The Nuggets and the Clippers played an intense and hard fought preseason game in Las Vegas, with the Nuggets' Ty Lawson hitting the game-winner at the buzzer. The result doesn't matter, but there was plenty of good news (and some bad) for LA.
Well, that was pretty amazing. The very first preseason game, totally meaningless, and we were on the edge of our seats down the stretch. The Clippers were behind from early in the second quarter until Eric Bledsoe tied the game at 104 with 3.1 seconds left. But Ty Lawson drove for the winning layup at the buzzer to give the Nuggets the win.
And really who cares about any of that? Preseason is about evaluating the progress and readyness of players, so let's get to that. We'll start with the bad news.
The Bad News
Free throw shooting. You know how we've been hearing about all the work that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have done on their free throw shooting with new shooting coach Bob Thate? Well, Griffin was 2-6 from the line and Jordan was 0-2. So be happy this game doesn't count, because if it did, that's where the Clippers lost it (though in reality Denver was even worse). Griffin's form, which I've seen look much better in practice, reverted back to the hitch-y shot from last season in the game. More importantly, it's all still obviously in his head. DJ's form actually looked pretty good, though the ball didn't go in. It's one game, it's a work in progress, don't panic, your mileage may vary, do not operate heavy machinery, etc. etc. It was an inauspicious unveiling of the new free throw forms.
Griffin's jumper. Also a no show was Griffin's supposedly improved jump shot. He missed the two jumpers he took one of them being an airball. Truth be told, Griffin in general was a no show. He made only two baskets, and both of those were fast break dunks. He seemed lethargic and disinterested. Maybe he was out partying too late last night. I guess the only good news with Griffin's performance is that we know he'll be plenty productive overall. But he was not good in this one.
Willie Green. Green got the start at the shooting guard with Chauncey Billups out, and all I can say is I hope Billups gets back soon. Green was 2-8 in the game and an abysmal -13 in 29 minutes. It's just one game, but even with the relatively low bar of Randy Foye as his goal, he was a big miss in this one.
Lamar Odom. Odom was 1-5, but unlike Green, at least he seemed to make a couple of decent moves -- he just couldn't get the ball to go in the hole. Of the ten guys on guaranteed contracts who played in this game, Odom played the second fewest minutes. Only Ryan Hollins played less, but it was Hollins on the court in the fourth quarter. Was Odom unable to play more than 14 minutes? If he's supposedly playing his way back into shape, then he kind of needs to play, right? He did make his free throws, which was a welcome change for a Clipper big. He was -8 in his 14 minutes. Plus/minus stats can be misleading, but tonight they were spot on -- Green and Odom were definitely not helping the team much when they were out there.
Ronny Turiaf. I don't have huge expectations for Turiaf this season, but I figure he is DJ's backup at center and the fourth big in the rotation, ahead of Hollins. That certainly seems to be Vinny Del Negro's starting position, as Turiaf played essentially all of the second and fourth quarters. But he was, in a word, terrible. Zero points, two rebounds, two turnovers in 23 minutes. Multiple times he had the ball at the rim and either ignored the basket or missed.
The Good News
DeAndre Jordan. Other than his free throws, Jordan looked very good, and for once showed evidence of the supposed off-season work. The Clippers started the game by going to him in the post, and he responded with an up and under move that ended with a dunk. He also made a ten foot right-handed jump hook in the third quarter, shot I've literally never seen him take, let a lone make (he's left-handed). That jump hook started a sequence that goes on the highlight reel, even if this is just preseason. He made the shot, blocked a JaVale McGee dunk, made a dunk of his own, then blocked a McGee jump hook. Green hit a three after the second block capping a 7-0 run that cut the Denver lead to two and changed the complexion of the game. McGee is one of the centers to whom DJ is compared, and tonight he thoroughly outplayed him. It's worth noting though that of DJ's 14 points, ten came the way his points have always come -- catching passes at the rim and finishing, offensive put back. The new offense is nice but not the most important aspect of DJ's game. Defense and focus remain the most important things for Jordan, and he seemed to have both tonight, in addition to slightly more offensive skills.
Caron Butler. Butler finished with 10 and carried the Clippers through a rough patch early in the third. He wasn't spectacular or anything, but he looks to be in fantastic shape and just looked good out there. According to Ralph he has slimmed down a lot, and it shows in his game. He looked spritely.
Ryan Hollins. I'm not a huge fan of Hollins, and he's been a truly terrible rebounder for a seven footer in his career, but 5 rebounds in 13 minutes helped tonight. But he also had a costly offensive foul and a technical foul that cost the Clippers at key points in the game.
Matt Barnes. Most Citizens of Clips Nation really want to hate Barnes. He was most recently a Laker, but more over he was kind of a jerk with his comments about Griffin and general douchebaggery. His recent run in with the police doesn't help his image. But man was he important in this game. He scored 15 points, made three of the Clippers four three pointers including one with eight seconds left to keep the game in reach, he had seven rebounds and four steals. He was very active and frankly very good.
Jamal Crawford. Wow. The Clippers second unit, particularly when Bledsoe was on the bench, had a lot of trouble scoring. In the first half, Crawford was playing the point guard some (remember that both Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups were out for this game and Bledsoe had to rest some) and when he wasn't looking to score, nothing was happening. But when he did look to score, he was electric. The interesting thing about Crawford is that he makes such tough shots, and you remember those shots, that you tend to think his final stats are better than they actually are. He finished the game 7-14, which is fine, but not as good as I thought. But he scored an impressive 19 points, mostly manufactured completely by himself out of nothing. He scored eight straight down the stretch to give the Clippers a chance. And you know what? That's exactly what he was brought to this team to do. Score on the second unit, and hit big shots in tough situations late in the game. It's just one game, but if the first question is did the Clippers get the Portland slacker version of Crawford or the Atlanta Sixth Man of the Year version, it definitely looked like Atlanta tonight.
Eric Bledsoe. Wow wow. Bledsoe was, in a word, electric. He led the team in scoring (25), rebounds (8), assists (6) and steals (5) (and turnovers with 5 also). He was 12-17 from the floor and really didn't force a thing. He also hit the layup that tied the game on a daring baseline drive with just seconds remaining. If he can make his jump shot consistently as he did in this game, he'll be very, very good on offense this season. But it's his defense and sheer athleticism that make him special. He gets so many steals out of nowhere, and he can turn anything into a fast break with his astounding pace. Based on his performance in last year's playoffs we have been hoping for a break out season from Bledsoe. Based on this game, we may have to set the bar even higher. If Billups is out for the beginning of the season, a three guard rotation of Paul, Bledsoe and Crawford will be fine. In fact, when Billups gets healthy, finding enough minutes for all those guys may be tricky, because Bledsoe needs to be on the floor. Don't be surprised if Crawford gets a lot of minutes at the three once everyone is healthy.
Back to the game for a moment, it was ragged as you would expect from the first preseason game. The teams combined to commit 50 turnovers and 49 fouls. But the game also had an intensity that is quite uncommon in the preseason. During the Clippers comeback there was a lot of excitement in the building, and when Denver scored the game-winner they celebrated like it was a real game. All in all, it was quite a start to the preseason. And we seemed to be in midseason form on Clips Nation, with about 1350 comments -- for a preseason game. Seems like we were ready for the season to start.
With the next two games in China against the Heat, hopefully we'll see more of the same level of basketball. The crowds should be huge and enthusiastic, and it's always fun to play the champs.
Basketball is back, and it feels great. And before you know it, the games will actually count.