What to watch: Clippers-Pacers

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
11:03
AM PT

Clippers (26-18) vs. Indiana Pacers (25-18) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 4 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Offensive offense: The Clippers once ranked in the top five in the NBA in points per game and assists per game but now rank 12th and 15th respectively in both categories after a brutal stretch of six games at home where they have failed to score more than 96 points. The Clippers lost three of their first four games during the home stand but finished with two wins. Even in those two four-point victories over Houston and Detroit, the Clippers averaged just 91.0 points on 40.5 percent shooting in those wins as Chris Paul made half of his 30 shots and totaled 42 points in both games.

2. Closing out: As much as the Clippers would like to put teams away early, the fact that they won back-to-back games and came from behind in the fourth quarter in both is significant. The Clippers had blown similarly close games time after time recently. Before beating the Rockets and Pistons at the end of their home stand, the Clippers were 8-9 in games decided by five points or less. The biggest difference in the fourth quarter and overtime in both games was the play of Paul, who scored 12 of his 23 in the final 2:42 of Saturday's 95-91 win over the Rockets, then had nine of his 19 in overtime Sunday in an 87-83 victory over the Pistons.

3. Consistency: The biggest problem for the Clippers since they lost Chauncey Billups for the season last month has been consistency. They are 11-11 since he went down and went 3-3 during their critical 6-game home stand last week. The Clippers’ back-to-back wins at the end of the home stand is their first back-to-back wins in over a month and they will try to win three straight on Tuesday against Indiana for the first time since January. The Clippers have completed 11 sets of back-to-back games this season, owning an 8-3 record in the first game and a 6-5 record in the second game. In the second game of back-to-backs, the Clippers have scored on average nearly 8 points fewer than in the first game. Teams playing back-to-back-to-back this season are 16-29 on the road and teams that played all three on the road as the Clippers will this week are 6-12.

4. Improved defense: While the Clippers’ offense has sputtered over the past week, their defense has improved. They haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 97 points since March 9 and have held their last three opponents to 91 points or less. Against the Pistons on Sunday the Clippers held Detroit to an opponent season-low nine points in the fourth quarter. The Pistons only made three field goals and shot just 18.8 percent the field in the final quarter, both opponent season-lows for the Clippers. It was the first time in the history of the Clippers franchise that they forced overtime by holding their opponent to fewer than 10 points in the final period of regulation.

5. Young and restless: Nick Young made his debut for the Clippers on Sunday against the Pistons and scored 9 points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field in 29 minutes. Young was able to get to the free-throw line 8 times, hitting 7 from the charity stripe. Young found out he would make his debut just before shootaround and hadn’t yet learned the team’s playbook but was essentially told where to go on the court by Paul when he was in the game. “I felt good,” Young said. “I want to be a person they can rely on to be the ball in the basket and be a presence on defense.”

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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