LA Clippers look to bounce back against Eastern Conference opponent

The LA Clippers will host the Hawks tonight
The LA Clippers will host the Hawks tonight / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

At this point in the NBA season, every game matters. Surely, the LA Clippers know this. Tonight, they'll try to bounce back from a difficult loss as they host the Atlanta Hawks. 

The Clippers are heavily favored to win this game. That doesn't mean that they should take Atlanta lightly. The Hawks have been a little more competitive lately. Why is that? 

Are LA Clippers' opponent better without their franchise player? 

Everyone hates it when this question is posed. Is Team X better without their best player? Typically, the answer is a resounding no. 

Still, it's worth noting that Atlanta are 7-8 without Trae Young this season. That's considerably better than their overall win percentage. The Hawks are 29-37, good for 10th in the Eastern Conference. 

Young is one of those complicated NBA players. He's one of the best playmakers in the league. In the same breath, Young is a defensive liability. His tendency to monopolize offensive possessions can leave teammates feeling alienated as well. 

That's a criticism that's been levelled against a current LA Clipper at times as well. 

Can LA Clippers weather James Harden's absence? 

With that said, James Harden hasn't deserved the "heliocentric" label in years. He's developed into more of a playmaker since his days breaking usage records on the Houston Rockets. The Clippers have been better with him on the floor as a result of that stylistic shift.

As of this writing, Harden is listed as questionable for tonight's contest. The Clippers badly needed him against the New Orleans Pelicans. Harden is the straw that stirs this drink. Who will step up in his absence? 

LA Clippers need playmaking - one way or another 

Against the Chicago Bulls, Bones Hyland was fantastic. Against the Pelicans, he wilted. If the Clippers are going to succeed without Harden (or, for that matter, Russell Westbrook), they need a solid performance from Hyland

That doesn't mean replicating Harden's output. That would be an unreasonable bar. The Clippers need Hyland to find Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in their spots, and shoot efficiently. 

What else do the Clippers need to do to come away with a win tonight? 

LA Clippers need to exploit opponents' defense 

The Hawks have no trouble scoring. Their 117.0 Offensive Rating is ninth in the NBA. By contrast, their Defensive Rating of 118.7 ranks 28th. 

Sure, each of those stats include a lot of Trae Young games. Still, the Hawks have been functionally similar in his absence. The Clippers are a better two-way team, and that should give them the edge in this one. 

Still, they'll need to execute. After all, this game matters to the Hawks as well.