No one is going to bestow praise upon the Clippers for dismantling a New Orleans team playing without Chris Kaman and Jason Smith (not to mention Eric Gordon and Emeka Okafor). But the Clippers did what they were supposed to do tonight, getting a win on their home floor against a non playoff team. It doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment, but considering how the team has played in recent weeks, it was a welcome outcome.
The Clippers came out with an intensity tonight, jumping to a 18-2 lead before letting the Hornets right back into the game. The Hornets run would be short lived however, as the Clippers would gradually extend the lead behind stellar performance from their pair Western Conference All Star starters, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The short handed Hornets lack of depth made defending Blake Griffin a very difficult task, with Griffin scoring 20 points on 8 of 10 shooting tonight. The lack of size in the middle made Chris Paul's life a little bit easier too, and he finished the game with 25 points and 10 assists, to go along with 4 steals. Paul was brilliant in closing out the third quarter, essentially putting the game away. I don't think the Clippers as a team played fantastic tonight, but sometimes it is difficult to stay focused against a bad or shorthanded team. That said, I am happy to see that the Clippers closed the game out without ever letting the Hornets get back within striking distance once the game was over. Shorthanded or not, over the course of this month I don't believe anyone was overly confident in the Clippers ability to close out games.
This game on it's own was not particularly interesting. In fact, it was downright boring. But looking at it as a part of this critical 5 game home stand, it remained compelling. The Clippers entered tonight's game in 4the place in the Western Conference, yet only 2 games out of the 9 spot and back in the lottery. The Western Conference rivals who are nipping at the heels of the Clippers did us no favors this evening, with Houston pulling out an overtime victory against Sacramento, Denver upsetting Chicago, and the red hot Jazz securing a win at New Jersey. Every win is crucial from this point forward, and the Clippers have now won back to back games. With days off before each of their next two games, the Clippers have a good chance to create some space in the standings. The Clippers next 5 games? Phoenix, Portland, Utah, Dallas, and the Lakers. Clipper Nation will know a lot more about the Clipper's chances this year after these 5 games. Hopefully, the Clippers can build on the momentum of back to back blowout wins on their home floor, and perhaps regain some of the mojo Clipper Steve Perrin and the rest of Clips Nation have been yearning for since Chauncey Billups was sidelined with an achilles injury.
I'm trying to be patient before giving a formal assessment of the Clippers trade deadline acquisition. I definitely like his ability to defend on the wing, it is a much needed attribute. Offensively, I am trying to be patient, but I am not overly impressed so far. I would like to give Nick Young the benefit of the doubt as he has not had much practice time, but to this point he doesn't strike me as being a particularly high IQ player. He is a streaky shooter who likes to create his own shot off the dribble, primarily after his pet move that is a reverse between the legs dribble, step back jumper. While I like his ability to create his won shot, I would like to see him get to the rim/free throw line more or shoot set jumpers Both tonight and Sunday against Memphis, he made a number of shots that were not "good" shots. Again, he has had limited practice time and has found himself playing with both the starters and the reserves at different times, so I will withhold judgment for the time being. And just to be clear, I am very happy that we have Nick Young on the Roster from here on out. A part of me thinks he would be best suited playing with Mo WIlliams and Bobby SImmons on the second unit, which has struggled mightily to score at times this year. Which brings me to my next thought...
The second unit:
Playing Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin at the same time leaves us undersized and very limited offensively. The inability of the two bigs to provide any kind of post scoring threat allows opposing defense to extend and play very aggressive on the perimeter. I would like to see coach Del Negro play one of the two backup bigs with one of the two starters whenever possible. When they Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin are in at the same time, the Mo WIlliams AND Nick Young should be on the floor with another shooter to help keep the floor spread, with the two bigs setting high screens for our very capable scoring guards.
We got a taste tonight of just how effective Deandre Jordan can be when he is active and getting playing time. Many people have been very quick to point out that the Clippers began to struggle when Chauncey Billups went down, but it's interesting that Chauncey's injury coincided with the acquisition of Kenyon Martin and the reduced minutes of Deandre Jordan, particularly late in games (and the Clips had a lot of very close games in that span). I really like what Kenyon Brings to the team and his ability to defend guards on switched is uncanny at his age, but he is not a center, and he can't quite recreate what a focused and energetic Deandre Jordan can simply because of his size.
Were you pulling for the Lakers or Grizzlies last night? Might tell you something about how you think the Clippers are going to finish this season. Think they have a good shot at passing the Lakers and winning the pacific? Or are you very relieved every time teams 5-10 in the standings lose a game?
As I said, its going to be an interesting 5 games for the Clippers. I am confident they can close out this homestand no worse than 4-1, and I think they need to make a statement against Phoenix on Wednesday night. It's time to set the tone for the playoffs, or find ourselves on the outside looking in.