|2008/2009 NBA Regular Season|
|February 4th, 2009, 4:00 PM|
|KTLA Channel 5
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers just look worse and worse despite the fact that they are getting closer to full strength. With Zach Randolph back in the lineup Monday, the Clippers actually had a full contingent of 12 players in uniform against Miami, for the first time in 2009. But it didn't help, as the Heat hung one of the uglier losses of the season on LA (and there have been plenty of bad ones). In theory, the players available at this point are pretty good; a lineup of Marcus Camby, Zach Randolph, Al Thornton, Eric Gordon and Baron Davis is an aggregation of one all star, two near all stars, and two participants in the Rookie Challenge All Star Weekend. But the Clippers are the anti-synergy team - the whole is less than the sum of it's parts. Thornton has been in a horrendous slump the last 4 games, while Baron has been in a horrendous slump all season. Gordon joined them in 'can't make a jump shot' land on Monday, making it a pretty long night for the offense. But the defense was the real problem. They broke down and allowed easy baskets all night, once completely ignoring Jamaal Magloire standing next to the hoop. And that was against Miami. Orlando has a lot more weapons. The only good news from Monday was Randolph's return. After leaving his first two shots short, he settled in and looked like he never missed any action, scoring 21 points in 26 minutes. He also looked like he could have played more, had the game not gotten out of hand. Hopefully his knee didn't swell or stiffen after the game (how would we know, with no beat reporter covering the team?), in which case I assume he'll get the start tonight.
The Magic got three players selected for the All Star Game last week, which was good news for the franchise. And then one of them got injured, which was very bad news. Four days after being selected to his first All Star team, Jameer Nelson separated his shoulder in Dallas Monday, and an MRI later revealed a torn labrum. If you were wondering what exactly has elevated the Magic from 'playoff team' to 'title contender', look no further than Nelson. Dwight Howard is dominant, but he was just as dominant, arguably moreso, last season. Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu both shot better percentages last year. But the back court was supposed to be suspect. Nelson wasn't even the clear starter over Carlos Arroyo for most of last season. This season? Arroyo is no longer in the NBA, and Nelson is an All Star. But now he's an injured All Star, and with Arroyo and Keyon Dooling gone, it leaves Anthony Johnson as the starter (and JJ Redick as the backup, I guess). (By the way, I wonder where Arroyo is? The Clippers could use that guy.) This will be the Magic's first game since Nelson was hurt, and it will be interesting to see how they respond. The combination of Howard in the middle and great shooting on the perimeter, not to mention Turkoglu making plays, should be more than enough to take care of the struggling Clippers.
- The back court. If the Clippers are to have a chance in this game, they have to DOMINATE the backcourt matchups. Baron Davis is a former All Star - Anthony Johnson is on his 10th team in 11 NBA seasons. The Clippers fancy Eric Gordon a Rookie of the Year candidate - Orlando starts rookie Courtney Lee, who has looked impressive for them, but does not have the credentials of Gordon. (Lee and Gordon are both products of Indianapolis - perhaps citizen LAHoosier will tell us more about their exploits.) Unfortunately, it has been rare indeed that the Clippers have won the point guard position this season - which goes a long way towards explaining the 10-38 record.
- The front court. Dwight Howard was the leading vote getter in All Star balloting, and is the dominant big man in the NBA today. Lewis was selected to the All Star game for the second time. And Turkoglu is easily their most versatile player, and their go to guy in close games. The front court is not just talented - it's also a matchup nightmare. When Randolph and Camby are on the floor together, Zach will lean on Howard and Camby will be left to chase Lewis off of the three point line - but neither matchup bodes well for the Clippers. Brian Skinner and DeAndre Jordan will also get their turns (and use their fouls) on Howard during the game. And it might be interesting to try Steve Novak on Lewis. You know what they say - "Put a shooter on a shooter." OK, they don't say that. I just said it, just now. If it works, maybe they'll start saying it.
- Trivia Time - What do former Clipper and Magic player Bo Outlaw, Phoenix All Star Amare Stoudemire and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro have in common? Leave your answer in the comments, then check the Game Thread for the answer.
- First meeting. In the first meeting of the season, the Clippers outplayed the Magic for most of the game. Unfortunately, they also gave up a 14-2 run to start the game, and a devastating 22-2 run to open the fourth quarter (the Clippers led by 9 after three). The Magic can certainly score points in bunches, given their shooters. Limiting these runs will be a key if the Clippers hope to be competitive.
- Rebounding crown. This game features the two best rebounders in the NBA and the two best shot blockers in the NBA, Dwight Howard and Marcus Camby. Marcus had caught and even briefly passed his younger rival (almost a dozen years separates them) for the rebounding lead with a prodigious stretch of games before he was hurt. Unfortunately, limited minutes have also limited Camby's rebounds since returning, and he's dropped back in the race some. (Camby leads the race on a per minutes basis.) There's still plenty of time for Marcus to catch up, but he'll have to start grabbing every rebound again.
- Getting to the line. In the first meeting, part of the Clippers strategy was to take the ball right at Howard in an attempt to get to the line and get the big man into foul trouble. It failed miserably. Howard had 6 blocked shots, only 4 fouls, and the Clippers took a total of 13 free throws in the game.
- Superstar for one game. Let's say JJ Redick. I predicted Redick for the first meeting, and he didn't even get off the bench. But with only one healthy point guard on the roster in Orlando, I think Stan Van Gundy will have to go with Redick to back up Johnson. The guy can shoot, and he's the perfect candidate to light up the Clippers for a career high.
Tape Delay in LA. We still don't have a host for the game thread, but it's probably not going to be a good situation for live commenting during the game. The local LA broadcast is being delayed 90 minutes - so those of you watching on League Pass or listening on radio should stop by the thread - at least it's not ridiculously late for the guys in England. But if you are going to watch on KTLA like me, you'll need to avoid the interwebs lest you spoil the ending (like there's really any suspense).
- UPDATE - NO Tape Delay. Several people have pointed out in the comments that their DirecTV guide is indicating that the game will tip at 4:00, with no tape delay. I, like others, thought that's what Ralph had indicated during other broadcasts, not to mention the fact that the schedule on the Clippers website, and the blurb in in the LA Times all say 4:00. All I know is that when I went to program the DVR last night, my FiOS program guide said 5:30 - but now it says 4:00 also. SOOOO... sorry for any confusion, there is NO TAPE DELAY. Which means I may be able to be on the game thread.
- Get the Magic perspective from Ben Q. Rock at Third Quarter Collapse.