Clippers-Bobcats preview: Don't let down now

Streeter Lecka

The Clippers can tie their longest winning streak in their California history with a win in Charlotte tonight. The Bobcats opened the season with a startling 7 wins in their first 12 games, but have lost eight in a row since.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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15-6

7-13
December 12th, 2012, 4:30 PM
Time-Warner Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kemba Walker
Willie Green SG Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Caron Butler SF Jeff Taylor
Blake Griffin PF Bismack Biyombo
DeAndre Jordan C Byron Mullens
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 11
92.0 (16th of 30) Pace 92.8 (8th of 30)
110.2 (4th of 30) ORtg 101.6 (27th of 30)
101.9 (7th of 30) DRtg 109.2 (27th of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Tyrus Thomas (calf) out
Grant Hill (knee) out

Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers (Stars) won the only meeting with the Bobcats (Cougars) last season.

The Big Picture:

Let's clear something up to begin with. A win tonight, stretching the current unbeaten streak to eight games, would NOT equal the longest winning streak in franchise history. Ralph and Mike said it would last night, and I've seen it written in some previews as well, but in Noveember-December 1974 the Buffalo Braves won 11 straight. Eight games would equal the longest winning streak in CLIPPERS history, matching streaks set by the 78-79 San Diego team and the 91-92 L.A. team, but the franchise mark would still belong to Bob McAdoo and Ernie D... at least for another week or so. What a win tonight WOULD do however is match the best start after 22 games in franchise history -- by that very same Braves team. That team won 11 straight as part of a 16-4 start to the season -- but then they lost their next three. So after 22 games they were 16-6, and after 23 games they were 16-7. Those marks are there for this Clippers team to take tonight in Charlotte and Saturday in Milwaukee. The team is playing awfully well right now, and the schedule is certainly cooperating. A road back to back is never easy, but the Bobcats just don't have the talent to hang with this Clippers team. L.A. doesn't even have to play their 'A' game -- a B-minus night would probably do the trick.

The Antagonist:

Lost in the excitement of the Bobcats 7-5 start (equaling in a dozen games this year what it took them 66 games to do last year) was one minor detail -- the team still stinks. They don't stink as bad as they did last year when they stank in a historical manner -- but make no mistake, they stink. The Bobcats are 27th in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency -- only the Raptors come close for ineptitude in both of those categories, and when you look at scoring differential only the Raptors are worse. Since that 7-5 start to the season, the Bobcats have now lost eight in a row, so these are two teams moving in different directions. Charlotte is currently starting two rookies and two second year players, with Byron Mullens being the grizzled veteran of the group at the age of 23 with 111 games of NBA experience. Chauncey Billups has played in more playoff games (140) than any Bobcats starter has played in the NBA. Kemba Walker has been much better in his second season, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist appears to be a keeper, so there is some reason for hope. But a competitive team is still many years in the future as of this point.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. After facing the Bulls defense last night, the Clippers will probably feel like they've been let out of prison against the Bobcats.
  • The Bobcats U-24 team. A couple seasons ago we used to talk about the Clippers U-23 team, a group of five youngsters who started together a few games early in the season while Baron Davis and Chris Kaman were injured. Since Biyombo was elevated three games ago the Bobcats are starting a U-24 team of MKG (19), Biyombo (20), Walker (22), Taylor (23) and Mullens (23) and this unit could be their starters for the rest of the season for all we know. Of course the Clippers U-23 team of Bledsoe, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Griffin and Jordan was a lot of fun and would be a decent starting team today -- but it wouldn't be 15-6. Youth is great so long as you don't have better alternatives.
  • Mike Dunlap. With the 7-5 start it's hard to argue the choice, but the Bobcats certainly went against the conventional wisdom when they hired Mike Dunlap as their head coach over the summer. The usual coaching hire usually fits one of four profiles (note that some fall into more than one of these categories): (1) NBA retread with lots of NBA head coaching experience who has recently been fired by another team (ex. Mike D'Antoni); (2) former player looking to break into the coaching ranks (ex. Mark Jackson); (3) long-time NBA assistant coach ready to take on the top job (Dwayne Casey); (4) very occasionally a high-profile college head coach will be hired, though this is becoming more and more rare (ex. P.J. Carlesimo). Dunlap is none of those things. He has over 30 years of coaching experience, but only two as an NBA assistant (with the Nuggets from 2006-2008) and has never been hired as a head coach at what one would consider an elite level. The majority of his head coaching experience came at NCAA DII Metro State (go Roadrunners!) and he was elevated to the head job on an interim basis at St. John's while Steve Lavin recovered from prostate cancer surgery. Give Michael Jordan and the Bobcats front office bonus points for thinking outside the box, but there may be a reason that coaches don't usually jump from NCAA assistant to NBA head coach.
  • Name dominoes. When the NBA first expanded to Charlotte in 1988 the new team was christened the Hornets; because who wouldn't want to be named for an annoying stinging insect. After owner George Shinn became a pariah in North Carolina he skipped town taking the Hornets to New Orleans. The Hornets have since been sold to Saints owner Tom Benson, who has announced that he will rename the team the Pelicans. Of course, naming the New Orleans team the Jazz is not an option since that original 1974 franchise moved to Utah, aka the Jazzy State (it's on their license plates, really) in 1979. And once the Hornets are the Pelicans, the Bobcats (the re-expansion Charlotte team from 2004) may go back to being the Hornets. Confused? Just wait until the team name "Charlotte Hornets" refers to two different franchises -- then you'll really be confused. The craziest part of all this is that Hornets is not a particularly good name. I don't have much knowledge of the area, but short of naming the team the Tobacco Farmers, Bobcats seems as good as anything.
  • Jeff Taylor. Citizen Marten has dual citizenship in Clips Nation and Sweden, and he will be watching this game intently to see Jeff Taylor, the third Swedish born player to play in the NBA. Taylor's American father, who had two cups of coffee in the NBA, played basketball professionally in Sweden and became a permanent resident where the younger Taylor was born and raised. The son then went to high school in New Mexico and played four years of college ball at Vanderbilt before being the 31st pick in the 2012 draft. He has started for the Bobcats at small forward all season. Not bad for a Swedish second round pick.
  • No nepotism. Last week Bobcats team president Rod Higgins performed a strange duty for the team: he waived his son Cory. No one can accuse Higgins of playing favorites I guess.
  • Ramon Sessions. While the Clippers clearly should not lose this game, let's not pretend that they can't. Last year in the 23rd game of the season the Clippers took a 15-7 record into Cleveland to face a 9-14 Cavaliers team playing without their rookie star Kyrie Irving. They lost that game as Ramon Sessions got the start in place of Irving and scored 24 points while handing out 13 assists. This is the 22nd game of the season, the Clippers are 15-6 -- and sitting on the Charlotte bench is Ramon Sessions. Let's just hope that Kemba Walker doesn't come down with flu-like symptoms forcing Sessions into the starting lineup.
  • Paul back home. Chris Paul gets to play one game in his home state of North Carolina each season. As it happens, the Clippers have two days before their next game in Milwaukee, and they will stay in North Carolina those two days. I have a feeling the team may be spending some time in Winston-Salem with CP3's people during that time.
  • Biyombo. A little bit like their hire of Dunlap, the Bobcats really rolled the dice when they drafted Bismack Biyombo with the 7th overall pick last year. Biyombo had barely cracked the Spanish ACB at the time as a little used reserve on a second tier team but he burst onto everyone's radar with a spectacular performance at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit. Charlotte knew he would be a project -- and he has. He can rebound and block shots at an NBA level (9.7 and 2.9 per 36 minutes so far this season; compare that to 9.7 and 2.6 per 36 for DeAndre Jordan), but he's a massive project on offense. Unfortunately, he's not showing any signs of progress on that end, where he has dropped from 8.1 points per 36 last season to just 6.6 so far this year. Biyombo was recently inserted into the starting lineup over veteran Brendan Haywood, a clear sign that the Bobcats are more interested in developing players for the future than in winning games now. Jordan is a decent analog for Biyombo, an impossibly long uber-athlete with all the raw tools to be a great defensive center. Of course the Clippers got Jordan with the 35th pick, not the 7th pick.
  • Narrow victories. Six of the Bobcats' seven wins this season have been by four or fewer points. In fact, the team is 6-1 in close games this year. That's all well and good -- and a bit surprising from a young team which one might expect to have trouble closing out tight games -- but their losses have been much more lopsided. As a result, they have a dismal point differential of -7.2, second worst in the NBA. Point differential is generally speaking a better indicator of actual strength than won-loss record. FWIW, the Clippers differential of +7.7 is third best in the league.
  • Connections. Ryan Hollins was drafted by the Bobcats and played two and a half seasons in Charlotte. Ben Gordon and Caron Butler were teammates at UConn for a season, and Kemba Walker was a Husky a decade later. Ramon Sessions and Matt Barnes were Laker teammates at the end of last season. Butler and Brendan Haywood won a championship together with the Mavs a couple seasons back (though Butler was hurt through the playoffs). MKG and Eric Bledsoe are part of the one-and-done stream of players going from Kentucky to the NBA.
  • Get the Charlotte perspective at Rufus on Fire.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Colors of the Wind -- Alan Menken

    Have you ever heard the wolf cry
    to the blue corn moon?
    or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned
    Can you sing with all the voices
    of the mountains?
    Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
    Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?


    I have a daughter. And because I have a daughter, I have seen every Disney musical at least one million times. We have the videos. We have CDs of the music. We listened to them in the car on road trips. I have listened to these songs countless times, such that they are imprinted on my brain. And you know what? This is a great song. Alan Menken is the greatest writer of show tunes of this generation -- the guy just knows how to craft a song. And you know what else? This song makes me cry. I mean sob like a little girl.
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