The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
In the always exciting game of Clipper musical chairs, here's what we think we know. Chris Kaman, who has missed 48 games and over three months, is probably going to make his 2009 debut tonight. Baron Davis, who missed the last game with a tweaked hamstring, practiced Monday and is also expected to play. Unfortunately, Marcus Camby's issues seem to be getting more complex. The ruptured eardrum led to an infection, and the infection seems to have led to equilibrium problems. And no one seems quite sure what that means. It seems clear that he won't play tonight. And since Zach Randolph will miss Saturday's game against the Nuggets in order to attend his father's funeral, that will run the string to an even 200 games during which the Clippers have had a full roster only 8 times. I do so like round numbers. So, what can we expect from the group that will play against the Cavs? Well, given that Cleveland has the second best record in the NBA and a 19-4 record against the West, I wouldn't expect much. Kaman will no doubt be limited and it's hard to imagine that he'll be in particularly good shape. Not to mention that Zydrunas Ilgauskus usually kills him (though maybe Z can give him his copy of "Foot Injuries and You - A Seven Footer's Guide"). The big problem of course is that the Clippers have no one to match up against LeBron James. Mardy Collins is probably the best option - and that ain't good. UPDATE: According to the injury report on the Clippers web site, Zach is 'Not with team.' So apparently he's already left for Indiana for his Father's wake. So the Clippers are once again tremendously short handed. Why should tonight be any different? They also list Baron as doubtful, which is not consistent with the report in the LA Times this morning.
The Cavaliers were going to be good this season, if only because of LeBron James. But I don't think anyone expected them to be this good. Mo Williams is looking like the single best acquisition of the 2008 off-season, but there's something else going on here as well. Last season, the Cavaliers were the 11th in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.4 points per 100 possessions. This season, they're second at 101.7, only slightly behind the Celtics. That's a big jump, and frankly, Mo Williams is not known for his defense. So is it a full season of Ben Wallace? Maybe - but Wally Szczerbiak joined the team at the same time, so he probably cancels out Ben's D. I think it's likely just commitment. Defense is hard work, and it becomes it's own reward. You do it, you win games, you have one of the best records in the league, you play more defense - it's a positive feedback loop. Which also partially explains why the Clippers defense is so terrible. As I mentioned above, the Clippers have no one who can defend LeBron, but then again few teams do. Wallace is out of this game, but Varejao gives them a lot of the same defense and energy, and the newly signed Joe Smith provides some front court depth. Williams killed the Clippers in the first meeting, scoring 23 points and making 5 of 6 threes (the Cavs made 14 of 26 as a team).
- The Return of Kaman. I have no idea what to expect from this guy. We've barely seen him play in well over 12 months. He was looking very much like Kaman 2.0 in the 15 games he played last winter, back when W was still president. He was shooting a sizzling 57%, field goal percentage being a great barometer for Mr. Flippy (the lower, the more Flippy he is). We had such high hopes for him this season. Of course, this most recent revelation from Andy Roeser in the Season Ticket Holder meeting that management is none too happy with his prolonged absence adds another wrinkle to the whole thing. Is Kaman just auditioning for other teams these last 19 games? Can he co-exist on the floor with Zach Randolph? Obviously we're not going to find out about minutes distribution between Kaman and Randolph and Camby tonight, but maybe we'll get some of that this season too. So many questions.
- First meeting. In the first meeting of the season, the Clippers, playing on the road without Kaman or Randolph and with Camby and Baron in their second games back from injury, managed to hang in for two full quarters. But it was too much to ask for, and Cleveland pulled away in the second half.
- EM-VEE-PEE. Cleveland has the best record in the Eastern Conference and the second best record in the NBA. LeBron leads them in scoring, rebounding and assists. Moreover, his averages of 28.1, 7.4 and 7 evoke memories of Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan. He's shooting career highs in overall field goal percentage, three point percentage, and free throw percentage. He will definitely win his first MVP award this season - first of many, no doubt.
- Joe Smith. For a guy with a really boring name, he's had a fascinating NBA career. A former first overall pick of the Warriors, he's never quite lived up to that lofty position. He rather famously had an under-the-table deal with the Timberwolves back in 2000 which ended up costing Minny some first round draft picks when it was disclosed. And in the last 27 months, he's been the ideal cap filler in every NBA trade. His perpetually expiring contract was big enough to help match salaries, not too big to kill the receiving team. Since December 2006, he's been traded for Allen Iverson, signed as a free agent for another cap friendly 2/$10M, traded for Larry Hughes in a 12 player deal, traded for Mo Williams, almost traded for Tyson Chandler, waived, and signed by the Cavs. What's strange in all of this is that people forget he can play. He'll help the Cavs.
- Continued. That other bullet was getting pretty long, but I'm not done. This new trend of signing a veteran big in early March is getting pretty engrained at this point. I used to feel sorry for a guy like Joe Smith, toiling thanklessly in Oklahoma City where the only thing the franchise cares about is developing the young players. Now, when I see a guy like that, I'll know not to worry - come March, he'll be bought out and signed by one of the best teams in the league. Take a good look - that could be Marcus Camby next March.
- Eric Gordon. Eric Gordon missed 4 games with a brusied shoulder suffered in the Celtics game. All he did in his first game back was score 35 points. He had 27 in the first meeting with Cleveland. I fully expect his number to be called a lot down the stretch of this season as the Clippers try to develop some sort of identity for next season. I think a big part of that identity is going to be Eric Gordon.
- Varejao versus Zach. The power forward matchup is going to be interesting Varejao is a tenacious low post defender. Zach is a handful. There will be elbows; there will be flops. Let's hope there are no punches.
- Clipper Rookies. Along with Gordon, the Clippers have two other exciting rookies in Mike Taylor and DeAndre Jordan. The minutes may be decreasing for them a bit, with some of the other players getting healthy, but MDsr would be wise to keep them somewhere in the rotation (DJ's minutes won't be a problem tonight with Camby out). If nothing else, they can provide some highlight reel moments.
- Superstar for one game. Delonte West. I don't know. Why not?
Anyway dude, I'm telling you I'm pregnant and you're acting shockingly cavalier.
- Get the Cavaliers perspective at Fear the Sword.