Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Wednesday: Who are these Clippers?
Now that you’re back from trying to run across the ocean, here’s what you need to know about Wednesday night’s NBA games.
1) Austin Rivers and Jeff Green are no Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but can they be close enough to beat the Trail Blazers? Tonight’s Clippers expected starting lineup — Austin Rivers, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan — has played exactly zero minutes together this season. The Clippers have never had a game where Redick, Jordan, Jamal Crawford suited up but Paul and Griffin didn’t. Which is to say, nobody knows exactly what to expect from the Clippers. Can that group (and the bench) generate an efficient offense? Can they continue to trap and defend Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and reduce their role in the game?
I expect this game to be close — for a couple of games against a team with holes in its lineup, these Clippers can step up and make it interesting. Maybe even win. Crawford could off. The Clippers are not going to just roll over. But the Blazers know what they have to do, and if they get another hot shooting night from Al-Farouq Aminu it will not matter.
2) Welcome to the final Houston Rockets game of the season. Sure, it is technically possible that the Houston Rockets can beat a Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors team at Oracle Arena on Wednesday. We can even lay out a roadmap: Houston has to get its threes to fall (shooting just 29 percent from deep for the playoffs), Donatas Motiejunas has to dominate Draymond Green, James Harden needs to go off, the Rockets need to care on defense, Michael Beasley and Dwight Howard need to have their best games of the series.
Can you see all of that happening? Any of it? The Warriors without Curry are still a good team that can hit threes, and they owned the second half of Game 4 with this lineup. Expect the Warriors to take care of business Wednesday then sit back and watch the Clippers and Trail Blazers battle it out.
3) Nicolas Batum is back, will Charlotte keep getting their points in the paint? Can they keep Miami out of it? The Hornets will have Nicolas Batum back from injury faster than expected, a boost to their Game 5 chances on the road. But more than a French swingman, the thing to watch in this series is which team is getting their buckets inside.
Miami’s defense has prioritized chasing Charlotte off the three-point line — in the regular season Charlotte averaged 29.4 three point attempts a game (fourth most in the league), but in the playoffs that is down to 16.8 per game and they are making just four a night. Charlotte has countered that by going inside — Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin on the drive, Al Jefferson on post ups. While Hassan Whiteside gets some blocks, the strategy shift has worked well enough to get Charlotte a couple wins.
In Game 4, Miami took 26 shots inside eight feet of the rim and hit 53.8 percent of those shots. In Game 3 it was 29 shots, hitting just nine. Go back to Game 1 — Miami’s best offensive output of the playoffs — and they got 39 shots inside eight feet and hit two-thirds of them. Whether it was the insertion of Frank Kaminski into the lineup, or just passivity on the road, Miami settled too much the last two games on offense and now find themselves in a tight best-of-three series. The Heat need to attack again, and feed Whiteside so he gets chances in close.
Whichever team is getting its buckets inside will win.