Clippers-Bobcats preview: The trap game

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

With the Clippers leaving on a trip, it would be very much like the Clippers to come out flat against the lowly Bobcats. But then again, even a lackluster effort is probably enough to beat the Bobcats.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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40-18

13-43
February 26th, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kemba Walker
Chauncey Billups SG Gerald Henderson
Caron Butler SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Blake Griffin PF Bismack Biyombo
DeAndre Jordan C Byron Mullens
Advanced Stats through games of Feb. 25
91.7 (15th of 30) Pace 91.7 (16th of 30)
109.2 (7th of 30) ORtg 101.4 (28th of 30)
102.4 (6th of 30) DRtg 111.0 (29th of 30)
Injuries
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
None

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won five of their last six games, which sounds a lot better than mentioning that they were blown out at home by the Spurs just a couple of games ago. Unfortunately, they've also had a habit of losing at home to some of the worst teams in the league -- they've suffered home losses to this season against the Cavs, the Hornets and the Magic. And if you're saying to yourself that none of those teams are as bad as the Bobcats, don't forget that the Magic were missing several starters when they beat the Clippers. To make matters worse, Josh McRoberts was with the Magic then, and is with the Bobcats now. I'm taking that as a bad omen. Chris Paul has been as ice cold shooting the ball after the All Star break as he was red-hot before the break and in the All Star Game. Hopefully he relocates his shot soon, because while they were able to beat Utah and can certainly beat Charlotte without him having a big game, most of the time it's not an option. The first meeting between these teams was probably closer than it should have been, but the Clippers did get the win.

The Antagonist:

I guess you can say that the Bobcats are taking baby steps... really, really little tiny baby steps. They're better than they were last season, but they're still the worst team in the NBA. That's the bad news. The worse news is that, unlike say Cleveland with Kyrie Irving, it's unclear whether there's a player to build around in Charlotte. Kemba Walker looks like he can be a solid pro, but probably not a star. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has potential but is still very raw and the jury is out on whether he can be a cornerstone player. So the Bobcats are bad and probably will be for awhile. Even the bright spots on their roster come with caveats. Their two leading scorers and most productive players, Walker and Ramon Sessions, both play the same position.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Bobcats have the distinction of being consistently terrible, on both sides of the ball. They rank in the bottom three in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The worst defensive team in the league, the Sacramento Kings, is almost respectable on offense at 19th. The worst offensive team, the Washington Wizards, is actually top five in defensive efficiency. But Charlotte is equal opportunity incompetent.
  • The Bobkittens. When these teams met in December, the Bobcats started five guys all under 24 years of age. Since then Jeff Taylor has been replaced in the starting lineup by Gerald Henderson -- who is an ancient by comparison 25. Charlotte has plenty of youth, and a few of these guys might actually develop into pretty good players, but it's really hard to win games with such an inexperienced roster. The 33 year old veteran Brendan Haywood must feel like the chaperon on team flights.
  • Mike Dunlap. 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. Of course, no coach was going to win with this roster, and the hire might be a recognition of that fact -- bring in a guy who's easy to fire in two seasons, and hope that at that time there's more talent on board to hand to the next guy.
  • 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 been a part of the rotation all season, and started about half the games so far. Not bad for a Swedish second round pick.
  • 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.
  • 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 been. He can rebound and block shots at an NBA level (9.9 and 2.5 per 36 minutes so far this season; compare that to 10.6 and 1.9 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 6.2 so far this year. 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.
  • Hot and cold CP3. Chris Paul was 30-50 from the field, 8-17 from three point range, in the four games prior to the All Star break. He was 7-10 in his ASG MVP performance. But he's 3-14 in two games after the break. He seemed to be in a real groove shooting the ball before the break, but that groove is long gone now.
  • McBobCat. One of the big, important, league-altering deals completed at the last second just before the trade deadline last week was the Bobcats sending Hakim Warrick to the Magic for Josh McRoberts. This. Changes. Everything.
  • Three point shooting. The Bobcats don't do much of anything well on offense. One of the things they do poorly is shoot from the perimeter. They are in the bottom third in the league in three point percentage, and they take the third fewest three pointers in the league. That's could news for the Clippers, for whom three point defense has been a problem in many of their losses this season. Ben Gordon and Henderson can shoot threes -- and that's about it on the roster.
  • Odom. Lamar Odom had a season-high 18 points against Utah Saturday night. He took 15 shots, another season high, and was aggressively looking to score all night, which is essentially the first time all season that has happened. Coach Vinny Del Negro has been encouraging Lamar to look to score more -- I'll be watching Lamar closely to see if the Jazz game was just an outlier, or if he is indeed being more aggressive.
  • Next stop, Indianapolis. The Clippers next play on Thursday in Indianapolis against the red-hot Pacers. That will be a big, difficult game, and there may be a tendency to look past the Bobcats and think about the Pacers (as indeed I'm doing right now). Hopefully they won't do that, and will take care of the business at hand first.
  • 41 wins. A win tonight will ensure the Clippers of a non-losing season with 23 games still left to be played. In the 34 years the team has been in California, they've only had six non-losing seasons, so this is a significant milestone.
  • 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:

    Bobcat Tracks -- Old Crow Medicine Show

    Bobcat tracks in the snow
    Tell me, mister bobcat, where is it that you go?
    Down among the town lights, in that valley below
    Tell me, mister bobcat, where is it that you go?


    The fact that we had a Dan Tyminski reference last Thursday and Old Crow Medicine Show less than a week later is really just a coincidence -- I'm not suddenly super into bluegrass. Fact is, Old Crow is a little too "old timey" for my tastes -- I like my bluegrass with modern production values and a little bit of a rock sensibility tossed in, more like an Avett Brothers sort of vibe. But finding lyrics about bobcats is not easy, so this is what we have, and Old Crow is certainly an interesting band on the music landscape. Given that these guys spent some of their formative years on a farm in North Carolina it turns out that the choice is even apropos for this opponent.
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