Entering the season, it was widely believed that the Western Conference would once again be dominated by the two L.A. teams, as it was throughout the regular season a year ago. Instead, the Utah Jazz sit atop the West, and the Jazz are steamrolling opponents in the process.
The first time LA played the Jazz this season was in Utah on New Year’s Day when the Clippers fell behind big after three quarters and simply ran out of time in their fourth-quarter rally. The Jazz were good then, and they’ve only gotten better.
Utah has won 19 of its last 20 games, and 17 of those victories have come by double digits. The Jazz lead the league in point differential, outscoring opponents by 12.4 points per 100 possessions excluding garbage time. That margin has spiked to 16.0 points per 100 possession over the last two weeks, per Cleaning the Glass, which is nearly double the Clippers’ mark of plus-8.5. The Clippers are third in the league during this stretch, so they aren’t exactly schlubs.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Opposing perspective: SLC Dunk
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers (21-8): Patrick Beverley, Reggie Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Serge Ibaka
Jazz (23-5): Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert
Clippers: Kawhi Leonard (left leg contusion) — QUESTIONABLE; Nicolas Batum (concussion), Paul George (right toe bone edema), — OUT
Jazz: Mike Conley (right hamstring) — QUESTIONABLE; Udoka Azubuike right ankle) — OUT
The Jazz have the fourth-best effective field-goal percentage in the league, right below the Clippers, but they’re raining fire from 3-point range. Utah is connecting on about 40 percent of its threes, but they’re taking a preposterous 45.3 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Other than Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, the two centers, every other Jazz man shoots from distance with reckless abandon.
It’s been working. And with their bigs ready to gobble up offensive rebounds and protect the paint, Utah seemingly has the perfect inside-outside combination. Gobert has been astoundingly good at deterring and challenging shots at the rim and is the early favorite for defensive player of the year for the third time in his career.
This team knows what it wants to do, and they’ve been executing at a high level. This will be the biggest test the Clippers have faced potentially all season, especially with Paul George and Nic Batum both out and Kawhi Leonard questionable to play.
“They’re been playing great,” Reggie Jackson said Monday about the Jazz. “We know that they like to get out in transition. I’m sure they probably get the most threes in the league, they’re hunting them. They don’t just have one guy, their entire team is locked and loaded and ready to shoot, so I think they’re really gonna try and put pressure on us, making us protect the line as well and not get beat off the dribble on any straight line shrives. It’ll be a great test for us.... They’re number one in the West for a reason. They’ve been playing tremendous, and we feel like we have to protect our house. So it’ll be a great challenge for us and we’re looking forward to the opportunity on Wednesday.”
The Clippers will get two chances at Utah this week, with the Jazz staying in town for an encore Friday. Even if LA sweeps the set, the Jazz will still be ahead in the standings, but it would be a huge statement for the Clippers to defeat an opponent at the top of its game that has historically given this Clipper team a great deal of trouble. Utah has won eight of the last 11 games in this matchup.
But the Clippers have been surprisingly feisty of late, even at less than full strength. They haven’t backed down from any challenge yet, and they surely aren’t about to start now.
This should be a fun one! Enjoy the game, and comment below!