|April 6, 2008 - 6:30 PM|
|TV: KTLA, Channel 5|
|Dan Dickau||PG||Rafer Alston|
|Quinton Ross||SG||Tracy McGrady|
|Corey Maggette||SF||Shane Battier|
|Al Thornton||PF||Luis Scola|
|Josh Powell||C||Dikembe Mutombo|
The Clippers close the season with a murderer's row of six straight games against Western Conference teams on a 50 win pace battling for their playoff lives (Denver, Golden State) or at least for home court advantage (Houston, LA, NO). Should the Clippers lay down and lose as many as possible? Or should the try to play spoiler? Can they play spoiler, even if they try? The simple fact is, even if the Clippers close the season with 6 straight losses, they're unlikely to drop below their current 6th in the lottery rankings: it would require the Grizz, Wolves or Knicks to win 4 of 6 - and that ain't happening. On the other hand, even if they won six straight, they can only pass the Bucks in the standings. So locked into 6 or 7, there's really no ping-pong-ball reason for the Clippers not to try to win these games. The Clippers will be their usual short-handed selves tonight - Mobley is day-to-day with his heel, Thomas is doubtful (he won't play) with his sore Achilles, and Kaman is still recovering from his sprained ankle.
When Yao was lost for the season in late February, I wrote the Rockets off. It seemed painfully obviously that with nine party guests and eight chairs, the Rockets were going to be standing when the music stopped. Instead, they continued the 12 game winning streak they had when Yao went out, and ran it all the way to 22, second longest in NBA history. Since the streak finally ended, the Rockets are 5-5, which frankly seems more like it. Without Yao, the Rockets are incredibly dependent on Tracy McGrady, who has led them in scoring 18 times in their last 23 games. But on a team built around two superstars (TMac and Yao) and a host of role players, ALL of their role players are playing great. Rafer Alston (who says he'll be back from a sore hamstring injury tonight), Shane Battier, rookies Luis Scola and Carl Landry - all of these guys know their roles and are playing great basketball. The shame for the Rockets (and for TMac in particular) is that it's all likely going to end in a first round playoff exit. Without Yao, they just don't have the horses to win on the road in a loaded Western Conference.
- Home Debut. After making his season debut in Seattle, Elton Brand will make his home debut tonight. He's missed 74 games, and 38 home games this season, and the roar when he takes the court is likely to be the loudest since the 2006 playoffs. Let's hope the Clippers are smart enough NOT to start him. He needs his moment when he enters for the first time. He can start on Tuesday.
- Skip to my Lou. Rafer Alston may be the key to the Rockets' success this season. The Rockets starter at the point last season, the team was so insecure about the position that they traded for Mike James, signed Steve Francis, and drafted Aaron Brooks. Francis has been a non-factor and is now injured, James has since been traded, and Brooks is getting the minutes one would expect of a late first rounder. But Alston's steady play has been in large part the missing ingredient for the Rockets. It's no coincidence that the 22 game winning streak coincided with the best month of his professional career.
- The 27 year old Rookie. There are likely two first team all-rookie selections in this game: Al Thornton of the Clippers and Luis Scola of the Rockets. If Thornton is an 'old' rookie (a 5th year senior at FSU, he started his rookie year at the age of 23), what does that make the 27 year of Scola? A veteran, that's what. A veteran of World Championship and Olympic Gold Medal teams. A veteran of European champions. The guy knows how to play basketball.
- Fazekas and Williams. The Clippers have six more games to take a look at rookies Nick Fazekas and Marcus Williams. Fazekas has been incredibly effective when he's gotten minutes - he's basically proven that he deserves to play some, and has a legitimate shot to make the team next season even when everyone is healthy. Williams on the other hand has only had one non-garbage appearance so far, despite the injury to Cat Mobley. Although at first glance the Clippers appear deep at his swing man position, with Ross and Maggette coming onto free agency and Mobley the only (aging) option at the shooting guard, it would be good to take a longer look at Williams before the season is over to see if he might be able to provide depth on the wing next season.