Both teams have lengthy injury reports as the Clippers head East to take on the Atlanta Hawks and begin a six-game road trip without three of their starters. Read on for a full Clippers vs Hawks game preview to know what to expect in an unusual game.
Clippers vs Hawks Game Information
When: 4:30 PM Pacific Time
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
How to watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, NBATV (blacked out in LA)
Projected Starting Lineups:
LA Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Luke Kennard – Marcus Morris – Nicolas Batum – Serge Ibaka
Atlanta Hawks: Rajon Rondo – Kevin Huerter – De’Andre Hunter – John Collins – Onyeka Okongwu
LA Clippers: Patrick Beverley – OUT (right knee soreness), Paul George – OUT (health and safety protocols), Kawhi Leonard – OUT (health and safety protocols), Jay Scrubb – OUT (foot surgery)
Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish – PROBABLE (right Achilles tightness), Clint Capela – QUESTIONABLE (right hand soreness), Danilo Gallinari – QUESTIONABLE (right ankle sprain), Trae Young – QUESTIONABLE (back spasms), Bogdan Bogdanovic – OUT (avulsion fracture, right knee), Kris Dunn – OUT (right ankle surgery)
The Big Picture
Until Monday morning, things were going pretty well for the LA Clippers. Sure, not everything was perfect–Lou Williams is still trying to find himself in the new offensive system, and a couple of cold shooting nights resulted in closer-than-they-should-have-been wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and Sunday. But it’s hard to complain: both of those games were wins, as were the five Clipper contests preceeding them. That seven-game winning streak has the Clippers in first place in the NBA, tied with the Los Angeles Lakers but holding the tiebreaker after defeating their cross-town rivals on opening night. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both in the (very early) MVP conversation. Ivica Zubac has returned to form in recent games. Things were going pretty well for the LA Clippers.
Until Monday morning, when the word came out that the team would begin their upcoming six-game road trip not only without starting point guard Patrick Beverley, who left Sunday’s game early with knee soreness, but both of their superstar wings as well. With Leonard and George sidelined by the league’s new COVID health and safety protocols, an already shallow Clippers bench will be stretched thin, and likely for multiple games. Look for Reggie Jackson to move into the starting lineup at point guard to replace Beverley, with Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris filling in on the wings in place of Leonard and George. The Clippers are fortunate to have fill-ins with experience as NBA starters: while Jackson’s standing has slipped following injuries, he was seen as a quality starting point guard for most of his career. Kennard was a starter in Detroit last season before being hurt and traded to the Clippers, and Morris has been a starter for most of his career, including last season with the Clippers.
Likewise, the team’s two remaining bench players from their typical rotation, Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac, are both highly qualified: Williams is the most prolific bench scorer in NBA history while Zubac was good in a starting role for LAC last season before the arrival of Serge Ibaka. But while the Clippers are still staffed with 7 capable players, the margin for error shrinks with their star power unavailable. It’s much harder to endure bad games for inconsistent offensive players like Jackson, Kennard, Williams, Morris, and Ibaka when they are your primary scorers and not members of the supporting cast. And beyond those 7 guys, the Clippers will look to survive extended rotation minutes for Terance Mann and Patrick Patterson, both of whom have struggled this season.
The Atlanta Hawks are struggling with injuries of their own. Of the six players listed on their injury report, it’s no secret what the two crucial game-time decisions will be: Trae Young and Clint Capela. Young, averaging 25.3 points and 8.7 assists per game and bombing deep, off-the-dribble threes from all over the court, is the centerpiece for the Hawks offensively, and while Capela contributes on offense as well, he’s the centerpiece for their defense, averaging 14.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game to go with his 14.2 points. The Hawks miss Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn would be a rotation piece if healthy, and the pending availability of Danilo Gallinari and Cam Reddish will certainly impact the wing match-ups in this game. But Young and Capela are the big ones. If they both–or even one of the two–are ruled out, the expectations for the Clippers to be competitive tonight increase greatly. If both play, LAC still has enough offensive firepower in their available lineup to pull off an upset, but they’ll be playing with house money and very low expectations.
Let’s touch on Reddish and Gallinari again, though. As we’ve discussed throughout this young season, the Clippers’ biggest depth issues come at the forward spots. George starts at SG, but is 6’8″ and can move across positions, and Leonard, Batum, and Morris are all quality rotation pieces. But behind them, the Clippers’ options are 6’5″ sophomore guard Terance Mann, two-way contract wing Amir Coffey, and slow-footed stretch PF Patrick Patterson. With Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Danilo Gallinari, and John Collins, the Hawks have a nice forward rotation of their own. If Reddish and Gallinari come off the bench, as they did on Sunday, and find themselves guarded by Mann and Patterson, it’s going to be a very painful second unit shift for the Clippers. If one (or both) of them are sidelined, forcing Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce to give more minutes to Solomon Hill or Tony Snell, the Clippers might catch a break–both are better depth options than LAC has, but neither is likely to have an offensive outburst.
On the whole, the Hawks have been good-but-not-great on both ends of the floor, ranking 11th with an offensive rating of 111.4 and 9th in defensive rating at 109.1. Their net rating of +2.3 is 8th in the NBA, and they play at an average pace (compared to the Clippers’ 27th-ranked crawl). But the significance of those advanced metrics is murky at best because we don’t know the extent to which the teams that take the court will reflect the lineups that have earned those season-long rankings–the Hawks’ offense isn’t the same without Young, their defense isn’t the same without Capela, the Clippers’ offense and defense are both drastically altered by the absence of Leonard and George, and LA might play a more typical pace with Jackson, Williams, and Mann all featuring more heavily.
Clippers vs Hawks Game Notes
- Shooting Variance: So much in the NBA these days just comes down to who gets hot from deep on a given night. The Clippers lead the NBA in three point percentage at 42.3%, but found themselves in close games against the Oklahoma City Thunder when they went cold from beyond the arc as they tried to pull away. The Hawks’ top-10 defense ealry in the season can largely be attributed to having the second-best three-point defense in the league, allowing just 32.4%. Frankly–and I’ve also said the Clippers’ hot start to the year was some lucky variance that would regress–that Hawks three point defense is fool’s gold. Opponent three point % is pretty much just luck: do guys hit their open shots or not? Whether the shorthanded Clippers match that trend or buck it, a good defense built on opponents missing threes isn’t good process.
- Bigs: The Clippers have yet to take a real look at a two-big lineup featuring Serge Ibaka at power forward and Ivica Zubac at center. A stretch where they’re extremely shorthanded on the perimeter and need to bump players over a position seems like the perfect opportunity to give it a shot. I’m not optimistic that it’s anything more than a situational/emergency look, given how Ibaka’s defensive mobility has decreased as he’s aged, but I also highly doubt that Ibaka is going to look worse at PF next to Zubac than Patterson.
- Lou Williams: The last Clipper who hasn’t really found himself yet this season, Lou hasn’t quite fit in within the team’s new-look offense. That offense, of course, is built around drive-and-kicks from Paul George and great ball movement around Kawhi Leonard post-ups. But that ball movement relies on the other guys having extra space as the defense focuses on the Clippers’ stars–without the primary threat, things won’t be as easy for the rest of the guys. That means the Clippers will need a more typical “let Lou be Lou” performance tonight than when they’re asking him to fill a more interchangeable role in the normal offense. I predicted after his poor game Sunday that Lou would swing a game for LAC on this six-game road trip–with three starters out, that becomes both much more likely and much more important if the Clippers are going to find a way to win games.
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