|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|December 29th, 2010, 7:30 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM|
The Back Story:
- November 6th, 2010 in Salt Lake City - Utah 109, Clippers 107 (2OT) - Recap Box Score
- November 27th, 2010 in Los Angeles - Utah 109, Clippers 97 - Recap Box Score
The Big Picture:
Once again you need to bear in mind that I'm on vacation, without TV and without internet. I wrote this preview before I left. I have not seen a basketball game or a box score since Christmas Day. I don't know if someone has been injured, or traded, or cleared to play in the last few days. And I don't know how the Clippers played against the Suns or the Kings, or even whether they won or lost. For all I know, the Clippers could be on a three game losing streak that includes a loss to the lowly Kings, or they could be riding a string of five wins in six games (which would be fun). At any rate, what I can do is focus on the Jazz a little. The Clippers have played the Jazz tough twice this season. The first meeting was a double overtime thriller in Salt Lake City. The second was a 12 point loss in LA in which the Clippers outplayed Utah for long stretches of the game, but could not overcome a terrible third quarter. All LA has to show for its trouble is two losses. The teams meet for the third and final time tonight, and hopefully the Clippers can get it right this time. The Clippers got a monster game from Eric Gordon in the first meeting, couple with a good game from Blake Griffin, and a monster game from Griffin in the second, couple with a good game from Gordon. They may need a monster game from each to beat the Jazz. What the Clippers didn't have in either of the first two meetings was Baron Davis. Baron could definitely make a difference against Utah, not least in guarding Deron Williams (sparing Gordon of that tough assignment). If Baron or anyone else other than Gordon and Griffin can step up in this game, LA has a very good chance.
As of Christmas Day, the Jazz were tied with the Lakers for the third best record in the Western Conference. They could well be ahead of the Lakers by the time you're reading this. This is all quite impressive for a team that had a lot of question marks surrounding them going into the season. Since the beginning of last season, Utah has lost four key players - Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver. A fifth (Mehmet Okur) has barely played this season because of injuries. They added Al Jefferson and Raja Bell, but all of the losses and changes left much uncertainty in Salt Lake City. But Paul Millsap (two l's one p) has blossomed in the absence of Boozer, Jefferson and Bell have fit in well, and Andrei Kirilenko is playing as well as he has in years. Still, it's Deron Williams that makes everything work for the Jazz. At over 22 points per game and almost 10 assists, he's an almost perfect combination of scorer and distributor at the point. At this point, he has to be considered an MVP candidate.
- Home stand. After a quick trip to Seattle, this game marks the start of five straight and eight of nine home games. If the Clippers could start the home stand right, with a win against a quality team, it would be a huge confidence boost for the rest of the home stand.
- Quality opponents. One of the more bizarre realities of the Clippers this season is that they have managed to beat so many good teams. Through Christmas Day, half of their eight wins came against the Thunder, Hornets, Spurs and Bulls, all teams solidly in the playoffs at this point. Compare that for instance to the Lakers, who among 21 wins, have only Chicago as a victim with a winning record. Too bad the Clippers can't consistently beat bad teams. But maybe this bodes well in a matchup with Utah.
- Physicality. Utah was not afraid to give some hard fouls in the last meeting, and it seemed to frustrate the Clippers some in the third quarter. They played Griffin particularly physically throughout. The Clippers need to be prepared to get knocked around some, and to be just as physical in return. Also, the referees can have an impact on this game. If they call it close, I think it favors the Clippers. Griffin seems to be getting more and more whistles as he gains notoriety and the respect of the officials - that could change the equation from the earlier meetings as well.
- Tough Schedule. We spent lots of time talking about the Clippers' tough schedule early in the season, but it evened out some and it's been less of a topic. However, it has remained a relatively difficult slate so far. For instance, about 40% of the way through the season, the Clippers have played San Antonio (best record in the NBA) three times and now Utah (another top tier West team) three times. That's particularly significant given that the Spurs and Jazz are two of the West teams the Clippers play just three times this season. That means that over the final 49 games, they don't have to face the Spurs or Jazz again. I don't think Vinny Del Negro is going to miss them.
- Okur. Mehmet Okur, a former All Star, ruptured his Achilles tendon last season. He finally returned from that injury Dec. 17, and after two games he twisted his ankle. He is supposed to be back for this game. The Jazz will be happy to have him back to add to their front court depth, as well as to give them a big who can make perimeter shots.
- Griffin and Millsap. With most of the forward spots in the Western Conference more or less pre-assigned to guys named Nowitzki and Duncan and Anthony and Gasol and Durant, there's not a lot of room for some equally deserving, less established players. That leaves Millsap (two l's one p) and Griffin battling each other (not to mention Kevin Love and still others as well) for what may be only one available forward spot on the team. Traditionally, voters will usually take a second player from a good team (Williams is also a lock) before they'll take a player from a bad team. So give Millsap the edge in that particular contest.
- Two l's one p. I can never remember how to spell Millsap; it comes out Milsap and Millsapp and most frequently Milsapp. So I've taken to muttering "two l's one p" under my breath every time I say or write his name. So that's his new nickname, at least for me.
- Confidence? One has to assume that Gordon's confidence will be high given what he did to this team late in the game in Salt Lake City. If you'll recall, he had to leave during the second overtime with a bone bruise in his shoulder, or the Clippers might have won, since Utah really had no answer for him. He didn't have a great game in the second meeting, but he knows he can score on these guys.
- Rookies. It's always interesting to check in on the other rookies, particularly the other small forwards on the short list when the Clippers drafted Al-Farouq Aminu with the eighth pick. Of the 28 rookies that have played at least 200 minutes this season (stats as of 12/25), Blake Griffin is ranked first in PER at 22, Aminu is 14th and Eric Bledsoe is 15th. Gordon Hayward, who was drafted directily after Aminu by the Jazz, is 27th out of 28, with a PER of 5. I will admit I was enamored of Hayward before the draft, and of course he could yet turn into a terrific pro. But one of the reasons I liked him at the time is because I thought he could contrbute right away, particularly shooting the ball. Instead, he's barely over 40% shooting for the seaon.
- Superstar for one game:
Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread—without it, it's flat.Carmen McRae, jazz singer
- Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.