Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Feb. 6

Title: Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Feb. 6
Date: January 2, 2015
Original Source: Raptors Republic
Synopsis: This Raptors pre-game broke down the Raptors’ Feb. 6 contest against the Clippers.

It’s a struggling Toronto Raptors team against an impressive Los Angeles Clippers team. It’s a Friday night home game with a now-unusual 7 p.m. tip-off. It’s on ESPN (and Sportsnet One). It’s kind of a big deal.

The Clippers are an interesting opponent for the Raptors right now considering how things looked the last time the two sides squared off. Rewind to Dec. 27, and a DeMar DeRozan-less Raptors team went into Staples Center and took a 110-98 victory from the Clippers, quite possibly the team’s high-water mark for the season. They were 23-7, and after beating the Nuggets in Denver the next night, things went off the rails.

Friday’s match-up no longer looks like a battle between top-two offenses (to be fair, the Raptors remain fourth), it no longer looks like a battle between the best point guards in each conference (sorry, Kyle Lowry, but you haven’t been that guy since), and it no longer looks like even a long-shot Finals preview (it probably never did). The Raptors haven’t played well in over a month, and though the Clippers have dropped a few winnable ones of late, they’re in a much better place, even with J.J. Redick’s sore back highlighting their paucity of wing options.

On the bright side for Toronto, the Clippers were in Cleveland on Thursday and could be tired, explaining why the Raptors enter as two-point favorites. Based on home court numbers for the season, that implies the Raptors are within roughly a point of the Clippers on neutral ground, which I think is a bit friendly to Toronto. As has often been the case in the past few weeks, I’m somewhere south of confident, but let’s break it down.

To help set the stage for the game, I hooked up with Roscoe Whalan of ClipperBlog for a little back-and-forth.

Blake: The Clippers have the league’s best offense, but how seriously is threatened if J.J. Redick misses significant time with back spasms?

Roscoe: The Clippers arguably run six-deep so losing one of those six is always going to hurt. Redick is one of the best role players in the league and is an integral part of the Clippers’ offense. More than just a shooter (43% from deep), Redick runs defenders ragged, coming off of countless screens in the half court. Just from a familiarity perspective, Redick missing a substantial chunk of time will hurt the Clippers continuity. In 46 games, the Clippers’ starting unit has played nearly 300 more minutes together than the next closest team. The offensive rating for that group is 117.2 points per 100 possessions. The good news? When Crawford replaces Redick with the starters (as is often the case in the fourth quarter) the offensive rating is even higher. Long term, there are red flags surrounding Redick’s longevity too; a shooter on the wrong side of 30 with back problems (he missed 47 games last year) is not a good sign.

Roscoe: Both the Raptors and the Clippers lost to the Nets this week, for which team was the loss more troublesome?

Blake: I don’t think the loss is that troublesome for the Clippers, who lost Redick and just generally had a poor outing. Wednesday’s game for Toronto was just one game, too, obviously, but stood to back up a lot of concerns that were beneath the surface during the team’s recent six-game winning streak. Basically, the Raptors haven’t played well since late December but have benefited from an easy stretch of schedule. An ugly loss to Brooklyn – less than a week after coughing up a 17-point lead to that same team and needing overtime to win – affirms that Toronto has lost its way some.

Blake: What the hell has Doc Rivers, the executive, been thinking, and how much better could this team be with a few small non-moves?

Roscoe: Maybe it was all part of his master plan to save his son’s NBA career? Maybe he’s trying to piece together a roster of former Celtic heroes from 2009? Who knows? One thing is for sure, Doc’s tenure as President of Basketball Operations with the Clippers has been marred by one mistake after another. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but unfortunately, the roster as it stands now has spiralled out of Doc’s first deal when he traded Eric Bledsoe away for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick. Without taking you on a tour of Decisions of Doc’s Past, let’s just say he whiffed on four moves this off-season alone: Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ekpe Udoh. If one of those had worked out (and there is still time for Hawes) then maybe Doc’s GM-ing abilities wouldn’t be in the firing line so much.

Roscoe: Should we get used to Terrence Ross coming off of the bench long-term?

Blake: I’m not sure about long-term. He hasn’t really been any better on defense since his demotion but his offense has come around a bit, and the team needs him for spacing. Basically, the team has to start one of Ross, Greivis Vasquez or Patrick Patterson at one position lest they wreck their spacing, and re-inserting Ross for Vasquez requires the least shuffling of deck chairs if Dwane Casey wants a slightly more effective defensive look. Personally, I’d be willing to experiment with a James Johnson-Patterson three-four pairing (Amir Johnson has done nothing wrong, he just can’t start with a DeMar DeRozan-James Johnson wing pairing), but failing that, I’d rather Ross start than Vasquez.

Blake: Blake Griffin has become much, much more versatile offensively, but his overall numbers remain largely unchanged. Does his evolution raise the Clippers upside, even if it’s not shown in the numbers, and if so, how?

Roscoe: Absolutely. The Griffin who jumped over cars and turned players into verbs is a distant memory. For a long time Griffin relied upon his strength to barrel into the lane but with DeAndre Jordan’s range about as long as his arm, spacing had been an issue. Griffin’s worked tirelessly to rework his jump shot (40.6% on mid-range jump shots), which has opened the offense. While his rebounding has dipped to career low numbers (partially a scheme thing and partially a being a further from the basket thing) his play-making abilities have been outstanding. He’s the only player in the league averaging more than 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game. His combination of ball-handling, strength, size and vision has turned him into one of the most difficult players to stop. If the Clippers want to make a run to The Finals a lot will depend on Griffin carrying them there.

Roscoe: Who’s more likely to win Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford?

Blake: Their raw production has been pretty much the same, with Williams owning a slightly higher PER but Crawford creating for teammates a little more. Williams also has a substantial positive impact on the Raptors whereas the Clippers are worse with Crawford on the floor, but that’s a terribly unfair comparison given the quality of the Clippers’ starters and the quality of players Williams generally shares the floor with. I’ll play the homer and give Williams a slight nod – in part because his resurgence and some voter fatigue for Crawford may make Williams the actual favorite – but I believe less in Lou’s ability to maintain this level of play than J-Crossover’s.

6th Man Williams Crawford
MPG 24.5 26.3
PPG 15.2 15.7
RPG 1.7 2.1
APG 1.8 2.6
PER 19.6 17.3
O-Rtg 114.0 110.5
D-Rtg 105.3 106.7
On/Off +/- +7.9 -8.8

This is going to be a tough one, especially on the defensive end, where the Raptors have been terrible for the better part of the last six weeks. Lowry can’t stop Paul, nobody can stop Crawford, Jordan can neutralize the edge Jonas Valanciunas provides, and Blake Griffin is a serious problem. The Raptors do have an appreciable depth edge, so if the Clippers enter tired, it’s a winnable home game on a major stage. That would hopefully serve to change the momentum in the opposite direction for Toronto, something that’s sorely needed at the beginning of this ridiculous stretch of schedule.

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