|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|March 16th, 2011, 7:30 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM|
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
There's an interesting symmetry to this game. When the Clippers and Sixers played in Philadelphia three months ago, the loss was the Clippers 21st of the season, and the resultant 5-21 record was the arguably the low point of the season. It's taken 42 games since then for the Clippers to lose another 21 games. They're still 16 games under .500, and long since out of even remote playoff consideration, but 21-21 is a hell of a lot better than 5-21, and better days are ahead as well. Of course, almost anything would be a better day than their performance against the Grizzlies on Monday, where they lost by 23 in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate. That game in Memphis happened to be their 17th game on the road out of 20 total, over the course of almost six weeks. So hopefully the completely flat performance can be attributed to extreme road weariness. If that is indeed the case, then the cure is at hand, two full weeks in LA, as six of their next seven are home games, and the seventh is against the Lakers. The Clippers have been a very good home team since January, and have won 11 of their last 13 at home. They'll still be without Eric Gordon, who "Wants at least a couple of full-fledged practices before coming back" according to a Lisa Dillman's Tweet, so we're going to have to wait probably a few more games before again seeing the Clippers at full strength. For most of their just completed five game road trip (save the second half in New Jersey and the Memphis debacle) the Clippers were clicking pretty well, even without Gordon. Although it ended poorly, they still managed to win 3 of 5, which ranks as one of their best trips of all time. The bad news is that Blake Griffin is in something akin to a slump, at least by his standards. But Griffin has been a better home player all season, and with the Staples crowd behind him I would be surprised if he breaks out of his 'slump' in a big way.
The Sixers started the season 0-4, and then spent most of it mired a handful of games below .500. But they got hot in late January, and went on a 16-5 tear, breaking above .500 for the first time this season after their last game in February. Anything above .500 is good enough for a playoff spot in the East of course, and the Sixers in fact are now within a half game of catching the Knicks for sixth place in the conference. They've started their current trip five game road trip with two straight losses, so they'll be looking to get moving in the right direction tonight against the Clippers. Under new coach Doug Collins, the Sixers are a top ten defensive team (ninth, actually, in defensive efficiency), after playing very poor defense last season (24th). On offense, Philadelphia relies on a team effort - former Clipper Elton Brand is the leading scorer at 15 points per game, but five players are averaging at least 12, and a sixth is in double figures. That is by far the most balanced attack in the league. As a result, you can't really key on any single player in preparing for the Sixers - you pretty much have to guard everyone straight up and hope that no one gets a hot hand. Andre Iguodala is the closest thing they have to a 'go to' scorer, but even he tends to be best as a complementary piece, and not as 'the man'; and even in his prime in LA, Brand was not really a 'go to' guy. As a result, the Sixers probably don't have much future in the playoffs, where success often comes down to having that player who can score the tough points in the big situations. But a nice all around team playing solid team basketball can certainly win a lot of games, and in the right circumstances can even win a title (see 2004 Pistons). The Sixers don't have that kind of talent, but that seems to be the model they're trying to put in place, and I do like watching team basketball.
- Home again. The Clippers haven't played more than two games in a row in LA in forever. With an overall home record of 18-15, and 11 wins in their last 13 home games, they have some confidence when they're in their own building. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is 12-22 on the road. So I think you have to call the home team the favorites in this one.
- Griffin's Slump. The Memphis game represented two different low points in Blake Griffin's brief NBA career. For one, it was the first time he's even scored less than 10 points in a game. Second, it was the fourth game in a row in which he failed to get 10 rebounds. Let's be clear - his averages of 18 points and 7 rebounds are still better than any rookie has a right to put up, and better than most people expected from him this season - and that's his worst four game stretch. But still, we've grown accustomed to a certain level, and he hasn't been there lately. In fact, aside from the first half in Washington, he's been pretty mortal these last four games. Maybe he finally hit the rookie wall; maybe it was all the travel wearing on him; maybe it was the defensive attention; who knows? The Clippers did win two of those games, and should have won a third - the attention and energy that opponents are expending on Griffin is definitely freeing up space and scoring chances for his teammates, who were taking full advantage on most of this trip. I really can't imagine anyone keeping him down tonight. Back at home, riding the adrenaline of the home crowd, I think he's going to explode.
- Third home game for Mo Williams. This will be only the third home game for Mo Williams as a Clipper. He's 2-0 at home in his brief Clippers career. The home crowd really seemed to be embracing him in the first two wins. If he can hit some big shots as he did on the road, they'll really love him.
- Gomes. Ryan Gomes left the Memphis game with a bruised knee. I have not heard any update on his condition. Frankly, it's not as if Gomes would be that badly missed if he took a couple of games off. The guy is 2 for his last 14 shooting (which could have been related to the knee, I suppose). Al-Farouq Aminu and Jamario Moon are not significant downgrades from Gomes, and may be upgrades, so if Gomes is unable to play it will just mean more minutes for those guys.
- FElton's bounce back year. Our old pal FElton is back, in more ways than one. At 31 and coming off of multiple serious injuries, he's certainly not the player he was when he was in LA, but after two injury plagued years in which it looked like he might have been about done as a player, he's having by far his best season since moving to Philadelphia. He's not scoring as much as he used to, but that's mainly because he's not getting the same number of plays called for him. His shooting percentage is up over 50% for the first time since 06-07. His PER of 18.4 isn't close to the 20s he put up on a yearly basis in LA, but it's a lot better than the 14.6 and 15.7 of his first two seasons in Philly. I doubt that any one in Philly would now say he's 'worth' the contract that will pay him $35M over the next two seasons, but he's certainly worth a lot to them at this point.
- Speaking of PER. I've already mentioned the balance of the Sixers. They have four different players with PERs between 18.1 and 18.6. John Hollinger designed his rating so that 15 would be an average player; 20 is a borderline all star. At 18, a player is very solid, maybe even a star, but not an all star or a super star. Brand (18.4), Lou Williams (18.6), Iguodala (18.2) and Thaddeus Young (18.1) are all having very productive seasons, so no wonder the Sixers are fighting for sixth place in the East.
- FElton vs. Griffin. This is obviously the marquee matchup for Clipper fans. The past versus the future. The former best Clipper ever, versus the future best Clipper ever. One gets the impression that Brand squeezed every ounce of production out of his somewhat limited skill set. He's not the biggest, strongest nor most athletic power forward in the NBA. Griffin on the other hand is just scratching the surface of his massive talent. One thing they have in common is that they are both tireless workers, so we can expect Griffin to reach his full potential just as Brand did - the ceiling is just a lot higher on Griffin. One advantage Brand has is his length - he's got a big wingspan, and his length could bother Griffin around the basket. But one doubts, at 31 after an achilles injury, that Brand has the quickness to stay with Blake. It should be interesting. In the first meeting, Blake had 20 points and 18 boards, while FElton had 15 and 6.
- Young guns. I spoken many times this season about the Clippers U23 team, their five players who are 22 or younger. The Sixers are one of the only teams that can rival the Clippers for talented young players. Jrue Holiday (20), Spencer Hawes (22) and Jodie Meeks (23) are currently starting, and (22), Lou Williams (24), (23) and (22) are all in the top 10 in minutes played. That's seven players under 25 in the rotation - the Clippers young players are younger, but they are not as numerous. Heck, Andre Iguodala is only 26.
- Evan Turner. Turner was supposed to be one of the most NBA ready players in this year's draft - a do everything guy who could play anywhere from the one to the three in the mold of Brandon Roy, who could step in and help a team right away. He was the opening day starter at shooting guard for the Sixers, and scored 16 points in his first NBA game. But his minutes steadily declined, he lost his starting job to a former second round pick, and in perhaps the biggest insult, he wasn't even chosen to participate in the Rookie Challenge at All Star Weekend. This is the second pick in the draft we're talking about. He's getting decent minutes still, and he did have his career high of 20 points against the Warriors 10 days ago. But still, it's hard not to characterize him as a disappointment at this point. Part of the problem is that Turner always had the ball in his hands at Ohio State - I mean ALWAYS - and he's just not good enough to be that guy in the NBA. He has struggled to play off the ball. Of course, it may not have been a great idea to draft Turner when the Sixers already had Andre Iguodala in the 'do everything' wing category.
- Jodie Meeks. Doug Collins inserted Jodie Meeks into the starting lineup ahead of Evan Turner back in December and Meeks has been there ever since. He's now started 49 games, and is averaging over 10 per game, and making almost 41% of his threes. If you're wondering where this guy came from, well so was I. He was a second round pick of the Bucks last season after playing college ball at Kentucky. He arrived in Philadelphia as part of a trade deadline deal last February that seemed like a complete nothing at the time. The Bucks and Sixers swapped some bodies that included Meeks, Francisco Elson, Royal Ivey, Primoz Brezec and a second round pick. It doesn't even really matter which team got what, since other than Meeks, none of those players are with either of the teams involved in the trade any longer. But now Meeks, who looked like the most disposable of all the bodies involved at the time, is the starting shooting guard on a team headed for the playoffs. Go figure.
- Superstar for one game:
I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do.Mae West, My Little Chickadee
- Get the Sixers perspective at Liberty Ballers.