Having played their best game of the season on Sunday against one Florida team, the Clippers will try to make it two in a row against the other one. In a reversal of fortunes thus far this season, 2006 lottery team Orlando is leading the Eastern Conference, while 2006 NBA Champ Miami sits at 7-9. If the Clippers are the biggest disappointment in the Western Conference on the young season, their underachievement pales in comparison to that of the Heat.
Some would suggest that a recent string of 3 wins in 4 games may represent a turnaround for Miami. On closer inspection, with those three wins coming over arguably the three worst teams in the league, it's still pretty ugly in South Beach. Miami is minus 6.3 on point differential on the season (only Portland is worse) and they have yet to beat a team with a winning record. I can guarantee you that this streak will continue tonight! (The Clippers are currently 8-8.)
SI's newly minted Sportsman of the Year Dwyane Wade is a legitimate MVP candidate, but he's not getting a lot of (ok any) help. His scoring average (27.3) is more than double the second leading scorer on the active roster (Haslem at 13.4). Their third leading scorer, Antoine Walker, is shooting below 40%.
Defending Wade will be key. (How soon does the SI curse kick in, anyway?) The Clippers have had great success recently against Denver, another team with an offense focused on a single player, but they haven't been so great against the Lakers. At any rate, the scheme will be to force Wade to the baseline, try to stay in front of him, keep him out of the lane, and turn him into a jump shooter. It's easier said than done.
The job will fall to QRoss. Matt Pinto's probable starters don't include Ross, but I'm convinced he just lists the starters from the prior game. Ross will be in there guarding Wade, and will undoubtedly get 2 fouls within 2 minutes, given NBA refs' penchant for whistling Q and protecting Wade. Mobley will match up on Dorel Wright (who?).
It will be interesting to see who starts at the point. Livingston has started three of the last four and has looked strong recently, not to mention that the Clippers have gotten off to solid first quarters in his recent starts. However, they all came while Cassell was slowed by an ankle injury, or on the second game of back-to-backs. Neither is the case tonight, so MDSr may go back to Cassell. Surprisingly, I've seen nothing official from the coach about who will start, and as far as I can tell none of the beat writers have asked him. Neither Jason Williams nor Gary Payton are the type of lightening-quick points that give Cassell trouble, so if MDSr is playing his usual matchup game, he'll opt for Cassell. If it's Shaun, then I'd say the switch is semi-premanent.
Up front, Brand will be a very tough cover for Haslem, but Mourning will be there to help as well. Kaman is still not 100% - he got treatment for his ankle all day yesterday - but he'll play again. We'll need Chris tonight. If Mourning is allowed to roam the lane without having to worry about an offensive threat, he could cause real trouble.
The Clips finally played 4 solid quarters last week against Memphis and Orlando, but they have yet to play two solid games in a row. Now would be a great time to start. The Warriors, Kings and Hornets have all come to earth after hot starts. With the Warriors and Kings facing tough road games tonight, the Clippers could actually have the 8th best record in the West with a win tonight. With 7 Western Conference teams currently white hot, 8th place is what we can aspire to, at least for awhile. Not to mention, the next two after this one are on the road where the team is winless. We need to go into San Antonio with a little momentum.