They meet again. After facing off twice in the 2012 NBA China Games during the preseason, the Clippers and defending-champion Miami Heat are familiar with one another.
On Wednesday night they play for the first time in the regular season at Staples Center, a place Miami has failed to win in its two years since LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to town.
“It will be fun,” Jamal Crawford said. “We saw them a couple times. It was weird over there (in China), it did not feel like a preseason game with all the hype and outside of the country. We both played it like a real game.”
Wednesday will certainly be the real thing. The Clippers (5-2) and Heat (6-2) come into the game atop their respective divisions and while Miami is entering the early stages of its title defense, the Clippers have already shown an ability to win games against the league’s elite.
Two of the Clippers’ three home victories have come against the Spurs and Grizzlies, both one-loss teams. For Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, it is just a matter of staying the course.
“We just need to handle the Heat well,” he said. “There are a lot of big games and we just need to handle them one at a time and stay focused on the game plan.”
That plan starts on the defensive end, where the Clippers have held their last three opponents to 42.7% shooting or worse.
The keys for Del Negro are “Get after it early defensively and play hard, set the tone early. They are going to make some shots. They are going to make some plays. Just work through it and stay consistent on our part.”
Forward Blake Griffin said preparing for the Heat is the same as anyone else.
“We prepare for teams the same way, really,” Griffin said. “[We make sure] we know their sets and what we’re doing defensively.”
Heat guard Dwyane Wade is listed as a game-time decision with a left foot sprain. He did not participate in the team’s Wednesday morning shoot-around.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 89, Hawks 76: After matching a franchise record with 100 points or more in their first six games, the Clippers pulled out a defensive struggle with the Hawks Sunday at Staples Center. With the Hawks ahead by one late in the third quarter, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford scored the final six points of the period, and the Clippers bench overwhelmed Atlanta in the fourth. In the span of about seven minutes the Clippers put together a 20-3 run, including six steals and nine fast-break points.
“Our bench really came in and turned the corner for us with their steals and transition plays,” Del Negro said.
Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes combined for seven of the team’s 12 steals and Griffin finished with a game-high 16 points. Josh Smith scored a team-high 13 points for the Hawks, but Atlanta shot just 41.7% from the field.
Heat 113, Rockets 110: LeBron James scored 32 of his 38 points after halftime, including making five of his seven 3-pointers and helping the Heat come back Monday to beat the host Rockets. After James went on a personal 8-3 run to give the Heat a one-point lead, Dwyane Wade missed two free throws with eight seconds left but Chris Bosh secured an offensive rebound and was fouled. Bosh made both shots from the line and James Harden missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer on the other end. Wade had 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds and Bosh added 24 points and 10 rebounds. Chandler Parsons led the Rockets with 25 points, including 5-of-10 from behind the arc.
Caron Butler vs. LeBron James. James has historically had trouble scoring against the Clippers. He’s averaging 23.1 points per game in 17 meetings with L.A., the lowest scoring average against any NBA opponent, and shooting 41.3%, also his low against an opponent. In last season’s meeting James had a chance to put Miami ahead by two in the final seconds but missed two of his four free throws. Of course, he still finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, but shot just 7-of-19 from the field.
James’ production last year was offset by Butler, who aided the Clippers with 20 points on an ultra-efficient 6-for-11 shooting. In Wednesday’s meeting, Butler will be important in making James take contested shots and again chipping in some scoring of his own.
Del Negro said defending James is not necessarily all up to Butler, but will be a team effort. “[You have to] take the easy ones away,” he continued. “You know what to do, but he is so athletic and gifted it’s hard at times. I have a lot of confidence in our guys and I know they will be ready to play.”
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Clippers in the paint. The Heat has allowed 40.5 points in the paint per game, while the Clippers score 47.7 points per game in the paint (second in the league). With an undersized frontcourt of Chris Bosh and Shane Battier, the Heat could be at a disadvantage against Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. On the other end, Griffin has the athleticism to stay with Battier on the perimeter, and Jordan must be wary of getting pulled out of the paint by Bosh.
DeAndre Jordan. Preseason or not, Jordan had his way with the Heat in Shanghai, scoring over four different defenders in the first half and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. In a way, the Clippers, 99-89, win foreshadowed Jordan’s recent play. In the last three games, he’s had 49 points and 24 rebounds. Jordan also leads the Clippers in blocked shots with 15 and his 2.14 blocks per game is 11th in the NBA.
The Clippers have a four-game home winning streak against the Heat and have won both games at Staples Center since James joined the team in the summer of 2010… James and Paul were two of five members on both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams. Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Kobe Bryant were the other three… The Clippers have held opponents to less than 43% shooting and 83.3 points per game during their three-game winning streak… James has scored in double-figures a Heat franchise-record-tying 148 consecutive games… Butler, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf have all played for the Heat. Turiaf was a member of last season’s championship team… Allen has made at least one 3-point basket in 32 of 33 career games against the Clippers… The Clippers have the No. 2 scoring bench in the league, averaging 40.9 points per game. The Bucks are first (41.5).
Asked if playing the Heat is a good “measuring stick” for the Clippers, Chris Paul said: “They are the defending champs, so I don’t see why not. At the same time, we are in a pretty good position right now and it is more about us than other teams. We are good enough to play our game and beat whomever.”