Clippers vs. Heat preview: Nationally televised game is a test for both teams

Harry How

In a battle of two first place teams, the Clippers and Heat are connected in more ways than being winning basketball teams.

The Los Angeles Clippers will host LeBron James and the defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday night at Staples Center in a game that figures to give both teams an accurate assessment of where they each are in terms of positioning among the NBA's elite teams.

The game will be full of star power, and the greatest player in the game today in James will be on full display as he leads the Heat in points per game (23.9), rebounds per game (10.0) and assists per game (6.1). The Clippers counter with a more balanced attack and the same superstar influence as Chris Paul leads a deep roster against the Heat in an effort to maintain their strong record against the Heat at home. Since 2001-02, Los Angeles is 9-2 against the Heat at home. Only the Milwaukee Bucks have fared worse in that aspect over the same stretch.

The last game between the two teams was a 95-89 overtime thriller at Staples Center on Jan. 11, where Paul poured in a game-high 27 points while the Clips' stout defense held James to just 23 points in the losing effort. Defending the 2011-12 MVP has been a successful endeavor for the Clippers -- he's averaged just 23.1 points in 17 career games against Los Angeles.

With Miami's big three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh matching up well against Paul, Blake Griffin and Caron Butler, it's obvious that the game will have plenty of substance at the top. The battle of the bench, though, figures to be the deciding factor when the final buzzer sounds on Wednesday, and that bodes well for the Clippers' chances to pull out another home win against Miami.

The Clippers' prolific scoring second unit begins and ends with the team's leading scorer, Jamal Crawford. The 12-year veteran has been outstanding through seven games this season, scoring 142 points off the bench. That total gives him the highest scoring output of any bench player in the NBA. It's carried over to the rest of the reserves as well, and the Clippers have the second-ranked scoring bench in the league with 286 points off the bench in seven games.

Both teams will be fighting to assert themselves as a dominant team. This game will be must-see TV on a terrific national stage.

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