Pistons face title contender: L.A. Clippers

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (25-43) at Los Angeles Clippers (48-21)
  • Date: March 22, 2014
  • Time: 10:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

The Los Angeles Clippers are title contenders folks.

Doc Rivers’ group possesses a top-10 offense and defense, and that might be just enough to get them to the NBA Finals in a brutal Western Conference.

Offensively, the Clippers run some smooth sets designed to take advantage of their strengths. Los Angeles has strong perimeter creators coupled with destructive finishers at the basket.

Thus, their game plan typically revolves around meshing both together. The Clips keep the ball flowing from one player to the next, to ensure it doesn’t stick too long with one guy.

This explains why their isolations numbers have dipped this season in comparison to last year per Synergy Sports. Instead, they are running more pick-and-rolls, but they also have a clearer purpose.

Rivers runs plays designed to force defenses into rotations, and then unleashes the pick-and-roll to create an abundance of options. The action routinely creates either open jumpers, or a high-percentage look right at the basket.

Because LAC has solid ball-handlers, defenses may occasionally opt to stay at home on players, which opens up the lane for penetrators to get all the way to the basket. One of the most fascinating aspects of the offense is that it’s functioned as of late despite the absence of some important pieces.

J.J. Redick, the team’s best shooter, has been in and out of the lineup this season, while Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison were sidelined up until recently. According to Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles, Crawford and Collison should be in the lineup tonight, while Redick’s improving health likely means he will be back on the floor soon.

Until Redick returns, the coaching staff will continue putting their trust into Danny Granger. The former Indiana Pacer is only converting 43.1 percent of his shots as a Clipper, but he gives the team a bit of diversity.

Granger stretches the floor with his long-range shooting, and he has the capability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Perhaps one of the most surprising dimensions he brings to L.A. is the ability to create solid looks from the low-post area when matched up against a defender that can’t handle his 6’8’’ frame.

To be clear, Granger isn’t the guy that puts the Clippers over the top, but his presence helps maintain a semblance a perimeter balance when the likes of Crawford and Matt Barnes are either struggling or injured.

On the other side of the court, the Clippers are very good defensively, but they are not a lockdown team. The rotations are there, but they aren’t always perfectly timed. Chris Paul and Co. can get away with it against most teams because of the freakish athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but the best scoring teams in the league will make them pay for the lack of synergy on this front.

Still, the Clippers have been good enough on both ends to warrant inclusion in the title discussion. They boast the second-biggest scoring differential in the league (plus-7.1) and are virtually unbeatable at home as evidenced by their 29-5 record at Staples Center.

In addition, their strengths line up perfectly with the weaknesses of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Put it all together, and the Clippers have the second-best odds of winning the championship according to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds.

Hoop with the Harm

The MVP discussion evidently will come down to Kevin Durant and LeBron James, with every other elite player watching it unfold seemingly from the sidelines. It looks as though Durant will cash in for the award because James appears to be wearing down.

The wear and tear from the last-three consecutive runs to the NBA Finals might finally be catching up with the reigning league MVP. If such is the case, the guy quietly in the third spot might make his way into the discussion. His name: Blake Griffin.

Griffin’s been the best player on a team projected to win 57 games, and he stepped his game up immensely during the absence of Chris Paul. During the month of February, Griffin averaged 30 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on 54.5 percent field-goal shooting.

With Paul returning, Griffin got reacquainted with his point guard and adjusted his game. The highflyer’s numbers in March: 24.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game 50.6 percent shooting from the field. An argument could be made that he’s been the best power forward in the league.

Griffin probably won’t win the Maurice Podoloff award, but he has certainly thrown his name into the hat of “emergency candidates” when it appeared as though only two names really mattered.

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