Complete Guide to LA Clippers vs. Boston Celtics and Wednesday's NBA Action

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

Complete Guide to LA Clippers vs. Boston Celtics and Wednesday's NBA Action

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Hump Day is back again. This time around, it brought with it a nine-game NBA slate, a handful of dimming playoff hopes and one awkward reunion.

    You might want to go ahead and call in sick for Thursday already. Things are about to get interesting.

    First and foremost, it's worth mentioning that two of the league's best, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, are on the docket. If drama isn't your thing, pencil these two pillars of the basketball world into your nightly schedule.

    Judging by the unexplainable, yet somehow undeniable, popularity of reality TV, there's a good chance that drama does in fact move your needle. If that's the case, Wednesday's slate should register off the charts.

    Remember when there were fleeting hopes that the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls could actually be Eastern Conference Finalists? Both teams now look like they'll be jostling just for a postseason berth, and that shared struggle will come together on the Madison Square Garden floor.

    Or what about the time it seemed like the Minnesota Timberwolves were finally going to whet Kevin Love's starved appetite for success? It will be tough to keep that dream alive if the Wolves can't handle a road visit from the free-falling Philadelphia 76ers.

    But on to Wednesday night's jewel, that uncomfortable reunion. And no, it's not the suddenly efficient Monta Ellis returning to Oracle Arena.

    It's Doc Rivers stepping back inside Boston's TD Bank Garden, a place still bearing witness to his tenure in the form of the 2007-08 championship banner that he helped raise. If emotions get the best of him, then the Los Angeles Clippers could have a fight on their hands from the better-than-advertised Boston Celtics.

    So turn off your phones, block out all outside noise and get ready for what should be a weird Wednesday in the association.

     

    Wednesday Night's Lineup

    Orlando Magic vs. Charlotte Bobcats, 7 p.m. ET

    Los Angeles Clippers vs. Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET

    San Antonio Spurs vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 8 p.m. ET

    Philadelphia 76ers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 8 p.m. ET

    Detroit Pistons vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 8 p.m. ET

    Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Utah Jazz vs. Sacramento Kings, 10 p.m. ET

    Dallas Mavericks vs. Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

Best Matchup of the Night: Dallas Mavericks vs. Golden State Warriors

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    I shouldn't have to say this. I mean, we're all fans of the most fashion-conscious league in professional sports. Labor Day is barely a blip on our radar.

    But just in case you're a rebel and still wearing white to this day, this is a good night to throw on your conformist's cap and don some dark threads.

    There's enough bad blood here that it could spill over from your screen and stain your outfit otherwise.

    So many faces have changed since, but Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki remember that this franchise once handed them one of the most shocking upsets in NBA history. Despite being two teams removed from the Bay, Monta Ellis still carries the battle scars from his former days as the Golden State Warriors' scapegoat.

    But now's not the time to feel nostalgic. Not with both the Mavs (5-5 in their last 10 games) and the Warriors (4-6) struggling to keep pace in the loaded Western Conference. If either hopes to make any substantial noise in the postseason, this is the time to start raising the volume.

    The Warriors wasted a brilliant 43-point, nine-assist performance from Stephen Curry their last time out in a 115-111 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday. The Mavs dropped a 112-97 head-scratcher to the undermanned Kings on Monday, just two days after an eye-opening win over the West's best Portland Trail Blazers.

    The wounded Warriors have sprung a number of defensive leaks since stopper Andre Iguodala (hamstring) went down, but this team knows it can't use that as an excuse.

    "Regardless if guys are hurt, we still have to do our job defensively," Harrison Barnes said, via Matt Schwab of the Bay Area News Group. "Defensive breakdowns, the ones that we had were just unacceptable.

    If defensive holes still exist, Ellis (21.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting) will be more than happy to exploit them.

Must-See Individual Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. Mike Conley

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    One is a supercharged mass of elite-level athleticism and unabashed confidence. The other is an unassuming, mechanical executioner.

    Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley share the same job title. The job descriptions don't change much either, as both are responsible for orchestrating the offense and setting a tone at the opposite end.

    But each goes about it in dramatically different ways.

    Westbrook overwhelms with relentless energy and jaw-dropping explosiveness. He's still finding his groove after undergoing two knee surgeries this year (40.6 field-goal percentage), but he's moving the scoreboard (20.8 points) and challenging defenses (7.2 drives per game, via NBA.com's StatVU player tracking) nevertheless.

    His assists have slipped a bit during his recovery (6.2, down from 7.4 last season), but he has tossed out 24 dimes over his last two outings.

    Conley is more of the thinking man's floor general. He's silky smooth in his demeanor and tactical with his decisions (1.9 turnovers in 33.7 minutes a night).

    But his potential too erupt at any moment is just as evident. He's had six 20-plus point efforts on the season, which is no small feat considering he's driving the NBA's slowest offense (92.23 possessions per 48 minutes).

    Will Westbrook's combo of size and strength be too much for Conley to handle? Or will the Grizzlies point man methodically outplay his counterpart?

    More importantly, are you willing to risk missing two of the league's top signal-callers battle head-to-head? I certainly hope not.

Who Has the Most on the Line?

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    This was supposed to be the year it all came together in Minnesota.

    The Wolves finally had both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio working with a clean bill of health. Minnesota found a sweet-shooting scoring complement on the wing in Kevin Martin (22.7 points, 43.0 three-point percentage) and a potent deep threat for Love's outlet passes in Corey Brewer (13.9 points, 46.0 percent shooting).

    Yet, as the 2013-14 season approaches the two-month mark, Minnesota (10-11) is back on the outside looking in at the playoff picture out West.

    Defensive shreddings are starting to become an unfortunate reality for this group. After holding five of their first 11 opponents to double digits, the Wolves have seen the opposition top the century mark in seven of their last 10 games.

    Minnesota's record over that stretch? A troubling 3-7.

    The 76ers (7-15, 2-8 in their last 10) should be a welcome guest to the Target Center. But Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune noted this matchup might not be as favorable as it seems:

    The Wolves will try to break a two-game home losing streak on the back end of a back-to-back against a Philly team that probably watched the Wolves’ game with Detroit from Minneapolis hotel rooms Tuesday.

    The Wolves can't afford to give away a game like this, or they risk suffering another lost season. The damage of that happening could be catastrophic; Kevin Love, remember, can opt out of his contract in 2015, and he'll need to see a winner before he'll consider re-signing with the Wolves.

Injury Report

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Let me take a page out of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's book and say that Wednesday's schedule still has enough talent to make for a great night of hoops.

    That being said, here are some of the notable names who may be held out of the festivities.

     

    Boston Celtics

    Rajon Rondo (Knee)

    How good would a Rondo-Rivers reunion have been? I guess it doesn't matter; it won't be happening. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe reported that Rondo's scheduled for a meeting with Dr. James Andrews later this month, the next step in his return from a torn ACL.

     

    Chicago Bulls

    Derrick Rose (Knee)

    He's left himself some wiggle room for a possible postseason return, but the former MVP won't be seeing any game action for a long time. Still feels surreal writing that.

     

    Luol Deng (Achilles)

    Deng has been sidelined the last two games, and his absence could continue. Thibodeau said the forward is "close but not quite there yet," via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell, and added that "we'll see where it is [Wednesday]."

     

    Jimmy Butler (Toe)

    Butler said he's headed in the right direction, but that "I think I still have a little bit of a ways to go," via Friedell. Seriously, how much talent can one training room hold?

     

    Joakim Noah (Thigh)

    Noah sat out Tuesday's game and is officially questionable for to go on Wednesday. Chicago's MASH unit seems to grow by the second.

     

    Golden State Warriors

    Andre Iguodala (Hamstring)

    He's officially questionable, but the answer to that question doesn't sound good. Coach Mark Jackson said the Swiss army knife will hopefully be back "sooner than later," via Matt Schwab of the Bay Area News Group, but said the team is "not really sure when" that day will come.

     

    Los Angeles Clippers

    J.J. Redick (Wrist)

    The sharpshooter managed to avoid the operating table, but he'll still be ringing in the New Year on the injury report.

     

    Memphis Grizzlies

    Marc Gasol (Knee)

    You can still hear the collective groan from the advanced statistics community bemoaning Gasol's injury. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is still a few weeks out from his initial timetable of three-to-four weeks, per Ken Powtak of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports).

     

    New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis (Hand)

    I still haven't forgiven the basketball gods for this one. The one-browed rising star won't be back on the floor until the calendar has changed.

     

    Philadelphia 76ers

    Michael Carter-Williams (Knee)

    He hasn't played since triple-dipping on Dec. 3. He's another player wearing the questionable label, which doesn't sound nearly as fun as watching the Rookie of the Year front-runner in action.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, injury information used courtesy of CBS Sports.

Pop-in Potential: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Boston Celtics

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    What, you thought I forgot about Rivers' return?

    Outside of that obvious storyline, though, this game has sneaky potential to be a good one.

    The Celtics are far from the tankers we all pegged them to be before the season. Even though the roster still looks like it belongs to a bottom-feeder.

    Jeff Green hasn't made his anticipated leap (16.7 points), but Boston is enjoying this mild success thanks to a few unexpected contributors.

    Jordan Crawford is scraping off his gunner reputation by the day. The fourth-year guard can still score (14.0 points), but he's playing efficiently (.462/.402/.862) and selflessly (team-best 5.3 assists).

    Jared Sullinger's been reborn in coach Brad Stevens' starting lineup. After a relatively quiet start to his sophomore season (11.8 points, 5.7 rebounds over his first 10 games), he's been raising the decibel levels since joining the opening group (14.9 points, 7.9 rebounds in his last 11).

    What's keeping this underwhelming roster humming? It's hard not to place a lot of that credit on Stevens' shoulders, something that adds an undeniable level of intrigue to Rivers' return.

    Rivers has the Clippers (14-8) playing well, but he hasn't morphed them into surefire contenders just yet. Clearly Rivers can only do so much from the sideline, but you could say the same thing about Stevens.

    L.A. has the superior talent, but don't be surprised if the Stevens supporters come out in full force if Boston can keep this respectable.

Fantasy Stockwatch

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    With nine games on the schedule, fantasy owners should have plenty of control over their rosters.

    The key here is to keep things simple. Riding your studs is almost always the right choice.

    But don't be afraid to take a gamble or two with the right matchup. Leaky defenses are always a welcome sight, and they have these three players poised for big nights.

     

    The Big Guns

    Stephen Curry

    Don't try to lump Golden State's struggles on Curry's shoulders. Even as his team stumbles, the sharpshooter continues growing his superstar stock.

    Over his last seven games, he's averaging a ridiculous 30.1 points a night. And the ridiculous doesn't stop there. He's tallying those eye-popping numbers on .479/.413/.882 shooting. Oh by the way, he's also putting up 8.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds during that stretch.

    The Mavericks are not good defensively (104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, 25th), and those problems start in the backcourt. Does it really matter which player (Ellis, Jose Calderon) draws Curry's number?

    At this point, can anyone slow down this scorching scoring machine?

     

    Kevin Love

    You know those leaky defenses I referenced above? The 76ers absolutely belong in that group (104.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, 27th).

    Think Love wasn't salivating during the film sessions for this matchup?

    His Wolves might have hit a rough patch, but the big man is still humming along. He has four 20-point, 10-rebound efforts in his last six games.

    Look for his already impressive assists numbers (4.2 per game) to spike. Unless you think Minnesota's slashers are really going to back down from the chance to challenge Spencer Hawes at the rim.

     

    The Sleeper

    Tony Snell

    Tempered expectations are a must here. After all, it was Snell's blue-collar game and defensive strength that landed him in the Windy City, and I doubt your league gives any blue-collar bonus points.

    But if you're on top of the injury news and Chicago's questionable players can't suit up, then Snell just might come out of this game looking like an offensive force.

    I mean someone has to score for Chicago, right? Even if the Bulls are short on bodies, the Knicks (105.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, 28th) are even shorter on competent defenders.

    Snell is the kind of player who can help in all categories. Since injuries thrust him into the starting lineup, he's brought a nice combo of scoring (10.7), rebounding (2.9) and distributing (2.1 assists).

    A healthy Bulls team is probably bad news for Snell owners. But if Chicago's injury woes continue, he's worth a long look for plugging into your lineup.