The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
If the goal for the Clippers was to get Chris Kaman back in the lineup and then prove that they could be competitive done the stretch on the season with a healthy lineup, losing to a Warriors team missing 3 starters, and then losing to a Pistons team missing 4 of their top 5 scorers is a very bad sign. They're proving something all right - just not what they wanted to prove. What do they need to do differently? Frankly, a lot. They have to play some defense. I mean, it would be nice to play a lot of defense, but we'll start with some. They need Zach Randolph to find his stroke again - he hasn't been the same player since the All Star break (clearly he's had some distractions). And they need to get more shots for Eric Gordon. The good news is that Baron Davis has been more playing better, which is a good sign for next season. Also Chris Kaman has apparently not lost all of his basketball ability, though he does need to lose some weight. It's got to be tough to play you're hardest during the final month of a long, lost season. But by the same token, you'd think they'd want to, if only because winning is generally more fun than losing. It was obvious against the Pistons last night that if they played focused basketball, they could win the game. They did it for about 20 minutes. But the game lasts 48 minutes.
Most lists of the most disappointing NBA teams of the season include the Raptors and the Clippers at or near the top. After back-to-back playoff appearances, the Raptors were essentially considered a lock for the playoffs in the east, where it's not easy finding eight worth teams. Instead, Toronto sits 14th in the conference and 21 games below .500. It's not easy to say exactly why. Chris Bosh has had a great season. They traded away T.J. Ford, but the thinking there was that Jose Calderon was good enough to run the team full tie, and indeed Calderon has been great and is one of the most efficient point guards in the league. They still shoot a solid percentage from three point range. The experiment with Jermaine O'Neal (who arrived in exchange for Ford) didn't really work out (other than in the first game between these two teams in which JO killed the Clippers) and he's since been sent to Miami for Shawn Marion. But all in all, it's just hard to say what happened to the Raptors. On paper, they still look like a playoff lock in the East. Why aren't they? I guess we can take some comfort in the fact that the Clippers are not the only team that is less than the sum of it's parts.
- Future Finals Matchup? Just kidding. But both these teams did make John Hollinger's list of the five lottery teams most likely to make the playoffs next season. (A quick aside - I think Hollinger disqualified the teams that still had a chance this season from consideration. So it's not a list of 5 out of 14 - more like a list of 5 out of 8.)
- A Very Different Game (Hopefully). When these two teams met in LA in late December, Chris Kaman was of course not playing, Marcus Camby missed the game for personal reasons, and Zach Randolph was injured in in the fourth quarter (more on that below). So the Clippers finished that game with none of their big three three bigs on the floor. The Raptors on the other hand got 31 points (18 in the fourth quarter) from an unconscious Chris Bosh and 23 points and 5 blocked shots from the since departed Jermaine O'Neal. It all seemed like an anomaly - for instance, Bosh has made 10 three pointers all season, and he made back-to-back threes in that fourth quarter. The Clippers will have all three of their bigs tonight, and the Raptors are without O'Neal - but as is always the case, somehow the matchups will once again favor Toronto no doubt. Camby is the best equipped Clipper to defend Bosh, so having him in the lineup definitely helps. But that leaves Kaman or Randolph chasing Andrea Bargnani out to the three point line, or trying to hang with Shawn Marion if the Raptors go small. The Clippers are seemingly always trying to figure overcome some mismatch advantage for the other team rather than exlpoiting one of their own (see Prince, Tayshaun).
- Jake Voskuhl. After what happened to Louis Amundson in Phoenix last month, watch carefully today if Jake Voskuhl and Zach Randolph are on the floor together (or maybe just in warmups). In the December game it was Voskuhl's blatant shove from behind that sent Randolph sprawling, eventually costing the Clippers leading scorer 19 games with a bruised knee. The Clippers sent the video of Voskuhl to the league, which in turn did... nothing. No fine. No suspension. Not even a game. It's difficult to codify common sense, but Jake Voskuhl has scored 26 points in 31 appearances this season. His shove, which was clearly intentional and clearly dangerous, sent one of the league's 4 players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds to the sidelines for over a month. It's hard to figure doing nothing in that situation. Let's hope Zach doesn't punch and get today and earn another suspension.
- Novak and Kapono. There are few if any players in the NBA who can shoot with range as well as Steve Novak. But Jason Kapono comes to mind. However, it's interesting to note that Kapono is not nearly the long range specialist that Novak is. 180 of Kapono's 505 field goal attempts this season have been from beyond the arc (35.6%). For Novak, it's 238 out of 333 - 71.5%! I don't know that it's good or bad that Novak is that much more specialized than Kapono - but it surprised me. Novak is surely the most one dimensional player in the league. By the way, Kapono parlayed a couple seasons of shooting in Miami into a 4/$24M contract in Toronto. Let's hope Novak doesn't cost that much.
- Bradley Braves Drinking Game. Something happened back at the trade deadline that I'm surprised hasn't come up before today. To shed some salary and free up a roster spot, the Celtics traded away Patrick O'Bryant, who ended up with the Raptors. That means that the only two active Bradley Braves in the NBA - O'Bryant and Anthony Parker - are both in Toronto. It's possible that Ralph (the former Bradley Brave from Peoria Illinois, home of the Bradley Braves) might mention it tonight. It's a 12:30 tip - maybe we shouldn't do the drinking game that early in the day - not with two Bradley Braves in the house. Luckily, only Parker is likely to play significant minutes (he's pretty good, by the way).
- Eric Gordon. The Clippers need to figure out a way to get Eric Gordon going early in this one. In each of the last two games, he's had poor first halves (2 against Washington, 3 in Detroit) followed by huge second halves (24 and 19). He's a great option on the perimeter, he's the future of the franchise... please get him the ball.
- Superstar for one game. Roko Ukic. Who better than a rookie point guard from Croatia to follow in the footsteps of unknown Clipper killers like Beno Udrih? Ukic's career high of 22 (in a win against the Spurs, no less) is definitely in jeopardy tonight. The Clippers give away career highs like lower level seats in Staples Center.
I'm a Raptor, Doin' what I can,
gonna eat everything 'til the appearance of man.
Yo yo baby I'm livin' below the soil,
I'll be back but I'm comin' as oil.
- Get the Raptors perspective at Hoops Addict.