Before the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to project a Brooklyn Nets-Los Angeles Clippers NBA Finals. Both teams were improved, it was thought, this offseason thanks to the Celtics, who traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn and dealt Doc Rivers to Los Angeles. The Nets and Clippers were each among the favorites in their conferences.
Neither has played up to form yet. The Nets are an abject disaster while the Clippers are a good team, but haven’t looked quite championship-caliber. It’s a reunion tour this week for Boston as it visits Brooklyn on Tuesday and hosts Rivers’ Clippers on Wednesday.
The Celtics might get to see Pierce after all on Tuesday. He has missed five games with a broken bone in his hand and was thought to be out at least another week but practiced Monday and could play. He is having his worst season, averaging only 12.8 points on .368 shooting. Terry hasn’t played since Nov. 20 with a knee injury and remains out indefinitely.
Garnett is playing but it looks like his days are numbered as he’s averaging only 6.5 points in 22.7 minutes. The only thing keeping the Nets (6-14) from last place in the Atlantic is the Knicks. Yet Brooklyn remains the favorite with odds of -150 to win the division at Bovada. The Nets are expecting to get point guard Deron Williams back on Tuesday. He has missed nine straight games with an ankle injury but also practiced in full Monday. Brooklyn opened as a 2-point favorite for the game. The Nets have lost six straight at home, their past two by a combined 54 points.
The Clippers have to be thrilled they didn’t complete that trade of DeAndre Jordan with Boston for Garnett this offseason, with the NBA saying it wouldn’t approve that deal and the trade sending Rivers to LA for a 2015 first-round pick. Jordan is having his best season, averaging 9.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.24 blocks. He might be an All-Star as well as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Rivers has said he never wanted the Clippers to trade Jordan.
Los Angeles also has been a bit injury-prone. Guard J.J. Redick, another offseason trade acquisition, was off to the best start of his career, averaging 15.8 points, but is out six weeks or so with a broken hand. Valuable reserve Matt Barnes hasn’t played since Nov. 20, and will miss another few weeks with an eye problem.
For Boston to pull the upset, it will need to put the clamps on the 1-2 punch of Blake Griffin (20.5 ppg) and Chris Paul (18.4 ppg). Paul is going to end Rajon Rondo‘s two-year streak of having the highest assist average in the league as Paul leads the NBA by far at 12.0 per game. He’s third in steals and is an MVP candidate.
The Clippers lead the Pacific Division but have been rather inconsistent. They have beaten up on some bad teams but lost to title contenders such as Miami, Oklahoma City and Indiana. Los Angeles is the third-favorite to win the Western Conference at 6-1 and 14-1 to win its first NBA title.