|November 19, 2008 - 5:00 PM|
|TV: KTLA Channel 5
|Al Thornton||SF||Jeff Green
The Big Picture:
There can be only one. In a Battle of the Titan(ic)s, two sinking ships meet in Oklahoma City. The Clippers are 1-9, the Thunder 1-10. One of them will get their second victory tonight; league rules require it. The Clippers first 10 games were theoretically against very good competition - 9 of the opponents won at least 48 games last season. But hidden in that factoid are many advantages in the early season schedule. For one, they've only had two road games, and only one trip out of Staples Center (they played one road game against the Lakers). They're 1-7 at home. Fully half of their 10 opponents have been playing the second of back-to-back games, yet they are 0-5 in those games. And eight of the ten opponents were missing a starter. They're 1-7 in those. I've heard both Baron Davis and Ralph Lawler suggest that this road trip may be good for the team - build some camaraderie, get away from some LA distractions. We'll see. I think the best thing about this game, from the Clippers' perspective, is that the opponent stinks.
Now this is how you rebuild. Or at least, they've got the first part down; the part where you hit rock bottom. The Thunder's top three scorers are 20 year old Kevin Durant (21 points per game), 22 year old Jeff Green (15) and 20 year old Russell Westbrook (12). Their leading rebounder is 22 year old Robert Swift. The problem is, no one else is averaging in double digits. The Thunder have a new city, some young talent, extra first round picks in each of the next two draft, and about a ton of cap space for the foreseeable future. Can they get free agents to move to Oklahoma? That remains to be seen, but it's no surprise that they're losing this season - that's all part of the plan. Step 1 is working perfectly. But Step 2 often proves to be the tricky part.
- How bad have these teams been? There are only three teams in the NBA averaging fewer than 90 points per game. These are two of them. There are only eight teams in the NBA allowing over 100 points a game. Once again, we'll be watching two of them tonight. I'm no expert, but it seems to me that if you can't score, and you can't keep the other team from scoring, you won't win many games.
- C-Weezy. Former Clipper Chris Wilcox has missed the last 5 games with a sore knee. He is expected to play tonight. Wilcox is an amazing athlete who's never really figured out the game of basketball. He's been playing behind Nick Collison this season, and is shooting 39% from the field in 6 games. Not what you want from your power forward.
- Speaking of sub-40% shooting. The Clippers as a team are now above 40% after spending much of the early season below that mark. In fact, they've improved all the way to 41.2%, second worst in the NBA. Who is worse? Do you really have to ask? Several key Clippers remain below 40% - Baron Davis (36.4%), Tim Thomas (39.8%), Ricky Davis (32.3%), both rookie guards, etc. The three Davises are all below 40%, the first time in the history of the NBA that three teammates with the same last name have accomplished that. (I just made that up, but I'm pretty sure it's true.)
- Baron's shooting. Baron's 36.4% is not good, obviously. And in the latest three game losing streak, he's been particularly bad - 16 for 51. That really hurts, especially given that the Clippers should have won all three of those games considering the opposition. So what's going on? Is it a grand conspiracy to drive out MDsr, or maybe to get him to loosen the reigns a little? It seems more likely that this is a shooting slump, plain and simple. Baron's never been a high percentage shooter - he's just over 41% for his career, and he actually had three straight entire seasons where he shot under 40%. So we shouldn't expect him to shoot 50% (or even 45%). But hopefully he won't continue with 16 for 51 either. A couple of good games where he gets hot, and he'll be right back on his career average. One more thing: I think we've ignored that he's playing with a partially torn ligament in his left ring finger. It's certainly conceivable that the injury is causing him to be off some.
- Rebounding. The Clippers out-rebounded the Spurs on Monday, the first time this year they've gotten more rebounds than their opponent. The Thunder are actually a pretty good rebounding team so far (although that's deceptive, since there are so many misses in their games). Nick Collison has destroyed the Clippers on the boards in the past. If the Clippers expect to win this game, they will have to box out and keep Collison and others off the offensive glass.
- The tallest shooting guard in the world. Kevin Durant is a prodigious talent, that much is certain. He's very long, and incredibly skilled. He seemed to be figuring out the difference between a good shot and a bad shot towards the end of last season. And his shooting percentage is up slightly so far this season. But his assists are down, and his turnovers are up, and both of those numbers were pretty bad to begin with. Part of that is the fact that the players around him just aren't that good, and Durant is forced to take a lot of shots. Fortunately for the Clippers, Cat Mobley has an uncanny ability to defend against taller opponents. It will be interesting to see if Eric Gordon (small for a two guard) gets the chance to use his strength against Durant's length at all tonight.
- Battle of the Sophomores. This game features three of the five first team all rookie selections from last season: Durant, Green, and Al Thornton. Thornton and Green will be matched up opposite each other from the opening tip, and each of them is the second leading scorer for their team at about 15 a game. Given the difficulty each of these teams have scoring the ball, it may well be that whoever wins that contest will give their team a significant advantage in the game.
- UCLA point guards. Baron Davis, Earl Watson and Russell Westbrook all played point guard for the Bruins (although Westbrook only did so while Darren Collison was hurt). Watson and Davis arrived in Westwood together, though Baron left for the NBA a couple years early. If nothing else, this will give Citizens Zhiv and Jax and other UCLA fans a little extra reason to watch tonight.