Los Angeles Clippers (30-15) at Toronto Raptors (22-20): 3 keys to a win

Los Angeles’ “other” team, the Clippers, has pushed aside the Lakers as southern California’s best basketball team. Led by human highlight reel Blake Griffin, of thunder-dunk fame, the Clips are on top of the Pacific Division, and are the fourth seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. I’m dazzled by how they have shrugged off the loss to injury of All-World point guard Chris Paul. They just keep winning.

Jan 20, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith (6) gets blocked out by Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) and shooting guard Jamal Crawford (11) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Clippers beat the Pistons 112-103. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Raps have not had to face a front court this formidable in some time. Griffin’s game has matured, and he can do much more than back down his defender, or climb for an alley-oop pass and cram. He now hits mid-range jump shots, which explains his 22.6 points Per Game [PG]. Griffin is more than complemented by the emergence of DeAndre Jordan. He leads the NBA in rebounds PG with 13.8, and in shooting percentage at 64.1, which is easy for him since he also leads in dunks with 117. Jordan is third in blocks PG, at 2.47. Other than those things, he’s a stiff.

The Clippers backcourt is now headed by Darren Collison, who has stepped into the starting point guard role with surprising aplomb. He will be looking for J.J. Redick, a premier catch & shoot type, who can and will bomb away from anywhere. There’s no let up for the Raps when J.J. sits down, because coach Doc Rivers will call on Jamal Crawford, a scoring machine. He’s a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The Clips enjoy the luxury of having their other swingman, Matt Barnes, act as a pesky defender.

The Clips’ bench is respectable enough beyond Crawford, with useful players like Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens available. Raptors boo birds should enjoy an opportunity to express their opinion of free agent disaster Hedo Turkoglu, signed by the Clips for depth and experience in the playoffs.

Clearly this game will be a challenge for Toronto. However, a win is possible if they can:

  • avoid cheap fouls. If there ever was a game in which Jonas Valanciunas has to stay on the floor, it’s this one. Without Tyler Hansbrough to bang under the boards, the Raps will get clobbered if JV sits for too long. Amir Johnson and Chuck Hayes can’t neutralize Griffin and Jordan. Oh yeah…if they’re going to score, let them! No macho-man fouls, please. We’ll get enough unplanned fouls trying to defend these monsters.
  • chase their 3-point shooters away from the arc. Redick and Crawford won’t hurt the Raps in the paint as much as they will from deep. Terrence Ross will need all his quickness.
  • display patience on offense. As there will be a lot of one-&-done trips because of the Clips’ rebounding, the Raps will need to move the ball in a quest for an open look, often late in the clock.

The Clippers have outscored their opponents by 5.6 points PG, a huge margin. That said, the Raps have shown themselves to be a quietly sound defensive team (take a bow, Dwane Casey). I’m going to be a homer and pick the Raptors to win a thriller 103-101.

Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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