The Los Angeles Clippers looked solid in their final preseason game, easily handling the Denver Nuggets on the road, 106-94. Both teams went with rotations that likely reflect more or less what they will do during the regular season, and the Clippers were clearly the better team. Big runs to start the second and third quarters built the lead as high as 21 at one point and the Clippers coasted to the win.
I won't spend a lot of time on this game; with real games looming next week, there's not much point in overanalyzing the final tuneup. But there were a couple of things worth noting in the game.
It's a single game so don't get too excited, but Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan each made 5-6 at the free throw line, by far the best either has shot from the line in the preseason. Reworking the mechanics of a free throw is a process which is likely to cause the shooter to get worse before he gets better. We've certainly seen the worse. Did we \witness the beginning of the "getting better" part tonight, or just a statistical aberration? I will say that both Griffin and Jordan looked comfortable at the line tonight, and the strokes looked as good as we have seen them. Fingers crossed for the regular season.
I believe that we witnessed more or less Vinny Del Negro's planned rotation tonight if these are the players who are healthy. It's difficult to know when Odom and Hill return who will lose minutes; will he go small, play Matt Barnes at the four and sit both Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins? We'll have to wait and see. As for the group we saw tonight, in a closer game we'd see Griffin and Paul return in the fourth quarter and play something like 35 minutes rather than the 28/29 minutes they played tonight. I also think VDN will dial back Willie Green's minutes and increase Jamal Crawford's while leaving Green in the starting lineup. But clearly VDN was using this game to work on the rotation. I believe it was the first time in the preseason when he's had a fairly full lineup card to work with that we've seen Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe playing together. We will clearly see plenty of that during the regular season, even after Chauncey Billups returns to action.
The Clippers finish the preseason 5-3, not bad. They also happened to beat every team they lost to (they split pairs against the Nuggets, Heat and Jazz). It's worth noting though that they were 4-1 when Paul played, 4-0 when Paul and Griffin both played. If we're evaluating the team at full strength, they went undefeated against the Nuggets, Jazz, Heat and Warriors winning three of those games by double digits. Like I said, not bad.
Blake Griffin was absolutely terrific in this one with 25 points and 11 rebounds in under 29 minutes. He shot 10-13 from the field, making several very nice moves and hitting a couple jump shots as well. Blake usually looks like he's working very hard to score on a basketball court. Tonight he made it all look easy.
The Clippers were more than willing to push the tempo in this one, which is a bold decision against a team that likes to run as much as Denver does, but I think it's a smart move. During their third quarter run, they were looking for early offense every trip down, and it resulted in a slew of good shots. Griffin and Jordan have an athleticism edge over every other front court in the league and the Clippers have a very deep team (their second unit tonight played great, and that was with one starter and two key subs unavailable). It only makes sense for the team to run.
All in all it was a very successful preseason. The one blemish is the lack of work for Odom and Hill, but the pieces that are available seem to be fitting together very well. Del Negro has got to be very pleased with where the team is with five days before their first game. Bring on the Grizzlies.