The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The current road trip, eight games in total and the longest of the season for LA, is a study in contrasts. Half the game are against four of the top five teams in the NBA right now. Three of the games are against some of the worst teams in the NBA right now. So it goes without saying that you have to win the games against the bad teams to avoid having a really, really bad trip. Today's opponent, the Washington Wizards, falls into the bad category. If the Clippers are still entertaining any hopes of making the playoffs this season (or even of keeping it interesting enough through the trade deadline to keep Marcus Camby around), they need to win this game. Is it too facile to give the Clippers a pass on the Nuggets game? They had zero energy - and that's not really excusable, but it is correctable. Play with a little life, gentlemen. Of course they struggle without Eric Gordon as they were Thursday and as they will probably be today. So it becomes all the more important for the guys in uniform to play well and play hard. As it happens, in the first meeting of the season between these teams, Gordon led the Clippers with a season high 29 - and the Clippers had to battle back from 16 down to win by 2. So if it was tough winning with Gordon scoring a season high, it's clear that it won't be easy without him. With Gordon likely to miss the game (MDsr told the LA Times that it was unlikely), I would expect Rasual Butler to start at the two and Al Thornton to start at the three. However MDsr mixed it up and put Ricky Davis in the starting lineup against the Nuggets, so who knows what will happen today.
The Wizards are a hot mess. Or maybe they're a cold mess. Which is worse? Of course you know all about the Gilbert Arenas situation - he allegedly pulled a gun on Javaris Crittendon in the Wizards locker room, there was a criminal inverstigation, he pled guilty to a felony, he's currently serving an indefinite suspension - but the thing is, the Wizards were a mess before all that. Let's face it - they were 12-22 WITH Arenas. And the dude just signed a $96M extension this summer. The Wizards went all in with this roster, and are looking at a hefty luxury tax bill at the end of the season. And all they have to show for it is the second worst record in the Eastern Conference, fourth worst in the NBA. The dirty secret of the Arenas felony conviction is that it may be just the thing the Wizards needed to help them start over. Their other big contracts (Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler) don't run nearly as long or pay nearly as much, and therefore although they will be tough to move, they aren't completely immobile like Gil's deal. But if the Wizards invoke the 'conduct' clause that's in every NBA contract to void Gil's deal (the clause the Warriors used to get rid of Latrell Sprewell eleven seasons ago), they could simply start over with cap space this summer. You have to assume that's what they'll do, if they're confident they'll get away with it. Right? Oh, the game. Right. Jamison kills the Clippers - more than he kills other teams. His tweener game and selection of junk shots he seems to have learned in a driveway in suburban Indianagive Marcus Camby fits. Marcus wants to time people's shots and swat them with his length. You can't time Antawn Jamison - he never takes the same shot twice. (I love Jamison, btw. Ever since he dropped 50 in back to back games while he was on my fantasy team.) Caron Butler is the other supposed star on the roster, but he's having a down season. He's shooting just 42% and his scoring is down to less than 17 per game after he averaged over 20 his last two seasons. Beyond Jamison and Butler, they have a serviceable center in Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller, and a whole bunch of inconsistent youngsters. Control Jamison and Butler, and you win the game.
- Road Struggles. The Clippers have been playing pretty well at home lately. Unfortunately, that fact has masked a problem: they've struggled on the road, losing 8 straight. At one point they were 5-6 on the road. Now they're 5-14. As it happens, the opposition has a lot to do with that. The 8 straight road defeats have all come against teams with winning records. So hopefully they'll snap the string today.
- Early Tip. This is one of those wacky, East coast Sunday afternoon games, so it ends up being in the morning for us. NBA basketball is not something I'm used to watching while I eat my Cheerios, but I suppose I'll figure it out. I assume the players hate these games. I can remember a few in Toronto and the Clippers always seem to do poorly in them.
- Baron 2 for 14. I mentioned that Eric Gordon scored 29 points in the first meeting and will probably not play today. So where will the Clippers possibly find that type of productivity? Well, Baron Davis was 2 for 14 in the first meeting - so if he can make some shots it will go a long way towards a positive result. We mentioned in a recent post that Baron has more terrible shooting nights (under 20% shooting while putting up 10 or more shots) than any other player in the NBA. Well, last meeting was one of them. But the Clippers still managed to win that one. With a 2 for 14 night the last time he played the Wizards, and a 2 for 13 night Thursday on National TV against the Nuggets, let's hope that Baron has something to prove tonight and comes out and makes up for it. He's going against Randy Foye tonight - he needs to dominate that matchup.
- Gil and Baron - least tradeable? Yesterday, Tom Ziller compiled a list of the 10 least tradeable contracts in the NBA right now. Arenas was number one - duh. And Baron was number two. I could quibble with that some - but Baron is owed a lot of money over the next three seasons and he won't exactly be getting younger, there's no denying that. Number three on the list is Elton Brand. Number nine is Corey Maggette. Kind of makes you proud to be a long time Clippers fan, eh?
JamesOn Curry. The newest Clippers, 10 dayer JamesOn Curry, joined the team in D.C. yesterday for practice and ill be in uniform today. I'm sure that MDsr would love to get him some court time - hopefully without a ton of pressure. Although I don't really get this call up, it's just a 10 day contract, and it seems as if it was hedging bets against Eric Gordon's toe. If you're looking for someone who can be effectively at either guard spot, the choices are limited. Eric Pincus thinks that Curry is a stop gap while the team weighs other options. With Telfair out for a minimum of four weeks, it seems to me that the Clippers really need to sign a true point guard. But Curry will get his audition starting today.
- Coincidences with the first meeting. Going into the Clippers game against the Wizards 41 days ago, the Clippers record was 9-13. Going into today's game they are 19-23 - they went 10-10 in the interim. The Wizards were 7-14 last time. They're 14-28 now, having gone 7-14 since. Cue the eerie music.
- The Clipper bench. Although the Clippers have not looked great in their last seven games, the play of the bench has been one bright spot. Specifically, Craig Smith has been a major force on offense. Smith is averaging almost 16 points per game in his last five, and is coming off a season high 21 in Denver. He's shooting over 64% in January. Kaman missed several of those solid Smith outings - but if healthy, Kaman-Camby-Smith (with a few minutes from DeAndre Jordan) seems like an acceptable front court rotation in the absence of Blake Griffin.
Case in point: Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson comes to me in New Zealand and said to me: Sir Ian, I want you to be Gandalf the Wizard. And I said to him: You are aware that I am not really a wizard?
- Get the Wizards perspective at Bullets Forever.