Clippers vs. Toronto - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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8-5

4-12
STAPLES Center
January 22nd, 2012, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chauncey Billups
PG Jose Calderon
Randy Foye SG DeMar DeRozan
Ryan Gomes
SF James Johnson
Blake Griffin
PF Ed Davis
DeAndre Jordan
C Amir Johnson

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The teams split two games last year, each winning at home.

The Big Picture:

Although blowout losses to the Spurs and Jazz were far from pretty, through a dozen games the Clippers could at least say that they hadn't lost any games that they should have won. Chicago is one of the top teams in the league, and losing in San Antonio, Utah and Portland is par for the course, as those are just not easy building in which to win. That changed on Friday when the Clippers lost to Minnesota at home. There were mitigating circumstances to be certain - Chris Paul was missing his fourth straight game with a strained hamstring, Caron Butler was likewise unavailable with a hyperextended knee, and when Mo Williams was ejected with over six minutes left, the Clippers were missing three of their top six players down the stretch. So it's not surprising that they lost the game, though it is disappointing. The single biggest adjustment that they need to make is to get Chris Paul back on the floor. Sure, they need to rotate better on defense and get on the same page (or any page really) on their pick and roll coverage, but let's face it, having Paul out there will cover up a multitude of sins. Especially on offense, having Paul on the floor gives the Clippers a half court offense by default, but without him they are just taking a bunch of jump shots. But hopefully it's not worth worrying too much about how they look without Paul, assuming they're going to have him. Of more concern right now is the mini-slump that Blake Griffin finds himself in, but even that will get better with Paul back.

The Antagonist:

Do they still have NBA teams in Canada? That whole Vancouver thing is done with, I know that. I guess there's still a team in Toronto, or at any rate that's what the schedule says. How would anyone know? It's not like the Raptors are ever on TV, or, you know, relevant in any way. Only two seasons ago, the Raptors won 40 games. A couple seasons before that, they were actually in the playoffs. But they've quickly become one of the worst teams in the league -- and least compelling. Who of interest is on the Raptors? Andrea Bargnani? Not really. Maybe Ed Davis -- he seems like he could be a player some day (though as of now he's in a bit of a sophomore slump). The Raptors are 4-12 on the season, they've lost seven straight and nine of their last ten. Two of their four wins on the season have come against the Cavaliers. This is not an interesting (or very good) team.

The Subplots

  • Low energy. Playing a bad team in a 12:30 game on a rainy afternoon in LA with the AFC Championship on TV at the same time, this could be one of the truly low energy games in Staples Center all year. The Clippers have sold out every game this season -- but something tells me that streak ends today. Hopefully the fact that the Clippers game away a game they should have won on Friday will be enough to focus their attention on their task today.
  • CP3. Paul willl be a game time decision for this one, but Vinny Del Negro has hinted that he'd like to play him some while closely monitoring his minutes. One presumes that the Clippers are motivated to have Paul back for the Lakers game on Wednesday, and getting him at least some game action today would be an important step toward that goal. It's also nice that the team has Monday and Tuesday off, so Paul could get some minutes and have some time to recover as well.
  • Butler. Butler and Paul both practiced with the team on Saturday, and VDN said that Butler is feeling better. But he too will be a game time decision.
  • Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors also are dealing with injuries, as leading scorer Bargnani has missed five straight, but could play today. Bargnani is having a career year, averaging career highs in scoring and rebounding, while also shooting a much improved percentage from the field. About the only thing Bargnani's not doing at a career best level is shoot threes, but I wouldn't leave him there. In addition to Bargnani, Jerryd Bayless has been out with a sprained ankle.
  • The return of Rasual Butler. It may come as a surprise to the Citizens of Clips Nation to hear that former Clipper Rasual Butler is still in the NBA. After a season and a half with the Clippers, Butler was waived last February. He was picked up by Chicago, where he played 26 minutes the rest of the season (and 7 minutes in the playoffs!) But Rasual signed as a free agent in Toronto, and has started on the wing most of the season. Unfortunately, he's shooting a career low from the the field (not easy to do, after shooting just 32% for the Clippers last season, but he's down to 28% now). He's one of only four players in the NBA this season with a True Shooting Percentage below 40% and 200 or more minutes played.
  • Griffin's slump. Griffin is shooting 51% from the field on the season - but 41% in his last three games. He has still managed to average 15 points and almost 13 rebounds in those games, but he's definitely due for a big game. He was clearly frustrated on Friday, in part because of the way defenses are roughing him up. Of course, while he's shooting in the low 50s from the foul line, it's not surprising that opponents are going to take hard fouls against him rather than give him anything easy around the basket. The last two fouls Darko Milicic gave on Friday were more appropriate to a dark alley than a basketball court. The first thing that has to happen is that Blake's foul shooting needs to improve. He was 7 for 11 on Friday, which is of course a major improvement over his season average, but the two he missed with 61 seconds left probably cost the Clippers the game. In a way they're lucky they've only lost one game because of poor foul shooting this season.
  • International flavor. Toronto has always had a major international contingent on its roster. Whether because it is an international city itself, or because of a strategic preference of Bryan Colangelo, or maybe it's just a coincidence, it remains true today. Watching the T-Wolves on Friday, the ClipperWidow commented on the Milicic's and Pekovic's and Rubio's and wondered if Minnesota led the league in foreign dudes. I told her no. I haven't actually fact-checked this, but I'm going to hazard a guess that no NBA team has more internationals than Toronto's six (Bargnani from Italy, Calderon from Spain, Leandro Barbosa from Brazil, Linas Kleiza from Lithuania, Solomon Alabi from Nigeria and Jamaal Magloire from Canada). Their lottery pick in this year's draft was Lithuanian teen Jonas Valanciunas, continuing the trend.
  • Xenophobic Clippers. If Toronto is among the most international teams in the NBA, the Clippers are among the least international, and have been for awhile. They are one of three NBA teams without a foreign born player on their roster (Indiana and New York are the others). In fact, in the past five seasons, the Clippers have had international players for just 16 games - Chiekh Samb for 10 games in 08-09 and Guillermo Diaz for 6 games in 07-08. You have to go back to 06-07 to find a Clippers team that had an international player for the entire season (Yaroslav Korolev) and back to 05-06 to find one that contributed in any significant manner (Zeljko Rebraca). The international flavor and appeal of the city of Toronto is often mentioned as a reason that the Raptors have so many foreign born players on the team, but of course LA is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, yet the Clippers seem to consciously avoid international dudes. Of course, if your two foreign born first round draft picks were Michael Olowokandi and Yaroslav Korolev, you might be a little xenophobic too.
  • Six points in 30 seconds. Somehow, the Clippers defense has allowed their opponents to score six points in about 30 seconds during the final minute twice in two games. As a consequence, in both games in which the Clippers had a two possession lead and the ball, they managed to lose the lead in the final seconds. Only Chauncey's Billups heroics kept them from losing against Dallas, but it was Kevin Love who was the hero Friday. The real question is how they are managing to give teams wide open looks at three pointers on crucial possessions, knowing full well that the opponent is desperate for a three.
  • Road wins versus home losses. Although the Clippers are 8-5 overall, nine of their 13 games so far have been at home. They now have two home losses versus only one road win, giving them a losing record on that metric that attempts to normalize for home-away games. Of course, having played many more home games than road games, they've had more opportunities to lose at home, but still, they're going to have to win some road games when they venture out of LA in the coming weeks. The Clippers do however still have the toughest strength of schedule in the league.
  • Toronto's Offense. Toronto has the second worst offensive efficiency in the league - and that's only because the Washington Generals Wizards are around to be the worst. There was a time when the Raptors had some of the most dangerous three point shooters in the league (they shot better than 39% in 07-08), but no more. As a team the Raptors are shooting 31% from deep this year, slightly worse than their league-worst mark for last season.
  • Zone? Looking over the game recap from last March, that night the Raptors started the exact lineup that is likely to start tonight (Bargnani was out of that game as well). The Clippers trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter of that one, and mounted a comeback while employing a zone defense. That could prove to be an effective weapon again tonight.
  • Mo-mentum. Mo Williams is on a roll. In each of the last two game, he's made his first 7 shots. Overall, he has shot 21 for 30 -- 70% -- in those two games while leading the team in scoring in each. For the season he's shooting 54% from the field and better than 43% from three, for an absurd eFG of almost 59%. He can't possibly continue to shoot this well, but so far the sixth man role seems to be agreeing with him.
  • LA Connection. This will be a homecoming for two Raptors. DeMar DeRozan (Compton High, class of 2008) and Amir Johnson (Westchester High, class of 2005) are both LA kids who played their high school ball for storied City Section programs.
  • Dwane Casey. Dwane Casey, the first year, first time head coach in Toronto, was a finalist for the Clippers' job in 2010. He lost out to Vinny Del Negro when VDN wowed them in the final interview. Casey, by all accounts, is a terrific student of the game and will make a good head coach. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much to work with in Toronto, particularly given that he's a defensive minded coach. Andrea Bargnani is not exactly Tyson Chandler on defense.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    raptor

    A drunk female in high-heels. Usually characterized by lots of stumbling and screeching.

    Watch out, its the first Friday of the school year. The freshmen raptors are out in full force.
  • Get the Raptors perspective at Raptors HQ
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