippers’ offensive and defensive systems. At this point, only Landry Shamet really has plays run for him, but LA is working on getting its new veterans, like JaMychal Green and Wilson Chandler, more involved in the offense.

“We just gotta keep winning games, and we don’t even look at positioning. If you keep winning, positioning will happen,” Rivers said after the win over Indiana Tuesday. “The other thing is continuity. We gotta get the new guys integrated. We’re going to use small lineups with the second unit and big lineups, we don’t have that yet, so we have a lot of work to do.”

The Antagonist:

Cleveland is the last team this season that the Clippers will face for the first time, and it comes rather late in the season. The Cavaliers are one of the worst teams in the league and boast a historically awful defense. Collin Sexton is a rookie point guard who doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, Brandon Knight has lost much of his athleticism from injuries, and Cedi Osman has the worst defensive rating of anyone who has played half the season, which makes Kevin Love arguably the best defender in the starting lineup. It’s a bleak collection of players.

Nevertheless, since Love came back from injury, Cleveland has been run-of-the-mill bad instead of historically terrible. They’re coming off of two consecutive wins, though both against teams missing their best players, Detroit without Blake Griffin and Milwaukee without Giannis Antetokounmpo. Knock on wood that LA doesn’t have that issue.

What to watch for:

  • This is the first of two straight games against the dregs of the Eastern Conference, and it would behoove the Clippers to get this one over with quickly because they have a 9:00 a.m. Pacific start time Sunday versus the Knicks.
  • Jordan Clarkson has become surprisingly effective at leading the Cavaliers second unit, especially since Love’s return stabilized the rotation. Much of what he learned came from Lou Williams when the two were teammates on the Lakers, so it will be fun to watch Williams take his young fella to school.
  • Sexton has been surging after being snubbed for the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend. He just set a Cleveland rookie record with six consecutive 20-point games, breaking the mark held by LeBron James, and has been shooting the ball quite well. There was lively pre-draft discussion over who was the better point guard between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Sexton, and this is the first time they’ll face each other as pros.