The Clippers are 3 games under .500, 10-13. They are minus 4 in road wins versus home losses. But they are 3-0 against the L'Eastern Conference, with Toronto coming to Staples tonight.
The Raptors have been a pleasant surprise to their fans. They are 10-15, and tied for first in the Atlantic Division in the win column. (NOTE - in traditional division races, games back in the loss column is the critical factor, the reasoning being that you could win the rest of your games and control your own destiny. For obvious reasons, this thinking does not apply in the Atlantic Division.) However, the Raptors are 2-9 against the Western Conference. (While it has become cliché to talk about the difference between East and West, some of the conference records are astounding.)
And the team comes into Staples without Chris Bosh, their All-Star power forward, who is leading them in scoring and rebounding. In the midst of a 4 game west coast swing, after playing in Phoenix last night, if ever there was a game the Clippers SHOULD win, it's this one.
Former Phoenix GM Bryan Colangelo undertook a major overhaul in Toronto this summer, perhaps in hopes of creating a Phoenix North (a Valley of the Midnight Sun, if you will). After the former Raptors braintrust was first vilified and then vindicated for drafting the surprising Charlie Villanueva with the 7th pick in 2005, Colangelo promptly shipped him out of town for T.J. Ford and his surgically repaired spine. Ford may have the speed to run Phoenix's offense, but there's one thing Steve Nash does a little better - he can actually shoot the ball and have it go in the basket. Ford is an abysmal shooter, who you can pretty much leave unguarded on the perimeter. T.J. is actually up to 44% shooting this season (from a career average of 41%), so maybe he'll make me eat my words.
With Bosh out, Clippers fans will get a long look at rookie Andrea Bargnani, the first pick in June's draft. Now, apparently he's not from around here, so it's unclear how much he was teased about his first name in elementary school. Bargnani has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki, though most agree he's got a ways to go (he's only 21). He's 6'10" and not shy about shooting. He's taken 65 threes in 24 games - 22 in the last 4.
Ralph Lawler will be excited about former Bradley Brave Anthony Parker, the MVP of the EuroLeague, who is back in
the US North America taking another shot at the NBA. His first time through the league, he did a lot of things well, but nothing well-enough to be an NBA starter. Funny how first impressions are often correct.
In all, there are six new players getting significant minutes for the Raps (Jorge Garbajosa, Rasho Nesterovich and Fred Jones, in addition to Ford, Bargnani and Parker), but despite the Suns-pedigree and influx of new 'talent', Toronto is actually scoring far fewer points this year than last.
As for the Clippers, they're riding a 4 game losing streak and need this win. Despite nagging injuries to Cassell (plantar fasciatis), Thomas (bruised elbow), Kaman (hip pointer), Williams (sore back), Ross (back spasms) and Maggette (achilles tendonitis), they should be able to get it.
Thank goodness for the Eastern Conference.