INSIDER: 2013-14 TOP 5 HOME GAMES
With the release of the Clippers’ full broadcast schedule this week, it seemed like an ideal time to discuss some of the best games of the 2013-14 season. Here are five home games that stand out, considering opponent, history and ulterior circumstances, such as time of year or what could be at stake.
5. Miami Heat on Feb. 5
It is somewhat bizarre to think that a matchup with the two-time defending champions, who, by the way, are riding a three-game losing streak versus the Clippers at Staples Center, would be No. 5 in a list of top home games. There is star power, a national audience on ESPN, and one of the most dazzling defensive teams attempting to thwart what could be one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. However, it speaks to the depth and quality of the Western Conference that the Clippers-Heat is this far down the list.
It is the second matchup of the year between the two; the first coming in Miami in November. Still, there are plenty of points of interest: LeBron James matching up with Blake Griffin, for example. In splitting the season series last year, Griffin averaged 16.5 points on 56.5 percent shooting and 9.5 rebounds with James on the court. They are two of the league’s premier athletes and the Feb. 5 meeting could be a solid mid-season measuring stick for where Griffin and the Clippers sit among the league’s elite.
4. Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 18
This will be the 21st meeting between Clippers and Grizzlies since January 2012. In less than two calendar years they will have played two more games than the Yankees and Red Sox did in a 162-game baseball season. Talk about a rivalry. There is more palpable dislike between the Clippers and Grizzlies than arguably any teams in the league. It starts with the fan bases, who have grown increasingly more irritated with the other over the course of seven regular season games and 13 post season games.
When the Clippers and Grizzlies faced off in the season opener last year, it was dubbed Game 8 of the 2012 postseason. The Clippers won that game and three of the four during the 2012-13 regular season, preventing Memphis from exacting any sense of revenge from a seven-game postseason defeat. Of course, that all changed when the Grizzlies won four-straight games in round of one of the playoffs four months ago. The tables will turn in Game 21… While both teams have new coaches (Dave Joerger and Doc Rivers), they return the principle characters in the heated rivalry. Chris Paul, Matt Barnes and Tony Allen all re-signed with their respective teams. Mike Conley and DeAndre Jordan played together on Team USA this summer and admitted it was “weird” to share a court with the same name on the front of their jersey. And there’s always the Griffin and Zach Randolph UFC match. Considering the way Game 6 ended in Memphis, with the Grizzlies winning by double digits and Paul and Randolph being ejected on separate plays in the fourth quarter, there is no question that Nov. 18 will be another extension of the playoffs.
3. Golden State Warriors on Oct. 31
Halloween has served as a rivalry day for the Clippers over the last two seasons. After a matchup on Oct. 31 with the aforementioned Grizzlies last year, they draw the upstart Golden State Warriors a year later. The Clippers lost, 114-110, at home to Golden State in November 2012 and then two out of three times when they played in a 20-day span in January. While they have been Pacific Division mates for decades, the Clippers-Warriors matchup reached the apex last year. Both teams were top six teams in the West, both have high profile players with former All-Star Andre Iguodala being added to the mix, and after four contentious games in 2012-13 they have even higher team expectations this year.
How did it become a rivalry so quickly? Well, it started in L.A. on Nov. 3 when after the Warriors won by four on the Clippers’ home floor, they were accused of perhaps celebrating more exuberantly than would be the norm. It carried on to a Jan. 2 meeting known as the White Out game when fans Oracle Arena were decked out in all white… in the regular season. Three days later, after the Warriors blew out the Clippers in Oakland, the teams met again. And that’s when things got even more interesting. Then-rookie Harrison Barnes sarcastically referred to the Clippers as “world champions” in a USA Today story prior to the next game and the Clippers looked like it through three quarters, dominating the Warriors for one of their most convincing performances of last season, at one point while boasting a 30-plus point lead, Jordan and Paul connected on three consecutive alley-oops in the third quarter much to the dismay of Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, who gave the Clippers’ bench an extended stare down during a timeout. The Clippers hardly let up winning by 26. That was the last time the two teams met at Staples. What could the encore have in store?
2. San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 18
For the second year in a row the Clippers play the San Antonio Spurs in the game immediately following the All-Star break. Last season that didn’t work out so well. The Spurs won a lopsided affair against the Clippers, snapping a modest four-game winning streak. At the time the Clippers entered All-Star Weekend healthy and playing outstanding basketball, winning all four games by 10 points or more and putting on a 3-point shooting display in wins over the Rockets and Lakers at home. All of that evaporated with the Spurs in town a week later and the Clippers will look to avoid the same thing happening again.
More importantly, perhaps, the Spurs game is the first of a three-game stretch that includes three of the top five teams in the Western Conference last year. The Clippers play the Spurs on Feb. 18 before closing out the week in Memphis and Oklahoma City. Add to it that the Clippers only play the Spurs and Grizzlies three times this season and the importance of coming out with a much stronger showing out of the break is heightened. But as it has been for nearly 15 years in the West, getting through it all means getting through the Spurs first.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder on Apr. 9
The Clippers play the Oklahoma City Thunder twice in the first 14 games of the season. Once home, once away. However, neither of those in that eight-game span will be the most important meetings of the season between the two Western Conference powerhouses. If both teams are in the mix for a top three seed in the playoffs, or perhaps the conference’s best record, their April 9 game at Staples Center could decide things.
Of course, this won’t be the first time late-season drama could unfold on the Clippers’ home court against the Thunder. Last season, with a month remaining they played a harrowing 108-104 game in which a half game was between the two teams in the standings. Serge Ibaka was called for a blatant flagrant foul, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 64 points and the Clippers neared 20 turnovers in the first half. But despite spotting Oklahoma City a lead as large as 19, the Clippers climbed back to take the lead on a straightaway 3-pointer from Jamal Crawford after a wild seven-point possession. Ultimately, Westbrook put the game away with a baseline jumper.
In the last seven meetings between the Clippers and Thunder, L.A. is 3-4 (2-2 at Staples), including dropping all three games last season. One of those losses came in January without Paul (knee), though, and the other in overtime the day before Thanksgiving. By the time they meet in April 2014, they will have faced each other three more times. Clearly, at that point we’ll know the answer to a number of the questions that bedevil the Thunder now. How will Westbrook bounce back from a meniscus injury sustained in this past postseason? How will Jeremy Lamb fair as the primary wing scorer off the bench? How will rookie Steven Adams fit in? Is Reggie Jackson ready for prime minutes as the team’s sixth man?
If nothing else, though, the Thunder and Clippers in all likelihood will be attempting to separate themselves from what promises to be another deep West, meaning April 9, 2014 could be one of the most important late-season games in the entire league.