The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The teams split the season series last year, one game a piece.
The Big Picture:
Are the wheels coming off? After consecutive home losses, including a 25 point embarrassment against the Spurs yesterday, it sort of feels that way. Basketball is about momentum, both in individual games and over the course of a season, and right now the Clippers have none. How many more ugly losses until the team stops trying? (That is assuming they haven't already, which is not readily apparent from the Spurs game. I mean, how would we know the difference if they stopped trying?) Right now, they have a chance to recapture some momentum. The next four opponents are among the six worst teams in the league. By simply doing what most NBA teams have been doing this season - that is beating the Wizards, Wolves, Knicks and Sixers - the Clippers can get back to .500, if only for a day. It starts with the game against the Wizards. And it starts with defense. The Wizards are fully capable of getting on a role on offense and slicing and dicing the Clippers the same way the Spurs did. If that happens, yeah, the wheels are off. Eric Gordon will surely have to play better than he did against the Spurs, when he went only 4 for 12. And the Clippers will have to get SOMETHING from their bench. Although Sebastian Telfair started last night, if you consider him a reserve as he will be tonight, the Clippers got basically nothing from their bench against the Spurs. Craig Smith scored 6 points in garbage time and that's about it. Not to mention that they didn't play good defense either. The bench simply must play better.
The Wizards are 7-14, but they're not really that bad. They are playing much better since getting Antawn Jamison back from injury (right when the team said he would be back, imagine that) but have recently lost four straight by margins of 2, 4, 2 and 1. Don't you just know that teams struggling to get a win have the Clippers circled on their calendars? The Wizards still have their big three of Gilbert Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler, and those three are averaging a combined 58 points per game this season. But with Mike Miller injured, the shooting guard position is currently a train wreck, with DeShawn Stevenson shooting less than 30% and Randy Foye under 40%. And the Wizards can't really stop anyone, having the 21st rated defense in the league in efficiency. Still, Arenas, Jamison and Butler can score with anybody, and the Wizards have some intriguing players off the bench like Andray Blatche and former Clipper Earl Boykins. I don't expect this to be an easy game by any means. I don't expect much to be easy for the Clippers this season.
- Matchups. Jamison is the class tweener, not big enough to be a traditional power forward, but not quick enough to play the small forward. Despite that, he's a monster on offense. He has an array of junky shots and his unorthodoxy makes him difficult to defend. His bizarre repertoire tends to neutralize the length of a defender like Camby - it's hard to block a shot when you don't know when it's coming or where it's coming from. The Clippers need to hope that Gil versus Baron is at worst a push and that Kaman versus Haywood and Gordon versus Stevenson are clear wins.
- Gil the goat. Gilbert Arenas has missed key late free throws in each of the last two losses, with the game on the line. Gil's been up and down lately - he's been below double figures in 3 of his last 7 games - but he's scored at least 22 in the other four. By the way, in Saturday's game, Mike Dunleavy Jr was the hero - after Gil missed two free throws, MDjr made two with 0.1 seconds left to give the Pacers the one point win.
- The Clipper bench. The bench was supposed to be vastly improved over last season, but the simple fact is that a lack of depth has really hurt the Clippers this season. Even on the rare occasions when the starters can build a lead, the bench tends to lose all or most of it.
- Rasual and Ricky. Rasual Butler's minutes have been dwindling as he continues to struggle. Ricky Davis was the first wing off the bench and played more minutes than Butler against the Spurs. Rasual's been bad - but Ricky's been no better. Maybe it's time to give Mardy Collins a serious look as the first wing.
- Get away game. The Clippers begin a six game road trip, their longest of the season so far, on Wednesday. Moreover, the home-friendly schedule (they have 15 of their first 23 at home counting this one) they've enjoyed thus far comes to an abrupt end. Then again, 'enjoyed' may not be the right word given the Clippers' noticeable lack of a home court advantage. Still, it would be nice to finish the home stand on a high note, but the ugliness of the Spurs game in the past, and leave to Minnesota with some positive mojo.
Of course it's Pete! Look at him!... We gotta find some kind of wizard to change him back.
- Get the Wizards perspective at Bullets Forever.