|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|American Airlines Center
|February 6th, 2011, 9:00 AM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM|
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers began their Odyssey with a heartbreaking defeat against the Lotus Eaters in Atlanta. Given that the trip begins against four of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, a win in game one would have been huge. Instead, they lost with 0.6 seconds left, thanks in part to two controversial calls that went against them in the final 5 seconds. It certainly doesn't get any easier this morning. The Heat have the third best record in the league, just five losses at home, and three really big stars. Of course, the Clippers managed to beat them in LA last month, but in that game the Clippers played about as well they can, and they were led by Eric Gordon with 26 points. They won't have Gordon for this one, and the odds that they can play that well again are not good. Nonetheless, at least they have that feeling of knowing they've beaten this team. Blake Griffin will have to dominate Chris Bosh, Baron Davis will have to dominate the Heat point guards, and DeAndre Jordan will have to be a force in the middle, for the Clippers to have a chance to pull off the road upset.
I have a bad feeling about this. Somehow I think the Heat are going to be extra motivated against the Clippers today after losing in LA - and you don't really want to face the Heat when they're extra motivated - just ask the Cavs. The Heat aren't nearly as formidable as many people thought they'd be - Jeff Van Gundy predicted they wouldn't lose back to back games all season, but the Clippers loss kicked off a four game slide. That mini-slump was certainly due in part to injuries to all three of their stars, and LeBron James and Chris Bosh were both turned ankles and Dwyane Wade was dealing with a sprained wrist and migraines. All three are back in the lineup now (though Bosh says he's only about 70%), and the Heat have won five straight, including high profile victories over the Thunder and the Magic. James scored an NBA season high 51 points against the Magic (surpassing Griffin's 47) and then Wade went for a triple double in their last game against Charlotte, so the two of them seem to content to take turns dominating right now. With Eric Gordon sidelined, the Clippers don't match up with James and Wade well at all, and either or both could have a big game.The Heat are also starting to get more production from their bench, as both Eddie House and Mike Miller made significant contributions lately.
- Early tip. On Super Bowl Sunday, this game is tipping off at noon Eastern time, which is 9 AM here on the left coast. Of course, since I'm in the habit of writing preview late the night before, most of you guys will barely see this preview before the game starts. Oh well.
- Baron Davis. Baron had his best game of the season in Atlanta, leading a fourth quarter comeback that almost pulled off the upset. But he's dealing with a bad back right now, and who knows how he feels after playing a season high 38 minutes Friday night. If Baron is OK, he may be the Clippers best matchup on offense, and neither Mario Chalmers nor Carlos Arroyo can handle him.
- I guess he's pretty good. The Cleveland Cavaliers went to the NBA Finals in 2007. They made it at least as far as the Conference semifinals the last five seasons. They won 61 games last season, best in the NBA. All of those things happened with a certain player on the team. This season, without that player, the Cavs just set a new NBA single season record with their 24th straight loss. So I guess Anderson Varejao is really good.
- Mike Miller. The last time these teams met, Miller had only just returned from thumb surgery, and had couldn't make a thing in his limited time on the court. Four games later, Miller scored 32 in Miami's win over Toronto, and he's been in double figures three more times since. It's no coincidence that the Heat are 5-1 since Miller found his jump shot.
- The Big Three. Miami's superfriends, Wade, James and Bosh, combine to score 70 of the team's 102 points per game. Bear in mind, that includes a fair number of blow outs where those guys aren't even on the floor at the end. In games that count, it's no doubt even more lopsided. (Against the Clippers in LA, it was 84 of 105.) Udonis Haslem, who has been hurt since November, averaged 8 points in the 13 games he played this season. No one else on the team averages as much as seven.
- Aged Bigs. The Heat (and to a lesser extent the Celtics) seem to be trying to corner the market on aging big men. They have five centers on the roster, and four of them are over 32. Three of them (Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magoire and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) have been Eastern Conference All Stars, though that honor was dubious for centers in the East until Dwight Howard came along. Generally, signing multiple bad players in the same position isn't a good strategy - you'd rather have one decent center than five bad ones. But in this case there may be some logic - they will have 30 fouls to use against Dwight Howard in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
- Juwan Howard fun facts. Juwan Howard made the Eastern Conference All Star team in 1996, his second season in the league, and no doubt he and everyone around him thought it would be the first appearance of many. Here we are 15 years later, and he hasn't been back. He averaged 22 and 8 as a 22 year old, and hasn't really come close to that since. His son, Juwan Jr., is playing college ball at Western Michigan this season. He's not really an NBA prospect, but if he were, he could have been in the league with his dad next year. That would be a first. Of course, Juwan isn't as old as Kurt Thomas who the Clippers saw earlier this week with the Bulls.
- Wade and James. James is now leading the league in PER, having boosted his rating up to 27 with that 51 point outburst. Wade is fourth in the league at over 25. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are the only other players above 25 in PER. Perhaps more amazingly, Wade and James both have Usage Percentages over 32%. Only Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have higher usages. When the idea of all three of these players on the same team was first rumored, my immediate thought was it couldn't possibly work because they were all such high usage players. But while Bosh's usage has dropped from almost 29% to below 24%, Wade and James have maintained very high usage rates. Wade's usage is necessarily down some - he led the league the last two seasons, and now he plays with LeBron James, so it stands to reason - but 32% is still an exceptionally high usage rate.
- Who's the man? The nearly identical usage rates may make it seem like James and Wade are sharing the spotlight in Miami, but in close games it may be a different story. In a four point win over the Magic, James got 25 shots to Wade's 12. In an overtime loss to the Hawks, James took six shots in overtime and Wade took zero, and the ball was in James' hands every possession. At the end of the Heat loss to the Knicks, it was the opposite story, with every isolation at the end of the game going to Wade. The simple fact is that at this point, the Heat go almost entirely to isolations in close games, and for now one of the big two tries to take over, depending on who seems to have the hot hand. This is a less than optimal solution when you get to the playoffs, where every game will be difficult.
- Matchups. So how do the Clippers stop these guys? Well, it starts with defending Wade and James. Eric Gordon has done a good job defending Wade in the past, so he will be sorely missed. In his absence, Randy Foye will try to contend with Wade. Ryan Gomes will be on James, and that's a very tough assignment. At least Gomes will work hard, and has reasonable strength to try to cope with James.
's ability to protect the rim and alter shots, without getting into foul trouble, will be a key to the Clippers defense. Wade and James attack the rim relentlessly, and a strong presence in the middle will be crucial. DeAndre was invisible against Chicago, but a force against Atlanta. If he's got good energy and can take advantage of the unathletic Miami bigs, it will be a major plus for LA.
- Griffin versus Bosh. The good news is that Blake Griffin should be able to overpower the pillow soft Bosh in the paint. Griffin had a really nice overall game in the first meeting, with 24 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists. He'll probably have to surpass those numbers for the Clippers to have a chance.
- Three point shooting. As much helping as the Clippers are going to have to do with James and Wade, there are going to be open threes for the likes of Eddie House (45%), Carlos Arroyo (44%), James Jones (43%), Mike Miller (38%) and Mario Chalmers (36%). As a team the Heat have the fifth best three point percentage in the NBA, and they make almost seven a game. If they are making their threes today, forget it, it's all over.
- Superstar for one game. Yeah, I don't even think there's any point to this feature with this team.
Kind words can warm for three winters, while harsh words can chill even in the heat of summer.Chinese proverb.
- Get the Heat perspective at Peninsula is Mightier.