Los Angeles Clippers (12-9) vs Milwaukee Bucks (9-13)
BMO Harris Bradley Center
4:00 p.m. PST
December 9, 2015
Fox Prime Ticket
Last time they met?
December 20, 2014 — It’s been a long time since these two teams squared off. Back in December 2014 at the Staples Center the Clippers entered the fourth quarter down one and despite eight lead changes in the final frame, took care of business at home thanks to +20 point efforts from Griffin, Redick and CP3. Final score: 106-102.
What’s changed since then?
Well, the Bucks are different to the ones that the Clippers faced last season and made their way to the playoffs. Ex-Clipper Jared Dudley is gone — so too is Brandon Knight and Zaza Pachulia. In return, the Bucks have added big man Greg Monroe and former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and are working a healthy Jabari Parker back into the line-up.
The boys are back
After missing games with injury, CP3 and J.J. Redick returned to the Clippers starting line-up on Monday night in Minnesota. Both had games they’d probably rather forget but hopefully find some more rhythm as this road trip wears on.
1. What’s happened to the Bucks? Where did last year’s team go?
Frank Madden, Brew Hoop (@BrewHoop):Sadly, this is the question we’ve been asking for the past six weeks, especially in regards to defense. While the Bucks have been marginally better offensively, their defense has crashed and burned, going from elite last season to bottom-five in the season’s first month. For a team that was expected to hang its hat on the defensive end, that’s a big problem and makes their 9-13 record actually slightly lucky.
The upside is that we’ve seen improved play on that end of late — small sample as it might be, they’re 2nd in the league in defensive efficiency over the last six games — but they’ve been wildly inconsistent overall. Teams have been able to move the ball and find open shooters on the weak side when the Bucks overload, and they’ve been vulnerable to offensive rebounding all season as well. Part of that is certainly personnel; Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley were key components of the Bucks’ defensive success a year ago, and it’s difficult to expect Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker in particular to replace what they brought on that end. But even with those latter two guys doing fine (Monroe leads the team in DRPM while Parker has the best DRTG) the net result has been often times ugly. Games against the Clips and Warriors should provide a good measuring stick for how far they have (or haven’t) come.
Still, the main thing for the Bucks is continuing to develop Jabari and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and on that front things have been far more encouraging. Parker isn’t a volume scorer yet but has looked every bit as explosive as before his knee injury 12 months ago, while Giannis is still doing a bit of everything even after seeing his hot scoring start tail off a bit. As good as Khris Middleton and Greg Monroe might be, Giannis and Jabari are the guys that Bucks fans are most interested in every night.
Aaron Williams (@aaronsmarter): They’re still in there. There are a couple explanations that can go a long way toward alleviating Milwaukee fans’ concerns, but there are also legitimate reasons for those concerns. For one thing, you’re talking about a group of young guys just coming off vacation – two big factors for rust or just plain lack lack of effort. I think we’ll see them start to take the season a little more seriously as it winds on. Another big thing is re-inserting Jabari Parker into lineups; the Bucks spent a sizable chunk of last season playing without a guy they had pegged as their second big star (after Giannis Antetokounmpo). They’re going to need to figure out how to work him in to their offense, as well as figuring out what that offense should even be. And to that end, I think that what Jason Kidd is doing right now isn’t so different from what Clipper Nation’s own Doc Rivers is doing: trying out different lineups – seeing what works and what doesn’t – early in the season so that as teams start making their playoff push, he’ll know exactly who does what, when, where, and how.
Michael Shagrin (@mshaggy): Life happens in cycles. The Bucks frenetic defense and length-based offense was supposed to be NBA’s future. It still (probably) is, but the Bucks personnel changes combined with the league’s adaptation to aggressive trapping has Milwaukee’s young lineups in over their heads. Lesson: it doesn’t always pay to be the first mover in a new trend. People take advantage of untapped opportunities and then other people tap those half-tapped opportunities and then all of the sudden the tap runs dry. (For a more detailed explanation, see: Lowe, Zach).
2. The Clippers are shopping Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith… already?!
Madden: I was completely opposed to the idea of the Bucks pursuing Stephenson as a free agent two summers ago, and I have to say I still feel pretty good about that! I have no idea what goes on in Lance’s head, but I figured the Clippers would be a great landing spot for him given the presence of Doc and their veterans. As for Josh, I really thought a bench role for a team like the Clips would be a good situation for him. My wife is a Rockets fan so I watched basically every game of his in Houston, and for all his maddening habits he’s a funky player who can score and pass in spurts off the bench. I wasn’t sad to see him leave Houston, but he still seems like someone who could provide value in L.A.
Williams: Hold for a second while I throw on some Timex Social Club … that’s better. Look, I understand. It looks like things are not going the Clippers’ way at the moment. When that happens, the first thing sportswriters, fans, coaches, GMs, and anyone else remotely interested in basketball do is start speculating. The leap from speculation to rumor is short enough that any offhand comment in a media scrum, or idle water cooler talk in the locker room hallway can be exploded into a million, “CLIPPERS TRADING DEANDRE JORDAN!” headlines. Heck, someone’s liable to take that sentence out of context within the next couple of weeks (if you do, please make sure you credit your “source” and give me a cut of that click revenue!). But it’s important to remember that 99% of these things don’t go anywhere, and it seems pretty unlikely that Doc tries to shift those two guys before their utility even becomes apparent.
Shagrin: Exhibit A: the perils of the dual coach/ GM. Here we have two volatile personalities that were promised significant roles on a contender by GM Doc Rivers. But now things aren’t going as planned for Coach Doc Rivers. Can Coach Rivers renege on the promises made by GM Rivers without igniting a firestorm? Probably not. So what’s a coach/ GM to do? Well it’s quite a bit easier to blame any problems on some bad apples than it is to reevaluate your grand plan. (Is there a grand plan?)
Or just take it out on the refs. That’s another option.
3. What can the Clippers marketing team learn from the Milwaukee brand revamp?
Madden: It’s been pretty amazing what the new ownership has accomplished in Milwaukee in such a short time. Above all else, they deserve a ton of credit for their ambition and willingness to go for the big splash — whether it’s signing Greg Monroe, investing a ton of money into new staff, designing great new jerseys, or launching the new arena project, they’ve turned the Bucks from a quaint mom and pop operation into a sophisticated enterprise. Speaking of which, can I asked how these new Clipper jerseys happen? I don’t love the Bucks’ black alternates that they’ll be debuting on Wednesday, but the Clips’ black jerseys might be the most incomprehensibly bad NBA jersey I’ve seen this century. How did this happen? How did multiple people in the organization this was OK? WHY DIDN’T ANYONE SAY ANYTHING???
As for the basketball side, the new group has largely stayed out of the way for the most part, something that grated on many fans during the Herb Kohl era. Rather than continuing to chase 40 wins every year, they committed to a long-term rebuild only to have the team surprise everyone with 41 wins a year ago. Given the veteran departures and how young they are, I guessed that it would be another year before we saw a real improvement in the standing, though early indications are that another 41-win season may be a very tall order — and even if they do reach it, making the playoffs in the East seems likely to require more than just a .500 season. Despite fans wanting a rebuild a year ago there’s been a fair bit of impatience in recent weeks, so it will be interesting to see whether the Bucks can turn things around — and if not, what they might do about it.
Williams: Keep it simple, stupid. Not that I think that anyone in the Clippers’ front office is lacking in the mental acuity department, but idioms are idioms for a reason: they’re usually true. The Bucks’ group stuck to the team’s roots; instead of getting cute, they kept what worked, streamlined what didn’t, and maintained an identity that fans can readily relate to. I’ve been a Clippers fan for well over twenty years, and only once have I seen the team reference anything to do with their namesake: those oddball nautical pajamas from last season. The Clips have a really nifty design scheme from their first years as such, with the three sail/sunset motif that really worked, and could work again with more modern styling. Instead we got “Generic 2K Created Team” logo design and some sale pitch mush-mouthed mumbo-jumbo about “black lines representing waves”. Hopefully, when it’s time to consider options for the next redesign someone will actually crack a dictionary and find out just what a clipper is.
Shagrin: OUTSOURCING IS RIFE WITH CONFLICTS OF INTEREST! When you entrust your fate to a competitor, they will screw you with your pants on. Especially in South Florida. We’ve all seen Scarface.