Even with their recent shooting struggles, especially to start games, the Clippers have found ways to climb back into games and keep things competitive. Much of that credit is due to the recent play of the Clipper’s two anchors down low, Isaiah Hartenstein and Ivica Zubac.
In fact, since the trade that sent Serge Ibaka to the Bucks, the Clippers rebounding percentage, which ranks 25th in the league through this entire season, has been vaulted into the top 10th. Their defensive rating in that stretch has been ranked within the top five in the league.
Hartenstein has scored in the double digits of seven of his last ten games, recording four or more assists in four of those games and gathering 16 cumulative blocks in that stretch as well. Zubac, similarly, is averaging 13 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in the Clippers nine games since the all-star break.
The two round each other out surprisingly effectively, each filling holes in the other’s skillsets. Like two complementary forces, the offensive capabilities and playmaking proficiency of Hartenstein and the discipline and defensive presence of Zubac are orchestrated in concert, by head coach Ty Lue. The result? An even more versatile rotation, equipped for any situation that the Clippers may find themselves in.
When: Monday, March 14 at 4 p.m. PT
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland OH
How to watch/listen: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN
Opposing perspective: Fear the Sword
Spread: Clippers +7.5, Cavaliers -7.5
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Amir Coffey, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Ivica Zubac
Cavaliers: Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Evan Mobley
Clippers: Robert Covington, Norman Powell, Jay Scrubb, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Cavaliers: Lauri Markannen, Dean Wade — QUESTIONABLE; Rajon Rondo — DOUBTFUL; Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Collin Sexton — OUT
The Cavaliers, however, have made their mark on the East this season because of dominance in the paint and a roster full of big bodies. Even with Jarrett Allen on the injury report and Lauri Markannen listed as “Questionable”, the defensive virtue of Evan Mobley in the paint will be daunting.
And then there’s the Darius Garland situation. Garland, who was made a first time all-star this season and currently sits at the third best odds to win the Most Improved Player award this season (per Vegas), averages 27.7 points and 10.5 assists through the Cavaliers six games so far in March.
A win tonight would help the Clippers build some momentum before a stretch of consecutive games against Utah, Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Milwaukee. It’s going to take a complete effort, especially regarding defense along the perimeter and offense in the interior. Expect 48 minutes of tough, hearty basketball. And expect the Clippers to compete for all 48 of those minutes.