The Clippers have won their last two home games, against the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets. Now comes one more winnable game against the Milwaukee Bucks before three straight toughies -- at Portland and at home against Miami and the L.A. Lakers. Here are four items to pay attention to once the ball is tipped at Staples Center:
1. Developing a second unit
The Clippers (3-2) have been better of late, but it's hard not to credit a good portion of their early-season success to the overall ease of their schedule so far. Entering Saturday, L.A. has played the fewest games of any team in the league.
Considering that rest and the quality of Saturday's opponent, the focus of the game shouldn't be simply on getting a win -- it should also be on straightening out some issues and fixing the resolving of a long-term need for this team.
One such issue: Finding a clear-cut second unit. The Clippers' starting lineup is obvious and will probably be the same all year while the five players are healthy; the bench isn't, and that could be killer.
"We want to be deep," reserve guard Mo Williams said this week. "You have to be deep to go deep into the playoffs. And, obviously, that's our goal."
Williams, once a starter for this team, is the designated scoring guard. Randy Foye is the undersized two-guard who would play some point-guard minutes for most teams but won't for this one. It gets more confusing from there, Ryan Gomes hasn't played particularly well this year after a disappointing 2010-2011 season, Trey Thompkins shows brief flashes of potential and Brian Cook has done nothing but make 3-pointers and play terrible defense.
Does that sound like a championship-contending bench? It's not.
The Clippers could really use three more bench pieces: a good wing defender, a banger-type forward who can play down low and a serviceable backup center.
The Clippers play the Bucks only once this year as part of the NBA's lockout-shortened season, so Saturday's game will provide the only memories Clippers fans have of Brandon Jennings and Co. all year.
But Saturday's game will also call back memories of last season's Valentine's Day loss in Milwaukee, arguably the worst performance the Clippers produced all year and quite possibly the low point of their entire season. Midway through a brutal 11-game February road trip, the Clips lost by 24 points to a shorthanded Bucks squad to fall to 20-35 on the season.
Something else Saturday's game is sure to call back: The mid-2000's Clippers. Former point guard Shaun Livingston, he of the gruesome knee injury that threatened to end his career, has latched on with the Bucks and could elicit a reaction from the Staples Center crowd.
3. Battle of the bigs
He'll be tasked with defending the likes of Jon Leuer and Larry Sanders, not Gooden. There's also a possibility Evans might play in this game. He's listed as questionable after practicing Friday for the first time.
"We know what Reggie brings to the table," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said this week. "He's a high-energy, rebounding, tough, physical guy. You can't have enough of those."
4. Controlling the pace
We know the Clippers now play an exciting brand of basketball, complete with lobs, 3-pointers and all-around fast-paced play.
The Bucks haven't shown a commitment to a certain style so far this season under head coach Scott Skiles. Jennings is obviously a run-the-ball-up-the-court type, but Milwaukee's other pieces lend themselves more to a slow-and-steady game than anything else.
Therefore, it's not a terribly difficult test, but a test nonetheless: Can the Clippers force their style onto another team? When they did it effectively last season, it almost always resulted in wins. Being able to do it against a team like the Bucks would bode well for next week's games against the Heat and Lakers.