Prior to the start of this 6 game swing, tonight's game against the Wizards certainly looked like the toughest one. One of two teams on the trip with a winning record (the Magic, whom the Clippers should have beaten on Tuesday, being the other), the Wizards are the hottest team in the East, having won 11 of their last 14. And while many of those wins have come against weak opponents, they also ended Dallas' 12-game win streak and Phoenix' 15-game win streak. Fortunately for the Clippers, they don't have a streak going, or the Wizards would win for sure.
The Wizards are the anti-Clippers.
- The Wizards have three guys averaging 19 or more (Jamison 19.5, Butler 20.7 and Arenas 30.3, third in the NBA).
- The Clippers have Brand (19.8).
- The Wizard's have one guy between 9 and 19 (DeShawn Stevenson at 9.9, which seems hard to believe but he must get a lot of open shots playing with those other three guys).
- The Clippers have 6 guys between 9 and 19.
- Gilbert Arenas makes over 3 threes a game.
- The Clippers as a team make fewer than 3.
- The Clippers have one of the best and biggest tandems at center and power forward in the league, playing a traditional low post style.
- The Wizards start Brendan Haywood (6.4 points and 6.5 rebounds - he's a single-single waiting to happen!) and Antawn Jamison (an all-star, but the ultimate tweener - he takes 5 threes a game from the power forward spot).
Arenas is on a BIG TIME ROLL. The guy averaged 34.1 in December, including games of 60 and 54. He has six 40+ games this season. Happily, he has never suffered any perceived slight at the hands of the Clippers organization. This is not a guy you want to give any extra motivation. No Clipper coaches were involved with Team USA, and the Clippers actually offered him MORE money than the Wizards back in 2003 when he was a free agent zero. So, unless Elton used his deodorant without asking after a Team USA game in Vegas, he has no score to settle with the Clips. Phew!
This game will be a contrast in styles. When the Clippers are on offense, Brand and Kaman will go right at the Washington bigs (and I use the term loosely). EB is only 6'8"; Sacramento and Washington are the only times all year he faces a starting power forward who is actually SHORTER than he is. (Jamison is listed at 6'9", but he's more like 6'6".) And it's not like Washington has guys they can bring off the bench who can defend Kaman and Brand. Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Michael Ruffin are all out, which leaves them with Calvin Booth (he's still in the league?), Andray Blatche (who?) and James Lang (WHO?) backing up Haywood and Jamison.
But Washington's plan is to outscore you, and they can do it. Either Kaman or Brand will have to guard Jamison (probably Kaman), and Jamison will drag him way out to the three-point line. Likewise, Butler will be a very tough matchup for either Maggette or Thomas.
But Arenas is the key. With Mobley still hurting (the LA Times listed him as questionable, but the probable starters on Clippers.com lists him as out), QRoss will get the start, and will probable be on the floor whenever Agent Zero is out there. (Take the probably starters on Clippers.com with a grain of salt - if they don't know that Ross is starting, they don't know much.) Nobody can actually guard Arenas, but Q's combination of quickness to stay in front of him and length to bother his jump shot comes close. Look for Maggette to start at the 3 if Mobley can't go. Corey's defense on Butler will be key, as will the defensive rotations on the inevitable dribble penetration by Arenas and Butler. Will Haywood get easy finishes at the rim? Will Jamison, Stevenson and Hayes get wide open threes? These are the defensive questions of the game.
If Mobley can't go, Daniel Ewing will play big minutes again, playing with Livingston at times. Thomas will probably only get minutes at the power forward as MDSr goes small against the Wizards. Livingston really needs to have a big game. The Clippers have the advantage in the front court, but Livingston has to get them the ball, and he also has to hurt the Wizards when they try to double team.
The Wizards are beatable. The Clippers swept the series last season, holding Arenas to 18 and 17 in the two games. Oh crikey. Now we know what Agent Zero's extra motivation is! Watch out.