When the Utah Jazz travel to Staples Center for Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, both teams will be in familiar surroundings. After all, this was the venue for Utah’s final postseason win, a Game 7 victory in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
At the same time, things are different with both teams. Much different.
Gone are Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jamal Crawford and Marreese Speights for the Clippers. Gone are Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Shelvin Mack and Boris Diaw for the Jazz. Two playoff teams from a year ago underwent significant change in the offseason. And even with players back who played key roles — Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles — the Jazz and Clippers are a curiosity at this point.
The rest of the NBA doesn’t know quite what to expect.
“It will be good to see them again and go against them again,” Ingles said. “Both teams are unselfish, and like us, they hang their hats on defense. It’s going to be a fun match. I’m sure they will want to see us and get us back. We’re going to have to be ready.”
In these ways, the Jazz and Clippers mirror each other. The Clippers are attempting to steer a ship through unsteady waters. They lost their best player when Paul forced a trade to the Houston Rockets. Redick left via free agency and joined the Philadelphia 76ers. Defensive specialist Mbah a Moute joined Paul in Houston and Speights went to the Orlando Magic. That’s three starters from a 50-win team that went elsewhere.
What’s left of the rubble is a roster that underwent a facelift on the fly. Clippers coach Doc Rivers got back Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Paul trade. He signed scoring forward Danilo Gallinari and coaxed heralded international point guard Milos Teodosic to venture west.
As a result, many think the Clippers will stay in the playoff hunt, but they will have to do so in different ways. Griffin gets to be the Clippers’ focus for the first time in his career, and the star power forward is one of the NBA’s most skilled players for his 6-foot-10 frame. Jordan remains one of the most imposing centers and defenders in the league. Add Gallinari — who can singe a defense for 20 points on a given night — and the Clippers have one of the best front courts in the NBA.
Coming and going
Key departures and arrivals for the Los Angeles Clippers:
Chris Paul •The All-Star point guard was traded to the Houston Rockets.
J.J. Redick • One of the best shooters in the league, Redick is now in Philly with the Sixers.
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute • The defensive specialist is now doing his thing in Houston with the Rockets
Raymond Felton • The primary backup point guard last year is now backing up Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City
Marresse Speights • A great shooter and not much else. The Florida native is now playing in Orlando
Patrick Beverley • The defensive specialist is now the starting point guard.
Lou Williams • Great scorer, always seems to hurt the Jazz. Annual sixth man of the year candidate.
Danilo Gallinari • Lit up scoreboards in Denver. Will try to do the same in Los Angeles.
Milos Teodosic • Out indefinitely with a foot injury, but one of the best passers in the world.
Willie Reed • Primary backup big man. He enjoyed his breakout season last year in Miami with the Heat.
That puts the onus on Gobert and Derrick Favors to play well. They are one of the few power forward/center combos who match Griffin and Jordan’s strength and athleticism. Their ability to keep Griffin and Jordan out of the paint and off the glass will go a long way in determining a winner.
“They are a lot like us in that they went through a lot of changes and added a lot of new pieces,” Favors said. “They are going to be ready to play, and we’re going to have to be ready too. We have a lot of respect for them and how they play. It’s a good team. It will be fun seeing them again.”
Griffin, who has long sought more responsibility, is flourishing in his new role as offensive centerpiece. In his eighth year, he’s playing peak basketball, averaging 29 points and 10 rebounds through two games.
More importantly, he’s adding to his skill set. Griffin came into the league as a non-shooter, and little more than highlight reel dunker. But he has been become a skilled passer and ball-handler, and has become a solid 3-point shooter as well. Currently, he’s hitting 54 percent from beyond the arc. He’s getting to the free-throw line, and he’s averaging 3.5 assists through two games.
“Obviously, Blake and DeAndre make them go and that’s one of the best interior duos in the league,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “But they’ve added a lot of good pieces. I had the chance to coach Milos in Moscow and he’s an artistic player and I’m glad to see him in the league. They added Lou [Williams] and there may not be a better scorer off the bench than him. That’s a good team.”
Can the Clippers adjust enough to those new pieces to make a run to the postseason? Time will tell. They have won both of their games, but the two wins are against the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, two of the worst teams in the league. The Jazz will be their most difficult opponent to date.
In a way, the teams are a microcosm of the offseason and examples of the significant roster change that swept the NBA. The Jazz and Clippers are trying to take it in stride and move in the right direction.
Jazz at Clippers
At the Staples Center
Tipoff • Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM/97.5 FM
Records • Utah 2-1, Los Angeles 2-0
Season series • First meeting
About the Jazz • Rodney Hood is considered day-to-day with a calf strain. … The Jazz lost their lone road game, a 100-97 decision at Minnesota. … The Clippers represent the front end of a back-to-back for the Jazz. They play at Phoenix on Wednesday. … Utah center Rudy Gobert has three double-doubles in as many games. … If Hood doesn’t play Tuesday, rookie Donovan Mitchell is likely to start at shooting guard
About the Clippers • Without Teodosic, Austin Rivers becomes a likely starter against the Jazz. … Teodosic and Patrick Beverley were once teammates in Greece before coming to the NBA. … In all, the Clippers have nine new players, almost fully overhauling their roster. … The Clippers took three out of four games from the Jazz last season. … Los Angeles defeated the Phoenix Suns by 130-88 in its most recent outing.