Los Angeles Clippers (38-20) vs Brooklyn Nets (17-42)
7:30 p.m. PST
February 29, 2016
Fox Prime Ticket
1. Have the Nets finally bottomed out for good? Where to from here?
Devin Kharpertian, The Brooklyn Game (@uuords): Yes and no? They’re on an upward trajectory in the long-term, but they’re going to be a very bad team until the end of the season. They’ve won two surprising road games since buying out Joe Johnson, but this is a team with a dearth of talent, zero playoff chances, and no first-round draft pick riding out the end of the season. There’s a visible light at the end of the tunnel, but they’re still stuck in traffic on the way through.
Aaron Williams (@aaronsmarter): The Nets have hit that point where they should bounce back, but it all depends on what they do next. You ride it out for the rest of the season and then you use the start you’ve made by waiving Johnson and use that cap room to try and pull in some assets. We’ll see what they manage to do.
Ben Mesirow (@SemNeb): It’s hard to say they’ve bottomed out (at least in comparison to, say, Philly) because they actually still have some good players on the roster, but things are not great. They don’t have control of their own first round pick until 2019, and at the moment they only have one second round pick before 2021, so they can’t even tank. Their plan from here has to be acquiring free agents who are drawn to Brooklyn, but they may have to take risks on struggling players, overpay for mid-tier talent, or both. They can trade or buy their way into the draft to acquire a young player or two, but things look pretty bleak for the near future in Brooklyn.
2. Over the past 10 games CP3 is playing around 36 minutes per contest. Are you worried about his minutes? Is there any other option?
Kharpertian: I presume you mean that 36 minutes per game is too much? Put it this way: an opposing team will always be worried about Chris Paul’s minutes, especially one that has Donald Sloan and Shane Larkin as their only point guards.
Williams: No. And no. In reverse order. The Clippers need CP. There’s no getting around this. They’re stuck without Griffin. But as long as Paul stays relatively healthy, they’ll find him spots to rest in games. Rivers comes back soon, so that helps as well. Besides: he’s a tough little bugger.
Mesirow: In order: yes and no. 36 minutes per game is a whole lot for a 30 year old point guard who has a history of acquiring nagging injuries right around playoff time. Especially because CP’s minutes have been tougher, with a much heavier creative burden, without Blake Griffin on the floor. When Paul went to the bench to get worked on against the Nuggets I was ready to raise the white flag, which speaks to the second half of the question – the Clippers have no choice but to lean hard on Paul and hope his body can support the team’s weight.
3. What’s more likely: The Nets win 5 more games this year or the Clippers winning 15?
Kharpertian: Clippers winning 15. There’s a tough schedule ahead but at least 10 teams they have a comfortable advantage over (Brooklyn, New York, Houston, New Orleans, Denver, Minnesota, Washington, Lakers twice, Utah, Phoenix). They probably won’t win all of those, but they should cobble enough together and compete with the tougher teams to give them a better shot. The Nets, on the other hand, never have a comfortable advantage over just about any team.
Williams: Both? The Nets have a cupcake schedule coming up immediately after the Clippers game, so if they can’t beat the Lakers, Sixers, Wolves, and Pelicans, they’re in dire straits indeed. There are at least a couple teams at the end there they might catch slipping or resting, so it’s possible. Meanwhile, the Clippers only have 4 games against teams I’d consider threats, and 3 of them are against the Thunder, and it’s not like I expect them to lose against them. The Clippers will have every opportunity to finish strongly, and Nets can at least limp to the finish.
Mesirow: I think both are pretty reasonable outcomes, and going 5-18 and 15-9, respectively, feels like a fair expectation for each team. If I had to pick one I think I might turn towards the Nets winning 5 more, mostly because teams will probably take their foot off the gas once playoff seeds are set, and lottery-bound teams will shift all the way into reverse to get a better pick. In that case it should be easier for teams that are still trying to win to sneak in a couple that they probably won’t deserve, and if the Clippers stay locked into the 4 seed they may take the opportunity to coast into the postseason.