The Clippers sit at 12-6 on the season, but in an absolutely packed Western conference, that's nothing at which to scoff. LAC has one of the most dynamic offenses in the league and, led by floor-general and perennial MVP candidate Chris Paul, they are a terrifying match-up for Atlanta's usually mediocre pick-and-roll defense. The Hawks may play in the Highlight Factory, but the Clippers are looking to accentuate that nickname by their own doing.
Question (Daniel Christian): The Clippers were tagged by many to start the year as a title contender. Do you think they've lived up to that expectation so far?
Answer (Lucas Hann): It's hard to say if the Clippers have lived up to expectations, because expectations have varied so much. At Clips Nation, we tempered our expectations for the opening stretch of the year due to a nasty schedule. Wins over Golden State, Houston twice, Minnesota twice, and Oklahoma City say that yes, this Clippers team is a title contender. They've also lost games in Miami, in OKC, and at home against Indiana (without Matt Barnes or JJ Redick). So have the Clippers been worldbeaters? Nah, but they've definitely been good. They're definitely better now than they were a month ago, and they're definitely title contenders, especially once they get healthy and add Lamar Odom or another defensive big off the bench.
Q: Jeff Teague is off to a strong start for the Hawks, but he certainly is no CP3. How will the Clippers' superstar look to take advantage of a sometimes porous perimeter Hawks defense?
A: To be frank, Chris Paul will abuse your perimeter defense, porous or not. Teague might actually be able to do a solid job on CP3 as he tends to struggle against the smaller, quicker guards like Teague, Conley, Parker and Isaiah Thomas. What he'll do is he'll come off of ball screens, get into the lane, and work from there. He can take a stepback jumper from anywhere inside 20 feet, he'll pull up for a floater, he can take it all the way to the rim, and of course he can find any of the Clippers' many cutters and shooters. He's a tremendous player and I've really never had the privilege of watching someone as gifted as him play on a regular basis before.
Q: JJ Redick recently broke his hand. How will his absence effect the Clippers' offense and how does that change the match-up for Atlanta?
A: Redick's absence changes everything. Every singe offensive set the Clippers run when they have their starters on the floor is contingent upon off-ball motion by Redick. He's magnificent coming off of curls and screens and, if the defense loads up on the side of the floor with the Redick/Griffin off-ball action, then on the other side Jared Dudley is certainly capable of making an open shot or dishing to the much-improved DeAndre Jordan. Without Redick, the Clippers run those motions to either Dudley or interim starting SG Willie Green, who is a shadow of the man he's replacing. It's a lot easier to defend without Redick on the court. Due to that, the Hawks defense should expect to see less of that motion that has been the Clippers' calling card so far, and instead a higher dosage of Blake Griffin post-ups, Chris Paul pick-and-rolls, and Jamal Crawford isolations.
Q: Who do you think wins on Wednesday night and why?
A: I think the Clippers win. They won't embarrass the Hawks but I don't think it'll be particularly close either. I think that especially after being demolished on the glass against the Pacers in their last game (the overall numbers were fairly even, but the Clippers lost the game down the stretch by allowing offensive boards, including a critical one when they were down 3 with less than 20 seconds remaining), the Clippers will come out aggressive on the boards against a Pacers team that already struggles on the glass. The Clippers starting bigs average 23.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. The Hawks? Only 16.9.
My take: The Hawks have lost 5 of 6 and it doesn't look like it's getting any easier when Lob City and the Clippers come to town. And I don't care if Blake Griffin doesn't want to be called Lob City anymore. It's a permanent moniker. As long as there are lobs and there is a city, it is what it is.
Anyway, it's just not a good match-up for the Hawks. The Clippers have a slew of talented guards led by the point-god himself, Chris Paul. Teague's pick-and-roll defense has been notoriously weak, and given Paul's effectiveness in pick-and-rolls from just about everywhere on the floor, I'm not sure how Teague is going to hold up on that end of the floor. And as for the Clipper bigs, I think Atlanta matches up well. I think we're in for a shootout and it's going to be a high scoring game. Both teams are going to get a ton of open perimeter looks.
Something else to watch is the return of Jamal Crawford. I'm sure he'll have a nice night as usual, but it's always fun to note when a former actually impactful Hawk steps foot in Philips again. I don't know about everyone else, but I miss the shake-and-bake, even if his role as the irrational confidence guy was too much for some. Mainly though, I miss him banking wild three-pointers over Jameer Nelson's head.