In a battle between two of the NBA's elite teams, the 35-16 Los Angeles Clippers will travel to play the 32-14 Miami Heat. Both squads have proved to be top teams in their conference and could potentially make a run through the postseason.
Unfortunately, injuries will plague a potential NBA Finals preview.
For the Clippers, injuries have been an issue since the beginning of the season. As a result, their unparalleled depth has been depleted and their second unit significantly weakened.
Madelyn Burke @MadelynBurke
EVERYONE #practiced for the #Clippers today-- still remains to be seen whether everyone will be available to play tomorrow vs Heat.2013-2-7 18:42:46
For those wondering, "everyone" includes Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups.
Paul has missed 12 of the Clippers' past 14 games. Griffin, meanwhile, has missed L.A.'s past two outings.
Crawford was absent for the Clippers' most recent game with a sore right shoulder (via Official Los Angeles Clippers Twitter).
Perhaps most devastating of all, Billups has played in just three of the Clippers' first 51 games. He missed 46 games in 2011-12, as well.
As encouraging a sign as L.A's four stars returning to the rotation may be, how healthy are the Clippers?
Chances are, they will be nowhere near 100 percent when L.A. battles Miami. For that reason, we are going to witness a tragic misrepresentation of what could come about in the 2013 NBA Finals.
So let's take a look at what could be.
Re-Visiting Nov. 14
On Nov. 14, 2012, the Los Angeles Clippers hosted the Miami Heat. Behind 20 points and 14 rebounds from Blake Griffin, the Clippers were able to defeat Miami by a score of 107-100.
It was a game that some view as the legitimization of L.A.'s title contention.
During the game, the Clippers received 16 points, 10 assists and four steals from Chris Paul. Jamal Crawford chipped in 22 points, while Eric Bledsoe hit 12.
Unfortunately, the Miami Heat did not receive such well-rounded production.
LeBron James stepped up with 30 points, while Ray Allen threw in 14 of his own. Rashard Lewis dropped in 11 points on three three-pointers, as well.
Chances are, D-Wade and Bosh will shoot at a higher rate this time around. There's also a good chance that CP3 goes better than 3-of-9 and Matt Barnes is more efficient than 1-of-5.
It's a two-way street. The question is: Did we actually witness the beginning of an interconference rivalry?
Don't be too shocked if you witness this battle come the NBA Finals. It will be one of extreme differences.
The Los Angeles Clippers have built their roster by utilizing the NBA draft, executing trades and utilizing free agency to create depth. This is evident in their path to acquiring Chris Paul.
L.A. traded franchise player Eric Gordon and starters Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu to get the deal done.
As for the Miami Heat, they've infamously constructed their rotation by utilizing free agency to bring in superstars. This includes LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen.
Since 2010, Miami has drafted Dexter Pittman, Jarvis Varnado, Da'Sean Butler, Latavious Williams, Norris Cole and Arnett Moultrie. The differences are abundant.
So who wouldn't want to see this storyline play out come the NBA Finals?
L.A. is a team that has done things "the right way," if there is such a thing. They've gone by the book and utilized their cap space to bring in multiple players, thus relying on the draft to breed success.
Gordon, Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan have all played significant roles in shaping their current rotation.
With that being said, it isn't just a storyline that has this matchup on the brink of legitimacy. It's the fact that these are two of the best teams in the NBA.
Unfortunately, L.A. hasn't been healthy enough to show it.
Balance and Dominance
Thus far in 2012-13, the Los Angeles Clippers are averaging 99.9 points scored and 93.4 points allowed per game. Their point differential of positive-6.5 is third in the NBA.
As for the Miami Heat, they're averaging 102.5 points for and 96.7 points against per game. Their point differential of positive-5.8 ranks fourth.
That's right behind the Clippers.
Furthermore, Miami is 20-3 at home, while the Clippers are 20-5 in Los Angeles. This establishes the potential for dominance should either team achieve home-court advantage.
Assuming L.A. remains third in the Western Conference, it happens to be 15-11 on the road and 24-9 against the West.
What this displays is the fact that both of these teams fit the billing of "elite." The question is, can the Clippers remain healthy enough to make this dream finals come to fruition?
While we won't have that answer for months, injuries will plague a potential NBA Finals preview on Feb. 8.