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Wednesday, March 7, 2012
What to watch: Clippers-Nets

By Arash Markazi

Clippers (22-14) vs. New Jersey Nets (12-27) at Prudential Center, 5 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. CP3 vs. D-Will: Clippers guard Chris Paul and Nets guard Deron Williams, two of the best point guards in the NBA, have faced each other 16 times in their careers, with Williams winning 12 times. The last time these two teams met, on Jan. 16, Paul sat out during a 101-91 Clippers win as Chauncey Billups scored nine of his 20 points in the final five minutes. Coming into this game, much of the focus will be on Williams since this will be his first game since scoring a franchise-record 57 points in the Nets’ 104-101 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday.

2. Close calls: The Clippers have been one of the more exciting teams this season, but they have not been able to pull out close games as of late. The Clippers have played 14 games this season decided by five points or fewer and have an 8-6 record in those games. The Clippers, however, have suffered six losses by five or fewer points since Feb. 13 and lost two games on their current road trip by a combined four points. Earlier this season, a Clippers win was all but guaranteed with a close game in Paul's hands, but that has not been the case lately, as highlighted by Paul’s missed attempt at a game-tying free throw in the Clippers’ loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.

3. Bench rising: There is plenty of blame to go around for the Clippers’ recent struggles, but the bench can no longer be looked at as the main culprit. The Clippers' bench has outscored the opposition in the last four games by a combined total of 140-86. The bench is averaging 35.0 points during the stretch, an 11-point increase from its season average of 24.1 points per game. The Clippers’ bench has been outscored 1,067-846 this season, but the tide may be shifting with the improved play of Clippers forward Kenyon Martin in addition to the steady contributions of Clippers guard Mo Williams. Martin is shooting 52.7 percent from the field and averaging 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks over the last four games, while Williams is averaging 16.0 points on 46.2 percent shooting from the field and 47.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

4. Butler’s battles: Clippers forward Caron Butler has been streaky, to say the least, for the Clippers after Billups was lost for the season last month. Butler failed to score in the Clippers’ game against Minnesota, going 0-for-6 from the field. It was only the fourth time in his career that he did not register a point or a field goal and the first time since Feb. 27, 2006, when he went 0-for-5 as a member of the Washington Wizards in a loss to Memphis.

5. Dimes down: In the Clippers’ last three games, their assist totals are down from their season averages. In the Clippers’ first 33 games of the season, they averaged 21.5 assists, tallying assists on 58.6 percent of their field goals. In the Clippers’ last three games, they have averaged only 15.0 assists, tallying assists on 44.0 percent of their field goals. Paul has tallied only five assists in each of two of the Clippers' last three games.