PREGAME REPORT | JANUARY 19, 2013
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. PST | Staples Center | Los Angeles, CA | Game Notes »
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LOS ANGELES – Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro gathered his team in its usual post-shoot-around huddle Saturday morning and implored them to play with energy and focus, reminding them that they’re a game away from the league’s best record.
Later Saturday, when the Clippers (31-9) take on the Washington Wizards (8-29) at Staples Center, they can pull within in a half game of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who scored a dramatic overtime victory over the Mavericks a night earlier.
It’s the season’s halfway point, and while they are by far and away off to the best start in franchise history, the Clippers have the bigger picture in mind—making a deep postseason run. Griffin talked about it after they defeated the Rockets on Tuesday, saying they are focused on winning games and finishing with the best possible seed in the Western Conference.
With that in mind, enter the Wizards, who are the only team in the league with fewer than 10 wins. However, they have been bolstered of late by the return of star point guard John Wall who played his first game on Jan. 12 after recovering from knee surgery. They have won four of their last five (three of four with Wall), tallying victories against the Thunder, Hawks, Bobcats and Friday night at Denver.
Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who was named to the All-Star team for the sixth time Thursday, is a game-time decision. He has missed three games with a bone bruise in his right kneecap.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 90, Timberwolves 77: Playing their third road game in four nights and third in a row without Paul, the Clippers pulled away from the Timberwolves in the fourth quarter. Crawford scored 22 points off the bench to lead the team in scoring for the 13th time this season and Blake Griffin added 20 points. But the Clippers also got some more unexpected contributions from role players. Ronny Turiaf scored a season-high11 points, including eight in the second quarter, and Willie Green made a pair of 3-pointers to keep the team afloat when their offense was having trouble putting together turnover free possessions.
“We’ve found different ways [to win],” Crawford said. “Guys have been out, or hurt, and different guys have stepped up. I think that’s a credit to our coaching staff being prepared and our teammates being professional and staying ready.”
The Clippers committed 18 turnovers, including 13 from the team’s starters, but they held Minnesota to 35.7% shooting and outscored the Timberwolves 22-14 in the fourth.
Wizards 112, Nuggets 108: Washington snapped an eight-game road losing streak by holding on to beat the Nuggets at Pepsi Center Friday. Rookie guard Bradley Beal scored 23 points for Washington and John Wall rejected Ty Lawson’s layup in the final seconds that would have tied the game for Denver. Wall finished with 14 points and 12 assists to lead the Wizards’ come-from-behind win. They out-scored the Lawson-led Nuggets, 32-21, in the fourth quarter, holding off a spectacular second half for the speedy Denver point guard. Lawson scored 27 of his game-high 29 points on 11-for-16 shooting in the second half, but Wall made sure he missed his final attempt.
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Benches. The Clippers boast the top scoring reserve unit in the NBA (41.7 points per game). But they also lead the league in steals (4.7), defensive efficiency (+16.7) and are in the top three in rebounds (18.5) and blocks (3.6).
“It’s nice because [the starters] come out of the game and a lot of times there’s no let up,” Griffin said when asked about the bench. “A lot of times they pick us up. They get stops. Jamal can heat up in a heartbeat and it’s fun to be a part of that.”
Washington’s bench, led by Trevor Ariza and Wall, are third in scoring (40.6) and second in rebounding (18.8), one spot ahead of the Clippers’ reserves. While Ariza and Wall, who both recently returned from injury, figure to return to the starting lineup eventually. They still have Jordan Crawford, their leading scorer, and Kevin Seraphin. Jordan Crawford is fifth in the NBA in 20-point games off the bench with seven (Jamal Crawford leads the league with 15) and Seraphin has proven a valuable big man behind Nene. In the last five games, Seraphin has failed to score fewer than 16 points just once, including 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting against the Nuggets.
Rebounds. It sounds like a broken record, but the Clippers continue to have issues on the glass. Against the Timberwolves, they allowed 13 offensive boards (five in the first quarter) and sit 18th overall in rebounds per game on the year. That could certainly rear its head against Washington Saturday. While the Wizards have struggled in numerous statistical categories, rebounding has been one of their strong suits. They are sixth in the league with 43.8 boards per game, a number that will only increase as Wall, one of the better rebounding guards, gets more acclimated.
Paul (bruised right kneecap) missed his third consecutive game of the season on Jan. 17, but the Clippers still came away victorious. In two seasons with the Clippers, Paul has missed nine games with the team compiling a record of 6-3… Griffin went 2-for-2 from the free throw line against the Timberwolves on Jan. 17. It followed a perfect 5-for-5 performance two nights earlier at Houston. He made 16 of his last 19 shots from the charity stripe overall, going back to the second quarter of the Clippers’ blowout win over Golden State on Jan. 5… The Clippers are 24-2 when leading after the first quarter… Ariza is from Westchester in Los Angeles… Rookie Bradley Beal is averaging 20.8 points, 3.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds in his last five games… The Clippers went 2-0 against the Wizards last year and have won seven in row overall in the series.
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|CHRIS PAUL BOBBLEHEAD GIVEAWAY|
When: January 22 vs. Oklahoma City
The first 18,000 fans in attendance will receive a Chris Paul Bobblehead courtesy of State Farm