|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|February 8th, 2011, 4:00 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM|
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers haven't lost four straight games since mid-December, but riding a three game losing streak, they could be looking at their fourth straight when they play in Orlando tonight. With a 3-17 road record, eight straight losses to the Magic, and an 0-2 start to their Odyssey, the odds of extending their losing streak would seem to be pretty good. The Clippers lost to the Magic back in December, but the game was (a) pretty weird and (b) against a fundamentally different Orlando team, so it's hard to take much away from that one. On the Odyssey so far, the Clippers have played well enough to win in Atlanta, and then really, really badly in Miami. Maybe they got that rotten one out of their system and they'll be ready to play well again tonight. Or maybe the wear and tear is catching up with Blake Griffin, and the absence of Eric Gordon is catching up with the team, and they're just destined to lose a lot of games until they at least get a little healthier. Griffin could have a big game tonight - he rarely struggles for long, and he has shot 7 for 17 and 8 for 18 in the last two, so he's due. He'll present a major matchup problem for Orlando tonight. But Griffin clearly can't do it alone. Baron Davis needs to have a big game on offense, and DeAndre Jordan needs to have a big game on defense. Jordan has played poorly for three straight - he's got to be more active, he's got to get more than the 4 rebounds he's been averaging lately. And the Clippers bench needs to give them something. Against Miami, they were completely useless.
Since opening the season 15-4, the Magic are barely over .500 at 17-16 in their last 36 games. The Clippers, as it happens, are 18 and 18 over their last 36, and 14 and 10 over their last 24, so for a couple of months LA has been about as good as Orlando. The Magic tried to shake up their season in mid-December, less than a week after the first meeting with the Clippers, with a couple of huge trades. Starters Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter were out, and Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas were in. In one sense it was just a swap of multiple bad contracts - but there's always optimism that a talented but overpaid player like Arenas might benefit from playing in a new environment. For a time, the strategy seemed to work - the Magic went on a nine game winning streak shortly after the shakeup. But then reality set in again, and they are 7 and 8 in their last 15, Even with the new personnel on board, the basic idea of the Magic is the same - Dwight Howard in the post, surrounded by shooters on the perimeter. The addition of Turkoglu in particular was designed to give them a player who could take the ball and make a play, for himself or for someone else, as he did in his first stint in Orlando.Turkoglu has been OK since rejoining the Magic, but it certainly hasn't been a major renaissance. As for Arenas, he's shooting about 35% and playing a mere 22 minutes a game in Orlando. He's actually behind J.J. Redick in the depth chart. Richardson was having a terrific season in Phoenix, but his numbers are down across the board in Orlando, mainly because he's just not getting the same number of shots. Surprisingly, he's shooting a lower percentage, although you'd think that he'd be getting great looks with Howard getting doubled constantly. This all leaves the Magic more dependent on Howard than ever, and he's having a monster season. But it looks like it's not enough to allow them to compete with Boston or Miami or even Chicago in the East, all teams they've lost to within the last two weeks.
- Fan Night on NBA-TV. This may be a first. The general public have chosen to watch a Clippers game. The Tuesday night game is always voted on by the fans, who choose which game on the slate they'd like to have televised on NBA-TV. Tonight, it's ORL-LAC. Call it item number 153 of the Blake Effect. The Clippers in fact are on national TV two nights in a row (another first) since tomorrow's game against the Knicks is also on NBA-TV.
- Three point shooting. The Magic have taken over 100 more three pointers than any other team in the NBA this season - almost 26 a game. That's actually down from almost 28 per game last season, but since the mid-December shakeup, they've been taking more and more. With Marcin Gortat in Phoenix and Brandon Bass currently hurt, the Magic will feature Dwight Howard and a bunch of guys who shoot threes pretty much exclusively in this game (unless they decide to try the little used Malik Allen on Griffin). Opponent three point shooting has been an Achilles heel (a Homeric reference in keeping with the Odyssey, albeit from the Iliad) for the Clippers this season, so the Magic's prowess in this area does not bode well. When the Clippers give up at least 10 threes, they are 2-12 this season.
- Backup center? Since the trades, in which they sent their talented but underused backup center Gortat to Phoenix, the Magic have been playing without a backup center. When Howard sits, Ryan Anderson man's the pivot, and he's a stretch four. Of course, the Clippers have been doing the same thing in Chris Kaman's absence. Oh, and when they need him, Howard basically never sits. He's played 48, 45 and 45 minutes in their last three losses.
- Howard's exit strategy. Stories are beginning to circulate that Howard wants out of Orlando when he's a free agent in 2012. Ken Berger of CBS Sports wrote yesterday that he'd like to go to the Knicks or the Lakers - how original. My immediate thought upon reading that was that the Lakers already had a ton of money tied up in a big center, but it turns out that Andrew Bynum's contract has a team option in summer 2012, so there'd actually be room for Howard on their roster. Of course, they wouldn't have the cap space to do anything with him, with Kobe and Pau making $47M between them that year. If Howard is only interested in a bigger market, it just so happens that there's another team in LA.
- Demanding trades. I find this trend of superstars demanding trades to the biggest markets, and looking to team up with other megastars to chase titles to be very disturbing. It will be a very bad thing for the league if it ends up with 4 or 5 mega-teams and 25 also rans. I'm not sure what can be done about it, but it's a bad situation.
- Summer 2008 Free Agent. The Summer of 2008 may have been the worst free agent market EVER. Basically, and I'm being completely serious here, Baron Davis is, comparatively speaking, a relatively good signing compared to some of the other things that went on. DeSagana Diop got $31M. Antawn Jamison got $50M. Elton Brand got $82M. Gilbert Arenas is the hands down winner of worst contract, certainly of that summer and possibly of all time, at $111M. By contrast, Baron's $65M contract seems not so bad.
- Bass injured. Brandon Bass sprained his ankle last Monday and has been out of the Magic lineup for a few games. He is not expected back for a couple of weeks. His absence will definitely hurt Orlando, as Bass is the team's second best rebounder, and an efficient scorer. He's also one of the few players on the team who could bang, at least a little, with Griffin.
- Defending Griffin. With Bass out, it will be interesting to see how the Magic defend Griffin. They might put Howard on him, or they might let Ryan Anderson have a shot. I must admit I haven't seen Anderson play a lot - he's really only gotten his chance since the trades in mid-December. Statistically, Anderson is a pretty pure stretch four - 5 of his 8 field goal attempts per game are three pointers. But how is his defense and strength? I have no idea.
- Imposing your will. With Anderson playing the four (and sometimes the five), the winner of this game may be the team that manages to impose their will on the other. Griffin and Jordan will try to pound the Magic inside. Sure, Howard is back there, but he can't guard two bigs (or can he?). On the other end, Blake is going to have to chase Anderson out to the three point line, which he's not that excited about doing. If Orlando can get Anderson free for three pointers more than LA can punish the Magic bigs not named Dwight, it should be the Magic's game. Otherwise, the Clippers have a chance.
- First meeting. I mentioned above that the first game was strange. The Clippers fell WAY behind early, trailing by 21 at the end of the first quarter and 26 less than a minute into the second. They spent the rest of the game coming back, and actually won the next three quarters. They even got the lead down to six with nine minutes to go, outscoring the Magic by 20 over those 26 minutes. So did that prove that the Clippers can play with the Magic? Or did Orlando just let up with a big lead? It doesn't even really matter that much, since this is a different Orlando team, not to mention that the Clippers are playing without Eric Gordon, who scored 28 in that first meeting.
- Baron. The first meeting was Baron's first start since returning to lineup and he played very poorly. If he can be a force as he was in Atlanta, it will be a major boon for the Clippers. Baron loves to post smaller guards, so look for him to take back Jameer Nelson down.
- Eight game losing streak. The Clippers have had quite the season so far as regards breaking losing streaks. Prior to their latest encounters, the Clippers had losing streaks of 9 games against the Suns, 14 against the Hornets and 19 against the Spurs - all those losing streaks were broken. They have lost their last 8 against the Magic. That ties with the Mavs and the Cavs as the Clippers' longest active losing streak against a single opponent right now. The could break two more streaks this week, with Orlando tonight and Cleveland on Friday, but this is definitely the tough one.
- Griffin and Howard. Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard were both first overall picks. They are two of only four NBA players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Griffin is scoring a little better (22.9 versus 22.4) while Howard rebounds more (13.7 versus 12.8). They both struggle from the free throw line (Howard 58%, Griffin 61%). Consequently, they are among the players who shoot the most free throws in the league (Howard is first, Griffin is fifth). They are also one and two in dunks in the NBA this season, with Howard recently opening up a bit of a lead at 131 to Blake's 116. This game also features the third most prolific dunker in the league, DeAndre Jordan, at 94 total, though on a per minute basis Jordan leads the other two.
- DJo on DHo. Against the Magic, if DJ can keep Howard from completely dominating, and do so without fouling and without help in the form of double teams, he will give the Clippers a chance to win. It's certainly not an easy task, but DJ is one of the few centers in the league who even comes close to Howard physically.
- Superstar for one game:
Without, the frost, the blinding snow,Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
The storm-wind's moody madness—
Within, the firelight's ruddy glow,
And childhood's nest of gladness.
The magic words shall hold thee fast:
Thou shalt not heed the raving blast.
- Get the Magic perspective at Orlando Pinstriped Post.