|Feb. 22, 2008 - 7:30 PM|
|Brevin Knight||PG||Deron Williams|
|Cat Mobley||SG||Ronnie Brewer|
|Corey Maggette||SF||Andrei Kirilenko|
|Tim Thomas||PF||Carlos Boozer|
|Chris Kaman||C||Mehmut Okur|
This is the Clippers third meeting of the season with the Jazz, and if it turns out to be anything like the first two then you might want to watch the Suns and Celtics on ESPN. I'd love to come up with some excuses for the poor showings against Utah - like injuries or fatigue or something. But the truth is the Generic Clippers were the healthiest they've been this season for both games (they were within days of each other in January), and were in fact playing pretty good basketball against everyone EXCEPT the Jazz. They were simply incapable of defending against the pick and roll (and pretty much anything else for that matter), and the Jazz scored 106 and 109 points, while shooting 52% in the first game and 57%(!) in the second. Sam Cassell is doubtful for this game after tweaking his wrist when he was knocked down at the end of the third period Wednesday; Kaman's shin is still hurting, but he'll play. But unless they figure out how to stop these guys, it won't much matter.
At the time of the first two games, the Jazz looked like a Dr. Jekyll - Mr. Hyde, playing great at home and poorly on the road. Then they came out and smoked the Clippers in Staples Center. That win started a string of 6 wins in 7 road games, which is all part of a 19-3 stretch since New Year's Eve. In short, this is the best team in basketball in 2008, and those late January wins against the Clippers were just a part of the pattern. Carlos Boozer is simply the most efficient high scorer in the NBA (53.5%), Deron Williams has scored 29 points three times since being left off the All Star Team, Mehmut Okur has started playing much better, Andrei Kirilenko is still a monster and Ronnie Brewer is a significant contender for Most Improved Player. But the guy who is the key appears to be Kyle Korver. The Jazz were 16-16 on Dec. 30th. After being traded for Gordon Giricek, Korver played in his first game for Utah on Dec. 31. The team is 19-3 since that time. I can't give you a bunch of stats that prove how great Korver is - he's shooting fine, he makes some threes of course - but the team is 19-3 with him, and that's enough. Kirilenko is listed as a game time decision with the dreaded 'flu-like symptoms' (I don't get that - why are we so afraid to say the flu? Is this some sort of PC thing? Is flu a derogatory term? Are we afraid of offending certain germs?). Carlos Boozer missed part of Utah's last practice with soreness in his back but is expected to play.
- Reason for hope? During the 06-07 season, the Jazz were exhibiting a similar dominance of the Clippers. Utah had won the first three meetings by 22, 19 and 10, and none of them were as close as the final score would indicate. In the final meeting of the season in Staples Center, the Clippers won 104-72, their most lopsided victory of the season. This isn't the final meeting this year, but it is the last meeting in Staples. So there's that.
- The MLK Day Melee. It was after the last meeting with the Jazz that LA Times columnist TJ Simers interviewed owner Donald T. Sterling, whose comments sparked an ugly back and forth with MDsr. Coincidentally, the same two teams meet again in the same venue the day after the trading deadline, and the Clippers have done nothing to improve either now or in the future. Admittedly, the team looked awful in that Monday matinée. They committed 20 turnovers, gave up countless uncontested layups and looked lethargic and disinterested. It was the right time to get upset - if the wrong tirade.
- Which Kaman? I've harped aplenty about the difference between Chris Kaman in the first 39 games and in the 6 prior to the All Star Break. On Wednesday, in the first game back, we basically saw bad Kaman for the first three quarters and good Kaman for the fourth (although foul trouble definitely contributed). Mehmut Okur is a surprisingly good low post defender and the Jazz as a team have very quick and active hands and tend to get a lot of deflections. Active teams like this tend to give Chris a lot of trouble. It would be great if he came out and had a really strong game, but I'm not overly optimistic.
- Matchup Trouble. Al Thornton got the start at power forward over a healthy Tim Thomas Wednesday versus Memphis. Of course Memphis started Hakim Warrick at the four. It will be interesting to see who starts, and how the Clippers matchup, against Okur and Boozer. Given that Okur is more of a perimeter player on offense, the Clippers will likely put Kaman on Boozer as they have for the first two games, and then who it's anybody's guess as to who gets the start at the four. I'd love to see Thornton. He could take Boozer to the perimeter and make him work on defense. With Al's first step, that would be a VERY tough cover for Boozer. Let's make the other team worry about how they'll defend the Clippers for once.
- The Toughness Factor. Utah is a unique team. They are the second-best shooting team in the league. They run their sets to perfection. But they are also a bunch of bad asses. Carlos Boozer, Matt Harpring and Paul Millsap are built more like linebackers than basketball players. Deron Williams is like a strong safety, and could do about 20 reps bench pressing Dan Dickau. Andrei Kirilenko, though he has a slender build, is tough as nails. Basically, in addition to outplaying the Clippers in the first two games, they also beat them up physically. Toughness is not really a strong suit of the Generic Clippers - but they need to find some if they're going to compete tonight.
- The Last Russian. Since the Chicago Bulls bought out Viktor Khryapa a couple of weeks ago, Kirilenko is now the only Russian playing in the NBA. Of course the Clippers' own Russian, Yaroslav Korolev, bombed out after two seasons. Apropos to nothing. It's just interesting, that a huge country like Russia, with such a proud basketball tradition, has only one player in the NBA during this time of globalization. It's all the more strange when you consider that Russia just won the European championships last year. These are the kinds of things I think about.