Red-Hot Rival

Scorching Clippers tough test for Pistons as they look to snap 4-game skid

There’s a spirited debate in New York for which team owns the city, the Knicks or the newly relocated Nets, but not much of an argument to be made in Los Angeles. Long a thoroughly one-sided rivalry, the Clippers arrive at The Palace holding a healthy seven-game lead over the reeling Lakers.

They also arrive as perhaps the NBA’s hottest team, not only sporting a nine-game winning streak but a margin of victory of 15.3 points per game over that span. For the season, only Oklahoma City – on a 10-game winning streak of its own – has a higher average winning margin than the Clippers.

“They’re playing at a very high level and they’re doing it in the first quarter,” Lawrence Frank said after Monday’s morning shootaround. “Defensively, they turn you over and they convert your turnovers into dunks. They have as deep a team as there is in the league and that’s minus Chauncey (Billups, out tonight with tendinitis but returned from last season’s Achilles tendon rupture) and minus Grant Hill.”

The Clippers instantly became a team to take seriously when the NBA gave its approval to the trade that sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles – after nixing a similar three-team trade that would have delivered him to the Lakers. Paul’s distribution skills have allowed the Clippers to maximize the perimeter shooting skills of players like Billups and sixth man Jamal Crawford, the team’s second-leading scorer at 17 per game, and the athletic ability of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

It’s that “Lob City” aspect of the Clippers – Paul throwing pinpoint passes over defenses for Griffin and Jordan dunks – that could induce Frank to alter his rotation pattern and usher Andre Drummond into the game a little sooner than usual tonight.

“You try subbing early and getting big on big,” Frank said. “You read it. If we’re doing a good job, that will determine it. But, yeah, theoretically, that’s the matchup. Andre really helped change (Saturday’s game with Indiana), but also he learned what David West is all about. Certain things he’s just going to have to learn on the run and we’ll have to learn with him. As long as he continues to bring the energy and effort, we’ll continue to roll with it.”

Jordan, the Clippers’ fifth-year center, is one of the players to whom Drummond was frequently compared in the weeks that preceded the 2012 draft. Like Drummond, Jordan was considered a likely top-five pick prior to his freshman season at Texas A&M. Like Drummond, an uneven freshman season sent Jordan’s draft stock tumbling – in his case, dramatically, all the way to the 35th pick. Like Drummond, Jordan is an athletic 7-footer who can block shots and possesses a raw offensive game.

Frank says the similarities stop there.

“I think they’re different players,” he said. “I didn’t really see (the comparisons before the draft). I just think sometimes guys take the easy way out and you see tall, athletic, he’s just like him. I don’t think so. I just think they’re different.”

Jordan averages 26 minutes, 9.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks; Drummond averages 18.4 minutes, 6.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

The Pistons take a 7-19 record into tonight’s game, having lost four straight.

  • Frank saw good things from Kim English and Khris Middleton in their D-League debuts with Fort Wayne, helping the Mad Ants to a weekend split. English averaged 19.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds in 38.5 minutes, Middleton 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in 25.5 minutes.

    “The first game, both those guys, I thought, did some good things offensively,” he said. “As the minutes got stretched out, defensively, you could see it. The second game, Kim had to play point guard because Walker Russell was hurt and he wound up having eight assists. I think it’s beneficial for both those guys to play.”

    English and Middleton will play one more game with the Mad Ants, on Tuesday, before rejoining the Pistons in Toronto for Wednesday’s game with the Raptors.