I've only been to Salt Lake City once. For a meeting with the Organizing Committee of the 2002 Winter Olympics a few years back. It was a quick trip - arrived in the morning, went to some meetings, had dinner, flew back to LA. I think I had to buy some sort of club membership in order to have wine with my dinner. It was an OK trip; not very memorable.
The Clippers wish they could forget their trips to the Utah capital. They've lost 6 games in a row there, including their last 3 by a combined 5 points. And prior to their win in January 2003, they had lost an astounding 26 in a row since 1989. That makes them 1 win and 32 losses in Utah since Shaun Livingston was three years old. The salt in the lake comes in handy for rubbing into the Clippers wounds.
It was one thing losing to Stockton and Malone. But a couple of seasons ago, the Clippers lost twice to a 26 win Jazz team featuring Keith McLeod and Jarron Collins in their starting lineup.
A quick trip into the WABAC machine reveals that the Clippers had a chance to win each of their last 3 games in the Delta Center.
- 3/3/2006 - 105-103 Utah - After erasing a big fourth quarter deficit, the Clippers tie the game with 7 seconds to go, only to watch Deron Williams dribble the length of the floor and sink a 15 footer at the buzzer.
- 2/28/05 - 87-86 Utah - In a game that was close throughout, the Clippers fall behind by 4 with 11 seconds left. Bobby Simmons sinks a 3 to make it a one point game, and then the Clippers are handed an unbelievable gift when McLeod misses 2 free throws with 6.5 seconds left. Somehow, Simmons ends up with the ball in his hands under the basket as time is running out, and he flat missed the layup that would have won the game.
- 12/14/04 - 93-91 Utah - In another close game, Chris Kaman misses a free throw that would have tied the game with 22.7 seconds left. The Clippers are forced to foul, Okur makes his free throws, and the Clippers lose the game.
The bad news is that the Jazz are better than they've been in a long time. My pick to win the Northworst Division, they have made me look pretty good so far, beginning the season with an NBA-best 6-1 record. Their front line of Carlos Boozer, Mehmut Okur and Andrei Kirilenko is one of the only ones that can hang with EB and Kaman, and in fact have outplayed the Clippers bigs in the early going. However, Kirilenko is hurt tonight, and although he is only 7th on the team in scoring, he is an absolute freak of a defensive player, and they will miss him sorely.
The Utah guards appear to be their weakness at this point. Second year pro Deron Williams is showing signs that the Jazz were merely stupid to draft him ahead of Chris Paul, as opposed to monumentally and historically stupid. But 19 year old C.J. Miles is the starting 2, and he has 4 games this season in which he has scored 2 or fewer points. Meanwhile, Gordon Giricek is also going to miss tonight's game, which means former Laker Derek Fisher (6'1") is going to be their shooting guard for a significant chunk of time.
The way Sam Cassell and Cat Mobley have been abusing opposing guards this season, I expect each of them to have big games. With Kirilenko hurt, there are no shot blockers in Utah's lineup to protect the basket, and Cat and Sam love to post up against younger, smaller opponents. Up front, although Boozer is having a great year, does anyone really think he's even close to Brand's level? He wasn't at Duke, he wasn't on the National team, and he's not now. Okur will present some problems drawing Kaman away from the basket, but if Chris is smart, and stays close to Memo on the three-point line, while not biting on up fakes and committing silly fouls, he will have a chance to break out of his slump by posting up on the offensive end.
The Clippers need to get off to a good start. They have trailed at the end of the first quarter in 5 out of 6 this season, leading only the suck-fest first quarter of the Hornets game, and requiring 12 turnovers to do so.
This game is important. Not because it's for the best record in the NBA. It's too early to be worrying about that. It's important because the Jazz' continued dominance in Utah is one of the few remaining vestiges of the Worst Franchise in Sports History Clippers. Different team, different era... there's needs to be a different result.