Here’s your Clippers vs Cavs game preview as the Clippers, fresh off back-to-back wins in Minnesota and Chicago, look to extend their winning streak to 3 without Paul George.
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:00 PM PT
How to Watch: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Projected Starting Lineups
Cavs: Darius Garland – Collin Sexton – Isaac Okoro – Taurean Prince – Andre Drummond
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Reggie Jackson – Kawhi Leonard – Nicolas Batum – Serge Ibaka
Cavs: Larry Nance Out (Finger), Kevin Love Out (Calf), Matthew Dellavedova Out (Ankle)
Clippers: Paul George Out (Foot)
The Big Picture
Despite some shakiness with Paul George out, the Clippers are in a pretty good spot. They sit only three games behind the Utah Jazz for 1st place in the highly competitive Western Conference, even though the Jazz have won a ridiculous 18 of their past 19 games. The Clips have also managed to keep a slim lead over the teams lumped together below them in the standings, with the Suns two games back. More importantly, the Clippers’ record matches their overall play – their 7.4 Net Rating is 4th overall behind just the Jazz, Bucks, and Lakers. With the 2nd ranked offense and 11th ranked defense in the league, the Clippers are a well-rounded squad that can beat teams in several different ways. They have issues – an inconsistent defense, shallow bench, and lingering issues – but on the whole have had an excellent first third of the season.
After a surprising start to the season, the Cavs are now exactly where most pundits predicted they would be before the season – down at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They are now just 10-17, have lost six games in a row, and their best player this season (Larry Nance) is out until April. They also now have the worst Net Rating (per NBA.com) in the entire NBA, with the 20th ranked defense and 30th ranked offense in the association. In short, they are quite bad, and while their backcourt is quite capable of going off for big games, the Cavs’ overall lack of shooting and shot creation means they struggle to score. Even without Paul George, this should be a win for the Clippers if they show up and mean business.
The Clippers’ 3rd Scorer: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the alpha and omega of the Clippers’ offense, but the rest of the pecking order is much more fluid. The Clippers have four players averaging double figures in scoring after their two starters, all lumped together between Nic Batum’s 10 points per game and Marcus Morris’ 11.9. Lou Williams is the recent riser, and is probably the guy who will settle in as the third leading scorer overall as he shakes off his early rust and injury, but Batum, Morris, and Serge Ibaka are all good candidates to be that third option in any given game. While that could be confusing (teams can sometimes do better with a very clearly defined hierarchy on offense), having that many options is obviously a good thing.
Getting Luke Going: While the play of Lou Williams and Terance Mann lately has been highly encouraging, that of Luke Kennard has been worrying. In six games in February, Luke is averaging a mere 5.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 0.8 assists while playing only 16.9 minutes per game. The eye test might be even worse than that – when Luke is not shooting an open catch-and-shoot three, he’s not doing much if anything to help the team. While Luke is coming off a knee injury, adjusting to a new team, and settling in to a different role, the Clippers could really use more scoring and playmaking from Luke. If he keeps playing like this, Ty Lue could be in a real dilemma when Paul George returns on whether to play Mann, Reggie Jackson, or Luke next to Lou Williams off the bench. Kennard has the most talent, Mann is the best defensively, and Reggie is the best Reggie (not a typo). Ultimately, Kennard has been outplayed by both other guards in the past few weeks, and while the Clippers have invested a lot more in him, Lue has shown he’s not afraid to go away from Luke when he’s not playing well. Today could be a good game to get Luke back on track against a Cavs’ team that is weak (to put it politely) defensively on the perimeter.
Well, that’s about it for this preview of the Clippers’ Sunday night contest against the Cavs. Check out the Chase Down podcast for Cavs’ takes, and follow along on this post for the game thread.