Fortunately for the collective psyches of the citizens of Clips Nation, preseason games -- particularly preseason game played without Chris Paul in China against the defending NBA Champs -- don't count. The Clippers were pretty terrible in this game; but then again, the Clippers are generally going to be pretty terrible without Paul, so it's not overly surprising.
Let's start with the bad news in this one, since there's just so much of it.
Perimeter defense. The Clippers allowed the Heat to make 11 of 23 three pointers in the game. Not that it matters, but if the Clippers ever had a chance to get back into the game it was after a Blake Griffin fueled mini-run in the third quarter in which Griffin scored six straight. Over the next five possessions, the Clippers scored 11 points, which is great. They gave up 15, which is not so great. The Heat hit five straight threes, the first four assisted by LeBron James. It's difficult to fault the Clipper defense entirely -- LeBron draws so much attention, and he's such a good passer, and he's so BIG so that he can see all four of his teammates and deliver the ball to any of them -- guys are going to get some good looks. Ray Allen, who hit two of those five straight and four three-pointers in the game, is going to be a huge factor for the Heat this season. Think about it -- last year that was James Jones getting those shots. Now it's Ray Allen.
Free throw shooting. DeAndre Jordan was 1 for 10. Jordan, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins (i.e. the options the Clippers have a center) combined to shoot 3 for 16. As poor a foul shooter as DeAndre has been in his career, he's NEVER shot 1 for 10 -- not even close. You definitely have to worry about DJ's confidence at this point.
Turnovers. Wow. The team committed 25 turnovers, which is not really that surprising in a preseason game. But these turnovers were just so ugly. I counted at least five passes thrown directly out of bounds, and there were a bunch more of the 'dribble of the foot' variety. Miami is a great defensive team that can put a lot of pressure on the ball and cause issues -- but come on.
Shooting. The Clippers fell behind by double digits early and never got closer than 13 after the start of the second quarter. But that initial hole was largely a result of their inability to make shots. Even with all their other issues, if the Clippers had simply been able to make shots early in the game they would have been in it. A lot of those early shots were falling to Willie Green -- and he was missing badly. Green was 1 for 8 at one point before making two meaningless jumpers in the final minutes. Of course, when Paul and Billups are back Green won't be in the rotation, but it would be nice if he were showing something now.
The second unit. It's one thing to be outplayed by James and Wade and Bosh. In the fourth quarter, a reasonable facsimile of the Clippers expected second unit for the regular season, Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf was barely able to hold its own against Garrett Temple, Terrel Harris, Rodney Carney, Robert Dozier and Josh Harrellson -- maybe two of those guys will make the Heat's roster this season.
The mixed news.
Lamar Odom was supposedly going to get a lot of work in this game -- but he left the court after just seven minutes in his first stint. He returned at the end with his right wrist taped. He rebounded well -- eight boards in 16 minutes -- but looked sluggish and rusty on offense. He didn't score, had two shots blocked and the third was a three pointer that barely grazed the front of the rim. It will be interesting to hear what Del Negro has to say about him, because the announcers said that the trainer was working on him while he was on the bench.
After a spectacular first preseason game, Eric Bledsoe was pretty mediocre in this one. He wasn't terrible mind you -- four points, eight rebounds, five assists -- but he certainly didn't have the impact we've come to at least hope for if not expect from him. He also, as we suspected, had to play huge minutes (41) with Hank Thorns as the only other healthy point guard on the roster. In fact, for most of the time Bledsoe was off the court, Green ran the point.
Grant Hill got his first minutes as a Clipper. He couldn't shoot a bit (1 for 5 with most of the misses pretty ugly), but he did play good defense, which after all will be his primary role on this team.
The good news.
Griffin looked pretty good. He made a very nice baseline move for a reverse slam and hit a couple of jumpers. He even settled down and hit a few free throws going 3 for 5 and looking a little better if not great. He did however commit six of the team's 25 turnovers.
Caron Butler had another steady performance. Caron seems to be shooting the ball very easily right now.
Jordan continued to show more of an offensive repertoire than we've seen. His only miss of the night came on a wide open dunk after a terrific spin move, and he used the spin to score on another play also. Consider that if he could make free throws, he could have easily scored 13 or 14 points on four field goal attempts. But if he can't make free throws, it won't matter that he has post moves, because defenses will just put him on the line (as indeed the Heat did in this one).
About the only thing that was unequivocally good for the Clippers was the rebounding. They outrebounded the Heat 52-34 or the game would have gotten really out of hand. The Clippers had as many offensive rebounds as the Heat had defensive rebounds. Jordan, Griffin, Bledsoe, and Odom each had eight boards in a good team effort on the glass.
So yeah, it's a good thing these don't count. The Clippers probably depend on Chris Paul as much as any team depends on any player. They went from near the bottom of the league in turnovers two years ago to near the top of the league last year because of Paul. He triggers everything in the offense. The Clippers are not particularly good without Paul.
I was surprised at how many minutes the starters played. After such a difficult travel schedule, I expected to see the likes of Travis Leslie and Marqus Blakely and Trent Plaisted in this one, but they remained on the bench. Instead, Bledsoe played huge minutes (as we suspected he might) and Griffin and Crawford each played over 31 minutes (largely because the Clippers had so much trouble scoring without them). No one on the Heat played as many as 30 minutes, but the big three all played between 21 and 26, which is about what I expected. James looked to be in mid-season form but Wade looked rusty in his first game action since offseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
We'll do this again Saturday night/Sunday morning when the teams meet in Shanghai in the second of their preseason exhibitions.