Long Road Trip Begins Versus Clippers


Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A lot can happen in 17 days in the NBA, as the Miami Heat (34-13) will surely find out. Miami begins a six-game road trip – with a stop in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game for good measure – against a high-scoring Los Angeles Clippers (34-17) team that is missing one of the league’s superstars.

All-Star Chris Paul has missed the past month due to a shoulder injury, and the Clips are doing their best to keep other Western Conference challengers at bay. They’ve done so successfully, having won 12 of 17 games without Paul. Blake Griffin leads the team in scoring (23.3 points per game) and has expanded his game in the low-post and mid-range to help the Los Angeles with spacing. DeAndre Jordan, at nearly 14 rebounds per game is a beast; keeping him away from the boards will be an interesting subplot. Jamal Crawford (18.1 PPG) and J.R. Redick (15.7 PPG) will test Miami’s perimeter defense, as will Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes and the recently-signed Hedo Turkoglu.

Miami looks to win their third straight, building momentum as the road trip extends. Dwyane Wade’s recent play has been encouraging, especially his 30-point outing on Monday against the Detroit Pistons. And Greg Oden continues to be productive in limited minutes; it will be interesting to see how he handles Jordan on Wednesday. Point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have both struggled lately, particularly with turnovers. Staying focused against a quick team of scorers like Los Angeles will be a good test for both players. Miami won the first matchup between both teams, a 102-97 victory in November.

The telecast of this game begins at 10:30 P.M. on ESPN from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.

The Big Three Questions for the Game:

Is Miami Looking to Make a Deal?

I don’t think so. There will always be rumors, especially with a high-profile team like the Heat. And Riley has been known to pull the trigger on a completely unexpected deal. There really isn’t any smoke coming from Miami’s front office at this point; I don’t expect to see any fire by the February 20 trade deadline.

Who is the Key to a Clippers Victory?

It just happens to be Jamal Crawford. This streaky shooter that specializes in making un-makeable shots joins a long list of active players that take their games up a notch when facing the Heat. The platoon of Wade, Ray Allen and possibly Shane Battier will have their hands full stopping Crawford from kicking backwards from long range and hitting a shot that you wouldn’t expect. His productivity has decreased some this year but this former Sixth Man of the Year is still a force offensively. If he starts getting hot early, it could be a long night for Miami.

Can the Staples Center be the Future Castle for King James?

As a “dark horse” candidate, I certainly think so. LeBron James has said he prefers playing in warm climates so L.A. certainly fits the bill. But his strong friendship with Paul (as godfather to his son) is a determining factor. If James does leave Miami – a pretty big “if” – the Clippers might be able to swing a sign-and-trade deal for, say, Blake Griffin. LeBron has long been an admirer of Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers and might be willing to go to La-La Land to help bring the Clippers their first-ever championship.