As you know, I did not allow the fact that I neither watched nor listened to the first five pre-season games dissuade me from providing post game analysis. You really can't tell a lot about a game from a box score, but I didn't let that stop me. So I am quite pleased to be able to write about a game that I actually watched.
Having said that, it's still tough to take too much away from any pre-season game, particularly one in which the Lakers second best player did not play, and their starters did not play in the second half. Pulling away from Sasha Vujacic, Chris Mihm, VladRad, Coby Karl and Mo Evans is not really worth getting too pumped about.
Nonetheless, I was still pretty excited with what I saw:
- Al Thornton! This is probably the first time I've seen Al Thornton play live. I mean, I probably caught a few minutes of an FSU game on ESPN last season, but I frankly don't remember the guy. How did this guy - the leading scorer and runner-up for POY in the best conference in college basketball, with athleticism that is off the charts, and an NBA three point stroke - how did he fall to the Clippers at 14? I mean, I know the draft was deep, but COME ON! The word of the moment in the NBA always makes me laugh - scouts and analysts used to talk just about size; then it was length; a few years later they threw in handle; the last couple years the new word has been motor. I've heard a couple guys criticize Al's motor, but I sure didn't see it last night. He's active on defense, he LOVES going to the basket and he goes after every rebound. On one play last night he committed a brutal over the back trying to get a follow dunk - and the guy he tried to jump over was Chris Kaman! I've got your motor right here! Sure, I've seen him in one game, and he won't make 4 of 5 threes all the time. But the guy is an offensive force, and appears to want to work hard on defense, which is half the battle. His pre-season numbers can't be a fluke - they've been too consistent. He looks like the steal of the draft right now.
- Corey Maggette - 22 points on 9 shots in 24 minutes. Truthfully, I didn't think he looked that great - he was just Corey. At any rate, it's not like he was making shots I didn't expect him to make (with the exception of that three). But as long as he's getting to the line (12 FTA's) and not turning the ball over (2 TOs), he will put points on the board.
- Speaking of threes, Citizen cabezadekunckle's Diary had several salient observations, including one about three point shooting. I've long been of the opinion that the Clippers needed more, and with Thornton, Dickau and even Ross making threes last night, the difference between last season and this is significant. Last season the Clippers could only put two real threats on the floor (Thomas and Mobley) - only two other guys in the rotation would even attempt a three, and they both started the season ridiculously cold from distance (Cassell and Maggette). Korolev and Singleton weren't on the floor enough to matter. We know Dickau is legit from deep (40% on his career) - if Thornton is for real, that's double the real threats. If Maggette, Cassell and now Ross can shoot it with confidence, they don't have to make 40% - over 30% will do - suddenly you can put 4 guys on the floor at a time who can stretch the D if you need them. The Clippers literally could not do that last year.
- Specific to Ross, we've already referenced his supposedly increased range. 2 for 2 from three in a single game doesn't prove anything. But I honestly believe that as long as he is WILLING to take that shot it will help the team. And of course that corner three is not much longer than the jumpers he stuck last season. He looked perfectly comfortable out there last night. And he played his usual terrific defense on Kobe in the first half.
- Continuing through Cabeza's notes, the team has now played 6 out of 8 pre-season games. You can't read too much into minute distribution, but that game sure didn't bode well for Korolev and Diaz (the presumed final cuts). With Tim Thomas not with the team for personal reasons, eleven guys played non-garbage minutes. Diaz only got into the game because Dickau fouled out in the final minute (and presumably Cassell and Knight were already icing their 30+ knees) and Korolev got the dreaded DNP. The fact that Josh Powell got a DNP certainly surprised me as well, but as far as I know his contract is guaranteed and I he's gotten a lot of praise from the coaches throughout camp and pre-season - he's not going anywhere.
- The Lakers defense stinks - ess-tee-eye-en-cay-ess STINKS! Dan Dickau runs a shuffle cut off the ball 25 feet from the basket and gets an uncontested layup? And twice in the fourth quarter, on the EXACT SAME PLAY, Al Thornton got a wide open, check your watch, have a cup of coffee, check the wind direction, three - with nobody even running at him. Let's see - high pick and roll, if Vlad leaves Thornton to take Dickau, what happens next? Drew? Vlad? Anyone? Buehler?
- Jordan Farmar was the ONLY bright spot for the Lakers. It sure looked like he was their best option at the point based on last night. Fish was solid, but Crittendon and Vujacic were invisible at best. At first I wasn't sure if Farmar was that good on offense or if Dickau was that bad on defense (they happened to come into the game about the same time in the first half). And certainly Farmar did most of his damage against Dickau. But it was more that that. Who knows if he can do that consistently, but he was just terrific.
- Other than the D, which may have had more to do with Farmar's O, Dickau looked great. He ran the team well, made open shots (which we knew he could) and recorded 5 assists. Unfortunately for MDsr he's going to have a tough choice at the point, at least until Livingston comes back: offense (Cassell and Dickau) or defense (Knight) - pick one coach, because you can't have both.
- Cat Mobley was quoted in the paper recently as saying that his elbow felt better than it has in years after he had it scoped this summer to remove some debris. I thought it was just talk until I saw him play last night. Not that he looked unstoppable or anything (he played fine, and racked up six assists including a beauty that led to a Maggette dunk); but I almost didn't recognize him when he went on the floor. Why? He didn't have his elegant long sleeve covering his arm. I think he's worn that every game he's played as a Clipper. I thought it was part of the uniform. He must indeed feel better.
- Paul Davis started at the four against the Lakers big bigs (Brown and Turiaf) and looked great. What exactly is the weakness in this guy's game, because I didn't see it last night. He was active on defense, rebounded well, ran the floor, and made open shots out to 18 or 20 feet. And as we've already observed, he's a great passer for a guy his size (5 assists last night). He probably doesn't have the lateral quickness to guard the best 4s in the league, and he may not have the size against the biggest 5s... but I'd be willing to find out, because he does a lot of things really well.
- And then there's Chris Kaman. From the lefty hook on the first possession of the game that went in and came back out, I had a bad feeling. He is among the best in the league at making the move but missing the shot. The difference between his 53% shooting in 05-06 and 45% in 06-07 is literally one of those shots a night. One more of those shots stays in, and he's among the league leaders in field goal percentage. And then there was the cross court pass he threw directly to Mo Evans. Evans was barely paying attention to the play - he had to catch the ball or risk injury. That's another bad thing where Kaman could possibly lead the league - brain fart turnovers. On the plus side, I must say, I was encouraged that Chris tried to dunk three times (he finished one and got hacked on the other two) - see, good things happen when you finish strong. But he only finished one other move all night. The one he finished illustrated very well why he received a $52M contract. How many guys his size can make the DWade spin move through two defenders? The guy has skills. Why won't his shots go down?
- Finally, let's talk a little about up tempo. In six games, the Clippers are averaging 104.5 points per game and have scored no fewer than 97. Of course the opponents have all been up tempo teams as well, with the exception of Portland, but still. The Clippers fast break last night was not Phoenix, nor even Denver. They're not sprinting up the floor, kicking the ball ahead and spotting up behind the three point arc. What they are doing is getting five guys to run a controlled break - when it's there, they try to finish it, and both Thornton and Maggette will thrive filling lanes in this system. More importantly, they are using the increased pace to get the ball entered into the post more quickly. Even if there is no numerical advantage, if they can get Kaman established on the block early, he'll get better position and have more time to work before the double arrives. This is something I ranted about last year - they would walk it up as MDsr called the play, barely cross the timeline in 8 seconds, and struggle to make the entry pass with more than 10 on the shot clock against a dug in defense. In that situation, if option one doesn't pan out, you're up against the shot clock by the time you kick the ball out of the post. So even if it's not a track meet, I think it makes much more sense to push the ball. I hope they continue after Brand's return, because he'll benefit greatly from getting the ball in good post position early in the clock.
Let's be clear. That Lakers defense last night would make anyone look good. In this case, they made almost everyone on the Clippers look like All Stars on offense. Kobe was a non-factor and didn't play in the second half, Odom didn't play, Walton barely played, etc. etc. They didn't put up much resistance. But they still put ostensible NBA-talent on the floor, and the Clippers destroyed them. 3 wins and 3 losses in the pre-season is nothing to get too excited about. But the individual performances last night? I'll allow myself a little excitement there.