The Clippers take on the Jazz in a game that is a potential playoff matchup preview, as the Jazz are forecasted to be one of the strong mid-tier teams in the Western Conference yet again.
Where: Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
When: 6:00 PM PT
How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Nic Batum – Serge Ibaka
Jazz: Mike Conley – Donovan Mitchell – Royce O’Neal – Bojan Bogdanovic – Rudy Gobert
Clippers: Marcus Morris Doubtful (Knee soreness)
The Big Picture
The Clippers of the past week are a great example of how quickly narratives and momentum can shift in the NBA. Coming off two great wins to start the year against the Lakers and Nuggets, the Clippers fell apart in every conceivable way last Sunday in their historic loss to the Mavericks. They then bounced right back, and played two absolutely terrific games against the Timberwolves and Blazers, forcing two routs and getting their Net Rating right back up to top 10 status.
When the Clippers have succeeded this year, it’s been with a balanced offensive attack buoyed by great ball movement and a highly effective defense that has rim protection on the court at all times. While Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have struggled with turnovers at times, they’ve also looked for teammates and moved the ball much more aggressively than last year, which has made the offense quite a bit less stagnant. Role players such as Nic Batum and Serge Ibaka have added shooting and passing as well, bringing different dimensions to their roles than the Clippers had last season. Overall, it’s been a very promising first five games, even with that blight of a Mavs loss. However, in this game, the Clippers get a very different preview of a playoff contender with this Jazz team, a physical squad that relies on defense rather than offense.
The Jazz have had a much less impressive start to their season. They blew out the Blazers in their opener, but then lost to a mediocre Timberwolves team, barely scraped out a win over a tanking Thunder squad, and lost handily to the actually good Suns last night. The Jazz will no doubt be a solid playoff team again, but don’t look like the contender some were billing them as coming into the season. Then again, it is early, and Donovan Mitchell has been absolutely ice cold to start. When he gets going, the Jazz will almost certainly come together as well.
For those who have not paid much attention to the Jazz’ offseason moves, they are largely the same team as last year, led by Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and flanked by Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neal, and Jordan Clarkson. The only major addition to their rotation is Derrick Favors, who left for New Orleans for a season but was brought back to shore up their center position when Gobert rests. They will be a strong defense, and will over-rely on Mitchell to create shots. Still, they’re a talented and well-coached team, and not to be taken lightly.
Guarding Donovan Mitchell – The key to stopping the Jazz attack is to slow down Mitchell. While Conley, Ingles, and Bogdanovic can all create offense at a fair pace, their main weapon is undoubtedly Mitchell, who can pop off for 40 points on any given night. The Clippers fortunately have several good options to throw at Mitchell, with Beverley, George, and Leonard all getting the assignment last season. However, the Clippers have thrown Nic Batum onto several very tough matchups this year, such as CJ McCollum and D’Angelo Russell, and he’s done well with them. This strategy has enabled George, Kawhi, and Beverley to play off-ball more and lock in for key possessions, and it’s worked positively thus far. It will be interesting to see if Batum gets the call on Mitchell tonight.
Dragging Rudy Out of the Paint – The Clippers have never had a true floor-spacing option as a starting center before. Rudy Gobert, the best rim protector of the modern NBA era, has therefore been able to lurk in the paint against the Clippers and dominate their shot attempts. Serge Ibaka, as mentioned above, adds that different dimension of three-point shooting, which should enable the Clippers to drag Gobert out of the paint. If he can do so consistently, he will clear driving lanes for Leonard, George, and Lou Williams, who have struggled against the Jazz in the past.
End the Patrick Patterson at Center Experiment – Ty Lue has played Patrick Patterson at center several times this year for short stretches, and it’s been bad each time. While Patterson does add a floor-spacing element, he’s a poor rebounder and help defender even for a power forward, much less the anchor of the defense. He also appears to have lost half a step on defense since last year, resulting in constant blow-bys to the rim. The Clippers simply can’t get away with using him there, which is bad news, as it’s clear the coaching staff doesn’t trust either Mfiondu Kabengele or Daniel Oturu in that third center role. If either Serge or Zu gets into foul trouble, the Clippers will be in a tough spot.
Well, that’s it for this game preview of the Clippers against the Jazz. Comment on the game below, and happy 2021! Thank you so much for your continued readership and support!