LA Clippers (14-5) @ Cleveland Cavaliers (13-3)
Quicken Loans Arena
5 p.m. PST (8 p.m. EST)
December 1, 2016
A popular Doc Rivers refrain from last season was how the Clippers were the last team to eliminate the last two NBA champions in the postseason at the time, the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.
Well, that’s no longer true. The Spurs were upset by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals, and the Warriors were upset by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals.
The Clippers will visit the Cavaliers Thursday night. The last time the Clippers were in Cleveland was on January 21, exactly 45 weeks prior to Thursday night’s game. The Cavaliers won 115-102, getting 22 points, 12 assists, and no turnovers from SF LeBron James.
The very next day, Cleveland replaced David Blatt as head coach and named assistant Tyronn Lue as his permanent replacement. Cleveland would lock up the Eastern Conference’s top seed, beating the Clippers in LA in March 114-90 along the way. Lue, a former Clippers assistant under Doc Rivers in 2013-2014, would become the first midseason replacement as a head coach to win an NBA championship since Pat Riley in 2005-2006 with the Miami Heat.
The Clippers and Doc Rivers enter Cleveland looking to bust several losing streaks. After starting 14-2, the Clippers have lost 3 straight games, all on the road to Eastern Conference teams under .500. Since Thanksgiving, only the Atlanta Hawks have been worse offensively than the Clippers. LA has struggled to rebound, shoot well, or even hold onto the ball during their three-game losing streak. PF Blake Griffin will return tonight after sitting out at Brooklyn, a game in which the Clippers blew an 18-point lead with 2:00 left in the 3rd quarter and lost Doc Rivers to an overtime ejection before losing in double overtime.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers fined $15,000 for directing verbal abuse towards a ref & not leaving the court in a timely manner after ejection.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) December 1, 2016
The Clippers have also lost 4 in a row to the Cavaliers, 3 straight in Cleveland, and 7 in a row to James. For Doc Rivers, that losing streak to James extends to 8 games in a row, dating back to when James was with the Miami Heat and Rivers and Lue were coaching on the Boston Celtics sidelines.
Doc Rivers wasn’t the only one having a bad night Tuesday. The Cavaliers missed out on matching the 14-2 starts by the Warriors and Clippers, losing 118-101 in Milwaukee. Bucks SF Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points and 12 rebounds on 13-of-19 from the field, while J.R. Smith picked an inopportune time to greet Jason Terry.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 30, 2016
Despite the recent slump, the Clippers are still the 2nd-best defense in the league overall, holding opponents to 43.2 percent shooting from the field (3rd in NBA). The problem for the Clippers tonight will be defending the threes. The Cavaliers have the 3rd-best offense in the NBA, largely on the strength of a three-point heavy attack (35.4 three-point attempts per game, 2nd in NBA) that has been lethal (39.0 percent threes, 2nd in NBA). The Clippers have allowed 36.5 percent from three this season, 24th in NBA.
When the Clippers have the ball, the key to the game will be managing turnovers. Before Thanksgiving, the Clippers averaged only 12.1 turnovers per game, ranking 5th in the NBA during their 14-2 start. But since Thanksgiving, the Clippers are turning the ball over 16.3 times per game, ranking 24th in the NBA during their losing streak. Cleveland averages only 6.9 steals per game, which ranks 26th in the NBA this season, so it is critical for the Clippers to win the turnover battle. LA has never lost the turnover battle 4 games in a row under Doc Rivers, but they have lost the turnover battle in each of their last three games.
Clippers visit Cleveland tonight – LeBron James has won his last 7 games against the Clippers. How can LA steal a win against the Cavaliers?
— ClipperBlog (@clipperblog) December 1, 2016