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Clippers vs. Bucks Preview: Blake Griffin and Clips look to curb Bucks' streak in Milwaukee

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a pair of confidence-inspiring wins over the Knicks and Blazers, the Milwaukee Bucks' degree of difficulty is about to take a major step up.

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan roll into the BMO Harris Bradley Center for their only visit of the year on Wednesday, though the star-crossed Clippers are in many ways just a tune-up for the Bucks' matchup on Saturday with the undefeated, unbeatable, untouchable Golden State Warriors.

Bucks Update

Will the Juice Revolution continue?

While it remains a small 34-minute sample, the Bucks have started O.J. Mayo alongside starters Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Greg Monroe in the past two games, and so far to good effect: they've won both games with that lineup combining for a +19 points/100 rating. Mayo probably doesn't move to PG without Jerryd Bayless (ankle), Greivis Vasquez (ankle) and Tyler Ennis (shoulder) all out nursing various injuries, though Ennis could be available tonight.

Interestingly, the odd man out has been Michael Carter-Williams, though only in terms of starting. MCW scored 20 off the bench in Saturday's win over the Knicks, and then played the entire fourth quarter on Monday despite a rough, turnover-prone outing overall. Still, MCW salvaged the night (and a Bucks win) with an incredible final 15 seconds: first he forced a jump ball when the Bucks would have otherwise been forced to foul down one, then won the tip, and capped it off by delivering a perfect pass to Greg Monroe for the game-winning layup. Whether and when MCW returns to the starting five remains up for debate, but for now things have looked just fine with him off the bench.

If you want to hear more, Eric Nehm and I discussed what it means for the Bucks' present and future in our latest podcast:

Download this episode (right click and save)

Aside from the game itself, tonight also marks the debut of the Bucks' new black alternate jerseys as well as their alternate court design. Let's hope they make it a memorable one, eh?

Clipper Scouting Report

Doc Rivers' team has underwhelmed to start the season, suffering drop-offs on both ends of the court over the first six weeks of the season. Despite ranking in the top ten in eFG% allowed, the Clippers enter Wednesday night's game ranked 18th in defensive efficiency because they've been below average at most everything else: 18th in forcing turnovers, 28th in defensive rebounding (weird, right?) and 27th in opponent free throw rate. I was a bit surprised to see they were only league average while winning 56 games last season, though a year ago they also had the benefit of the league's most efficient offense (better than Warriors, believe it or not...). They're "only" sixth so far this season, though that amounts to a difference of over six points per 100 possessions. Much of that can be attributed to their struggles from three; they're below average in makes (22nd), attempts (18th), and percentage (25th) after ranking in the top five in all three categories last season.

On the plus side, Blake Griffin is having the best season of his career, averaging a career-best 24.4 points togo with 8.6 rebounds and 5.0 (!) assists per game. Interestingly, Griffin's maintained a high-level of efficiency despite becoming increasingly perimeter-oriented: 42% of his shots this year are long twos (not ideal, right?), but he's also hitting an impressive 42% from that range. Meanwhile, Chris Paul's numbers are still great but maybe not the elite destroyer of worlds he previously has been.

For more, I talked to Roscoe Whalan of Clips Nation:

Frank: After the second loss to the Warriors, there was a sense that the Clippers might not have enough weapons to ever challenge Golden State for Western supremacy. Do you see this team contending for a title at this point?  Would broader changes to the team's core even be a real option?

Roscoe: I think, in many respects, very few teams can consider themselves as contenders, at least on the same level as Golden State. Maybe the Cavaliers and the Spurs are the only ones that can really come close to that mantle at this point. That being said, the Clippers have played the Warriors close twice in this young season -- with a team that is 50% different to the one that was a fourth quarter meltdown away from a date with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Sure, not winning is really just losing but the Clippers, despite some brutal struggles in the early goings of this season, have shown an ability to stick with Golden State. If you fast forward and assume some things over the next few months, the Clippers wouldn't be favored to beat the Warriors in a 7-game series but, stranger things have happened. It's not impossible to imagine that one of Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith or Wesley Johnson settles into being a serviceable member of the rotation -- and maybe a little less likely (but still possible) scenario is one where Paul Pierce finds his basketball ability for one last gasp in a playoff run. Obviously, these guys were brought in to provide versatility to the roster with trying to overcome the Golden State Warriors in mind -- save for the fact that both Stephenson and Smith can't really shoot...

Now for the Devil's Advocate: this is the 4th go round with this core group of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul -- and they still haven't reached the Conference Finals [insert criticism of Chris Paul's legacy here]. Not only that, but managing three max contracts has hamstrung the franchise when it comes to cap flexibility and luring free agents to L.A. The Warriors are lucky -- and not in the championship-winning sense -- but in the sense that Steph Curry's formerly troublesome ankles means he's on one of the most affordable contracts out there -- especially for a reigning MVP. Subsequently, the Warriors have been able to create a roster with both depth and flexibility. The Clippers have routinely had one of the best starting fives in the NBA over the past couple of years but have lacked depth in the postseason. There's no reason why the combination of two top 10 players in the NBA and one of the best centers shouldn't be able to compete and win a championship, but we know that all teams have an expiration date. Maybe this current roster make up is reaching that use by date.

Frank: Looking at the team through six weeks, are there obvious things Doc should be doing differently with his current roster?

Roscoe: We've already alluded to the issue a little above. If you look at a team like the Golden State Warriors, it's one with identity: they're long, athletic, defensive and shoot threes. Who and what are the Clippers? The individual parts are impressive but the sum of them has never coalesced beyond highlight plays, technical fouls and a perceived sense of entitlement around the league. Now, Doc the GM has apparently fired up the Trade Machine to see what he can fetch for Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith -- willing to sell assets he's accrued for 50 cents on the dollar. And herein lies the rub: is Doc Rivers a bad judge of talent or a bad integrator of it? Without fail over the past few seasons, GM Rivers has chased free agents that have had good seasons (or are past their prime) and almost without fail they haven't been able to recreate their form (Exhibits A, B and C: Antawn Jamison, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Spencer Hawes and now Stephenson and Smith, to name a few). Doc repeatedly says he doesn't worry about fit because talent will make it work but obviously, things haven't played out exactly as he suggests. Surely, one of Stephenson or Smith should be able to find a some consistency on this team? But I digress...

Beyond transgressions in personnel and how we got here, the roulette of starters at the small forward doesn't help anyone. LRMAM has got the start over the past four games (personally, I'd like to see Wes Johnson start) but in the process guys like Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson are getting their minutes and role meddled with on an almost nightly basis. When you have guys that are volatile from the beginning I'd think that giving them consistency and a clear understanding of their role on a nightly basis would go a long way in creating continuity. The trouble is there are a lot of guys that need the ball in their hands and not a great deal of quality catch-and-shoot options off the bench, which can make the court seem a lot smaller than it really is.

Frank: If you're an opposing coach, what would you try to do to beat the Clippers?

Roscoe: Be physical with Chris Paul. He's already nursing a rib injury and was a little ginger getting up in Minnesota on Monday night when he copped a few blows. In addition, he's having a down year -- his turnovers are up, his assists are down and Milwaukee has the kind of long defenders that can disrupt him and J.J. Redick. Failing that, crash the glass. The Clippers are a bottom-10 rebounding team in the league -- by design and maybe partially by effort. Force Griffin into shooting long jumpers and hope that his current shooting slump continues (42.1% over the past four games from the field and 64.3% from the charity stripe).

On the ClippersClips NationClipperBlog

2015/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(9-13, 7-4 home)
vs.
Los angeles clippers.v75bfdd0
(12-9, 3-4 road)
December 9, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
O.J. Mayo PG Chris Paul
Khris Middleton SG J.J. Redick
Giannis Antetokounmpo SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Jabari Parker PF Blake Griffin
Greg Monroe C DeAndre Jordan
2014/15 Advanced Stats
92.9 (29th) Pace 97.3 (11th)
101.8 (23rd) ORtg 105.9 (5th)
108.3 (26th) DRtg 104.8 (18th)