|November 17, 2008 - 7:30 PM|
|TV: FSN West, NBA-TV
|Al Thornton||SF||Ime Udoka
The Big Picture:
Pick your cliche. The wheels are coming off. The ship is sinking. The car has gone into the ditch. However you choose to describe it, it ain't good for the Clippers right now. The team is 1-8, and were it not for the Thunder (the ultimate rebuilding team whose three leading scorers are two second year players and a rookie) they'd have the worst record in the NBA. As it happens, they do have the worst point differential, by a pretty wide margin, at minus 13.9 points per game. But that's what 6 double digits losses in your first nine games will do for you. The Clippers so far have proven to be pretty bad at just about every aspect of the game. They can't shoot (41.1%, 29th in the league out of 30 teams); they don't get to the line (29th in free throws made); they can't defend (24th in field percentage allowed). But rebounding is perhaps the most disconcerting area of inexpertise. They have yet to outrebound an opponent, despite the presence of two supposedly elite big men. They are 29th in rebounds allowed, 29th in offensive rebounds allowed, and dead last in rebounding margin at minus 8 per game. It's worth noting that rebounding and defense are generally (and not inaccurately) thought of as being greatly impacted by things like hustle and desire. Enough said.
The Spurs have problems of their own. Take a glance at the probable starters above. Only the most hard core NBA fans even know who three of those guys are - the casual fan would have no clue about anyone other than Tim Duncan. Even the rookie (George Hill) is an obscure rookie from a mid-major school (IUPUI). The Spurs are a team built around three stars and an ever-changing cast of role-players. The trouble is, two of the three stars are hurt (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) and the role-players are becoming ever more obscure. Still, they've managed to win two straight games with this makeshift lineup, and you have to figure that Gregg Popovich is relatively happy to be 4-5 right now. Why is it that the good teams seem to be able to execute a game plan even when key players are hurt? Could it have something to do with coaching?
- Who are these guys? Gregg Popovich benched the 37 year old Bruce Bowen a couple of games ago, presumably because they can't afford to start a non-scorer on such an offensively-challenged team with both Parker and Manu out. (How many times have we said around here that Quinton Ross is an effective player on a good team, but useless on a bad team?) That leaves Duncan (and a couple of guys on the bench like Michael Finley and Kurt Thomas) as the only household names on the Spurs - a team that won the NBA title two seasons ago. Hill is a rookie from the most unwieldy university in all of Division I (Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis), Mason was rescued from the European leagues by the Wizards last year before signing with the Spurs, and Udoka made his way from the D-League to Portland to the San Antonio. Even I'm not sure who Anthony Tolliver is. But rest assured - Popovich will have them all playing defense, or they won't be on the court.
- Gut check time. Actually, it's long overdue. But the Clippers have got to figure out if they've got any heart or not. In the last 8 quarters, they've played about 6 minutes of basketball as if they gave a damn. The Spurs will destroy them if they continue to play passionless ball, no matter who is wearing the black and silver uniform.
- A stable full of gift horses. The Clippers have squandered opportunites to beat the the Nuggets without Carmelo, the Jazz without Deron Williams, the Kings without Kevin Martin and the Warriors without Monta Ellis and Al Harrington. Now come the Spurs, missing Manu and Parker, on the second game of road back-to-backs. It's amazing how many favorable breaks the Clippers have gotten so far this season. And yet they are 1-8.
- The biggest problem. No one is playing very well for the Clippers. Poor rebounding and lousy defense are usually team efforts. Baron isn't taking charge. Thornton has had two abysmal shooting games in a row where he's constantly settled for jump shots while killing any semblance of offensive flow as soon as he gets the ball. But make no mistake - Chris Kaman is the biggest culprit in the last two games. Don't be fooled by his double-double against the Warriors. He fumbled another 10 or so rebounds out of bounds, and he gave up 16 rebounds to his counter part. And every time he misses a bunny it's demoralizing to a team that has very little morale left. It's tempting to say, "Give up on the guy, he's never going to get it; he'll just show flashes, but never put it together." But he DID put it together - for about 50 games at the beginning of last season before getting hurt. That's what's so frustrating.
- The bright spot. About the only bright spot of the last two games has been Eric Gordon. He hasn't made every shot by any means, but his offensive talent is plain to see. More importantly, he's showing real signs of being a terrific perimeter defender. When no one else was playing any defense at all Saturday, he was stealing the ball and blocking shots. He's got incredibly quick hands.