LOS ANGELES CA - FEBRUARY 18: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards and the Rookie Team and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers and the Rookie Team laugh on the court in the second half during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam at Staples Center on February 18 2011 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|March 12th, 2011, 4:00 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. In fact, the Wizards are the last of the other 29 teams that the Clippers have yet to play this season. The Clippers have won three straight, including a sweep of the two games last year.
The Big Picture:
This game will be billed as the first meeting between the last two first overall draft picks - Blake Griffin of the Clippers, the first overall pick in 2009, and John Wall of the Wizards, the first overall pick of 2010. When the season started, many (possibly most) experts picked Wall as the favorite for Rookie of the Year. Well, that race is over, but Wall is nonetheless an exciting rookie, and in many other NBA seasons would have run away with the award. Unfortunately for him, Griffin has been otherworldly. The Wizards have the third fewest wins in the NBA this season and have lost 9 out of 10, so they would seem like a relatively easy victim for the Clippers. Of course, quite the opposite has been true much of this season. The Clippers have beaten several East playoff teams on the road - the Bulls, the Knicks, the Celtics - and have wins over all six NBA Division leaders, the only team in the league who can make that claim. But they also have terrible losses in Cleveland, in Toronto, in Minnesota, and now last night in New Jersey. So there's plenty of reason to be worried about this game. Oh, and by the way, the Clippers are on a road back to back after an overtime loss. It doesn't get much more difficult than that. The Clippers need a bounce back game from Mo Williams. Williams was huge in the win in Boston, scoring a season high 28 points, but then turned around and shot 3 for 17 in New Jersey, and compounded his terrible offense with terrible defense. Mo would like to forget that game, and a solid performance in a win would go a long way towards accomplishing that goal. Blake Griffin has not been his energetic self lately, and has failed to collect double digit rebounds in the last two games - the first time since November 9 and 10 that has happened. The good news is that the Clippers bigs have been dominant lately. Griffin, while perhaps not at his best, is still pretty damn good, and DeAndre Jordan and Chris Kaman have each had strong games on this trip. They should enjoy a huge advantage over Washington's bigs tonight.
The Wizards are at the beginning of what figures to be a long, long, long rebuilding process. They have Wall to rebuild around. And they have... well, they have... there's, um, there's... that guy that dunks. JaVale McGee. He's pretty good, right? They have Andray Blatche. He's totally worth the 5/$28M they paid him this summer. The bottom line is, other than Wall, the Wizards have nothing but question marks. They've done a good job of clearing future cap and roster space to make a run at free agents - they've gotten rid of Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich and others in the last few months. But all that activity has left the cupboard almost completely bare, and it's hard to imagine how they're going to attract players to sign with them given the current situation. So Wall had better be really, really good. Against the Clippers tonight, they'll probably be without Rashard Lewis (the highest paid player in the NBA, on their payroll for one more season) and Blatche. Lewis is resting sore knees, but obviously in their situation they have little incentive to play him. Blatche hurt his shoulder in their last game, a loss to Milwaukee. On the other hand, Josh Howard is expected to return. With all that uncertainty, I'm mostly guessing about their starting forwards tonight. Rookie Trevor Booker will probably start at the four, and I'm assuming that Howard will go back into the starting lineup as well. If the Wizards have an advantage in this game, it will be in the backcourt, where Wall and leading scorer Nick Young will try to use their size against Mo Williams and Randy Foye.
- Wall and Griffin. The rookie of the year race has been over for months. Wall will almost certainly come in second in the race, but the question is, would he be a deserving ROY to represent his draft class, had Griffin not been injured last season? Comparing him to fellow John Calipari guards and Rookies of the Year Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose, Wall has averaged significantly more assists than the others, but is a terribly inefficient scorer. Rose wasn't particularly efficient scoring the ball as a rookie, and Wall is much worse - he actually has a true shooting percentage below .500, which is just terrible. You can see the talent there - he's lightning quick, fast and athletic, and has great court vision. But he's not exactly having a stellar rookie season.
- Lost Opportunity. The Clippers had a golden opportunity to have the most successful road trip of their history. Their history. They had won the first two games of the trip, including an improbable win over the Celtics in Boston, and had New Jersey (without Deron Williams) and Washington coming up. Then they blew a 20 point lead against the Nets and let all the good energy of what had been a season long four game winning streak slip away. (By the way, had the Clippers won last night, they'd currently be tied with the Bulls for the longest active winning streak in the league. Sigh.)
- Beating the Bad Teams. Why can't the Clippers beat the bad teams? The simple answer is that the Clippers are a very young team, almost completely dependent on inexperienced players, and that inconsistency comes with the territory. They seem to be able to sustain a level of concentration against top tier opponents that allows to execute for closer to a full 48 minutes. But conversely they lose focus against lesser foes, and it costs them. I also think that they tend to get a strong effort from these losing teams, who sense that they have a chance to win a game. Mike Smith made an interesting observation last night in New Jersey: with Blake Griffin attracting sell out crowds everywhere he plays, these teams that tend to draw very poorly, are suddenly playing in front of much bigger crowds when the Clippers are in town, which may help to energize the home team. In the end, who knows what's going on. The bottom line is that the Clippers have got to address this issue if they hope to be a playoff team next season. Will another year of experience be enough? We'll see.
- 2007 Draft. Quick, without looking it up, who is the second leading scorer in the NBA this season from the 2007 Draft? Number one is easy - he's the leading scorer in the NBA overall, Kevin Durant. But number two wasn't even a lottery pick - it's Nick Young of the Wizards, drafted 16th overall. That draft, which looked very strong back when they were all rookies, is shaping up to be very poor. The Wizards have had a strange attachment to that draft, beginning the season with Young and Yi Jianlian (6th overall) and former Clipper Al Thornton (14th overall) on their roster. Thornton was recently bought out by the Wizards and is now with the Warriors. Yi is as much of a bust in DC as he was in Milwaukee and New Jersey. Young is among just nine first round picks from that draft that are still with the team that drafted them. The others are Greg Oden (probably not for long), Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah, Thaddeus Young, Rodney Stuckey, Rudy Fernandez (I'm not counting Tiago Splitter who's just a rookie or Petteri Kopponen who has yet to sign in the NBA). For those that have not yet been extended, this summer they will be restricted free agents - but aside from the Youngs (Nick and Thaddeus) don't expect any of them to be getting big pay days.
- More on Young. Young is averaging almost 18 points per game this season, shooting a career high from the field and making over 40% of his three pointers. His effective field goal percentage (which accounts for three pointers) is above 50% for the first time in his career, and his true shooting percentage (which accounts for free throws) is a respectable 55%. He's also, by at least one measure, the biggest black hole in the NBA. When you pass him the ball, you're not getting it back.
- McGee. In the tradition of relatively unknown players having big games against the Clippers, back in January 2009, McGee scored 18 points and grabbed 9 rebounds the last time the Wizards beat the Clippers. At the time, McGee was a raw, long term project. Come to think of it, he's still a raw, long term project. McGee may have some extra motivation tonight, against the man who beat him in the finals of the NBA dunk contest. The matchup between McGee and Jordan could be a lot of fun. As ridiculously long and athletic as Jordan is, McGee is definitely longer, and arguable more athletic. Those two may try to have their own dunk contest tonight.
- Hinrich gone. The Wizards were a bad team for the first few months of the season. But at the trade deadline, the traded Kirk Hinrich for Mike Bibby, and then subsequently cut Bibby. In their last 9 games without Hinrich, they are 1-8, with a single home win over Minnesota. Most of the losses have been by double digits. I'm not suggesting that Hinrich was a difference maker per se, but the trade (and subsequent buy outs of Bibby and Thornton) was the official signal that the team has given up.
- Home and Road. The Wizards have won just one game on the road this season. On the other hand, that means that they have won the games they have won almost exclusively at home. Their 15-18 home record far outshines the Clippers 7-26 road record. So really, should we be surprised if the Wizards win this one? Not really.
- Blake on the Road. Many players play better at home, but Griffin in particular seems to feed off of the home crowd. He averages 4 fewer points per game on the road, his shooting percentage plummets from 54% to 47%, and he also gets two fewer free throws per game from the less friendly road refs.
- Last 40 games. The Clippers are now 20-20 in their last 40 games after blowing a 20 point lead and losing in overtime in New Jersey last night. Not that it really matters, but a win in Washington would put the team at 21-20 in their last 41, exactly half of an NBA season.
- Clipper bigs. With Jordan coming off a huge game in Boston, Blake always a beast, and Kaman coming off a season high in New Jersey, the Clipper bigs figure to have a big advantage in this game. With Blatche and Lewis likely out, the Wizards will be relying on a couple of rookies to play power forward. Trevor Booker, an intriguing project from Clemson, is averaging 11.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, shooting 55% from the field. French Rookie Kevin Seraphin is another project and has played only 386 minutes this season. The other option is Yi.
- Rookies. The Wizards have six rookies on their roster, if you count 26 year old Mustafa Shakur, who has finally made it to the NBA this season. The five true rookies (Wall, Jordan Crawford, Booker, Seraphin and Hamady N'Diaye) all appeared together for a few seconds at the end of their game against Milwaukee the other night.
- Superstar for one game: Trevor Booker.
See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led Wizards haste with odours sweet . . .
- Get the Wizards perspective Bullets Forever.