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Clippers vs. Jazz Preview: Forget Seeding, Clippers Need to Finish Strong

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Yes, we’re all on Twitter trying to figure out where the Clippers will finish in the playoff picture. But none of that matters going into this game: The Clippers need to win for Ralph Lawler, and to get back on track.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 7:30 PM PT

How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket (featuring Bill Walton!), ESPN, and AM 1150

Projected Starting Lineups:

Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderLandry ShametPatrick Beverley Danilo GallinariIvica Zubac

Jazz: Donovan Mitchell Royce O’Neale Joe Ingles Thabo Sefolosha Rudy Gobert

Injuries:

Clippers: Pat Beverley Probable (Hip); Danilo Gallinari Probable (Ankle)

Jazz: Ricky Rubio Doubtful (quad); Dante Exum Out (patellar tendon); Kyle Korver Out (knee); Raul Neto Out (ankle)

The Big Picture:

At the time of writing this (Wednesday night), the Clippers are 47-34 on the season, which puts them tied with the Spurs, and in the last playoff seed. It’s hard to keep track of the various ways the Clippers could finish in the 7th seed, but all of the machinations require the Clippers to win (duh).

The Clippers could have helped themselves out by winning any of their prior three games; instead, they’ve lost them all. Now, the Clips have the opportunity to close out the season at home, with the added motivation of trying to honor Ralph Lawler’s legacy by winning his last regular session contest as a broadcaster. But, in order to do so, the Clippers must contain Donovan Mitchell, who is coming off of a 46 point game against the Denver Nuggets.

The Clippers will benefit from the Jazz’ short turnaround, given that they played on Tuesday, as well as how many minutes the Jazz starters had to play (four of their five starters played over 35 minutes in a 10 point win).

Although the Jazz are a higher seed than the Clippers (currently 5th in the West), the Clippers have been better on the offensive end, scoring three more points per game, shooting better from the field and from three point land, and committing fewer turnovers on the season.

The Antagonist:

However, despite the Clippers’ obvious motivation to finish the season well and their superior offense, the Jazz are not exactly the team the Clippers would chose to play in a must-win spot. In the last five head-to-head matchups, the Jazz have won all five. The Clippers have shot 45% in those games, while they’ve allowed the Jazz to shoot 51%. The three point differential is likewise lopsided; the Clippers at 30% and the Jazz at 38%.

Somewhat understandably, given that Gobert has been on the other side, the Clippers have been dominated on the boards over the last five games as well. And, unfortunately, I don’t see why that would change in this game. Zubac has been a highlight of this season, but he’s not nearly athletic enough to keep up with Rudy.

Moreover, Donovan Mitchell will likely be a problem for the Clipper’s guards. Sure, Temple could take a significant share of the defensive possessions against Mitchell, but that leaves one of the Clippers’ guards guarding Joe Ingles, who has been a Clippers killer since we gave up on him in 2014.

Notes:

  • Relevant to the Clippers but not necessarily to this game: The Clippers claimed Rodney McGruder off waivers on Tuesday. He can’t play in the playoffs, though.
  • The Clippers have only lost three in a row twice this season, before this recent skid. They lost four in a row in early December and five in a row in early January.
  • Donovan Mitchell has scored 28 and 32 in his last two games against the Clippers and led all scores in those two games.
  • The Clippers need to win this game, even if the seeding is irrelevant (it might well be, since the Spurs and Thunder games could be over by the time this one starts). They’ve already lost three in a row, and dropping a fourth would put them in an even worse mental state and mindset entering the playoffs. Not to mention that this is Ralph Lawler night, and his last regular season game call ever.