|2008/2009 NBA Regular Season|
|December 22nd, 2008, 7:30 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket
The Big Picture:
It's hard to know what to expect from the Clippers tonight. After embarrassing themselves in a 34 point loss in Milwaukee, will they be re-energized to be back home? Will they be able to prove that the last game was just a fluke? This game precedes an all-star-break-like hiatus of 5 days off - so maybe they'll just mail it in, and start their vacations a day early. If fatigue was the only reason for the debacle in Milwaukle, they should at least be a little fresher. But if the bench is incapable of providing any quality minutes, the starters will just wear down in the fourth quarter again. The unfortunate reality is that every positive trend for the team was negated in the Bucks game. They had been consistently competitive for about a month - until they lost by 34. Zach Randolph had scored at least 21 points and shot a high percentage - until he scored 4 and shot 2 for 11. They had held 13 consecutive opponents below 50% shooting - until Milwaukee shot 52%. It would be really great to be able to write that game off as a complete anomaly - let's hope the Clippers give us a reason to believe that tonight.
If the Clippers are the biggest disappointment in the Western Conference so far this season, the Raptors have that distinction in the East, and they may take the overall prize as well, especially given their play of late. While the Clippers have won 5 of 8 and 6 of 12, the Raptors have lost 5 straight and 9 of their last 11. Their lackluster season so far has cost Sam Mitchell his job, and the team has done no better with Jay Triano, posting a 2-8 mark under the new coach. Expectations were very high going into the season - Chris Bosh is a major star and had played like one while winning a Gold Medal in Beijing. Jose Calderon emerged as an all-star caliber point guard last season and signed a new contract over the summer. Then they traded their other point guard, T.J. Ford, for a former all star in Jermaine O'Neal. In theory, if O'Neal had anything at all left in the tank, this team would be among the top four in the East. Instead, they're languising near the bottom of the conference. So what happened? I'll tell you - I don't know. Bosh is playing as well or better. Calderon has been very good again. I think what may be happening here is that the Raptors were never as good as we thought they were. Guys like Anthony Parker and Jamarion Moon and Jason Kapono and Andrea Bargnani just aren't great NBA players. And the recent defections of Carlos Delfino and Jorge Garbajosa to the European leagues has hurt team depth. The one statistical area that jumps out is rebounding, where the Raptors are a league-worst minus 6 in differential. Whatever the reason, the Raptors are hurting right now.
- Defending Bosh. Marcus Camby is going to draw the tough one-on-one assignment of Chris Bosh. This is not Marcus' favorite thing to do - he'd really rather play free safety, taking a non-scoring and ignoring him to look for blocked shots. But there's no way that Z-Bo is taking Bosh, so it's up to Camby. Many Denver-watchers were critical of Camby's on-ball defense, and I myself have been in the past. After watching him more closely this season, I've concluded that it's really a matter of focus and effort. He can play great on-ball defense when he wants to. But sometimes he's lazy showing on picks, and closing out on shooters. The rim draws him like a magnet - he's had so much success in his career rebounding and blocking shots, and you just can't do those things chasing your man out to 20 feet. So sometimes he just doesn't. On a key possession during the Chicago game, Marcus was assigned to Nocioni and he was helping in the lane with Noc standing behind the arc. They kicked it out, and Marcus just stood there and watched as Nocioni nailed a crucial three. But Bosh is a special challenge, and I think that Camby will want to live up to that challenge.
- Rebounding. As mentioned above, the Raptors are a league-worst in rebound differential, by a pretty wide margin. As in worse than Golden State. Coincidentally, rebounding has been a pretty good baromter of success for the Clippers this season. When they outrebound opponents, they usually win, and they've been playing better of late partly because they've been rebounding better. If the Clippers can dominate the glass, they should win this game.
- Three point shooting. The Raptors don't use it as much as you might think, but they shoot a very good percentage from the arc (38%) and they have three key players ove 40% (Calderon, Kapono and Parker). The Clippers, on the other hand, are 29th in the league at 31%. Gee, that seems familiar. What is it about this team? I mean, the roster has almost completely turned over, and it certainly seemed like there were more shooters on the team now (Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, etc.), yet they remain among the league's worst in 3 point percentage year after year. What is that?
- Is Help on the Way? We've all sort of penciled in Chris Kaman and Ricky Davis to return against the Mavs in the next game Sunday. But according to Lisa Dillman in today's LA Times, that looks pretty unlikely for Davis, and Kaman might also be out until January. So Happy New Year, everyone.
- Bradley Brave drinking game. OK, I made up this game last season, but many of you are new here, so I'll give you the background and the rules. Another chance to play the Ralph Lawler drinking game. Anthony Parker is one of two active NBA players from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. Ralph Lawler is from Peoria and is a Bradley alum. Here's how the game works. When Ralph says Bradley, you drink. When he says Bradley Braves, you chug. When he says Peoria, you drink. When he says Peoria Illinois, you chug. When he says Bradley Braves in Peoria Illinois, you chug, then open another one and chug it.
- Superstar for one game. Foreign-born point guards have been pretty big in this category when you consider the games that Beno Udrih and JJ Barea had against the Clippers. So Jose Calderon is a good candidate - but he may be too established to qualify. Then I realized that maybe it's just foreign-born that is the problem, since Nocioni killed the Clippers in Chicago. So maybe Bargnani is the man. I'm going to go with Calderon, in the hopes that my reverse-mojo can work it's magic on a key Raptor tonight.
- Get the Raptors perspective at Cuzoogle.