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Clippers vs. Hornets - Game Preview and Open Thread

Clippers
vs.
Hornets
6-5 9-5
Staples Center
Nov. 24, 2007 - 7:30 PM
Probable starters:
Sam Cassell PG Chris Paul
Quinton Ross SG Morris Peterson
Cuttino Mobley SF Peja Stojakovic
Tim Thomas PF David West
Chris Kaman C Tyson Chandler
NOTE: I'm still in Denver. I will not get to see tonight's game, though I may re-watch on the TiVo some time Sunday.

The Big Picture:  

In the zero-sum game that is the NBA Playoffs, this is an important game.  The Clippers and Hornets were 9th and 10th in the Western Conference last season.  If they both want to be on the other side of that magical 8 team cut off, then they have to pass two other teams.  If there's only room for one, then it could come down to the better record between these two teams.  The Clippers and Hornets play each other 4 times this season, and head-to-head could eventually be important as well.  Losing a home game to the Hornets would be unfortunate, but of course it's also unfortunate that the Clippers have so many injuries right now.  Unfortunate happens.

The Antagonist:  

The Hornets have lost three straight after starting the season 9-2, one of the hottest teams in the league.  But don't read too much into the three game losing streak.  Chris Paul sat out one of those games, Tyson Chandler sat out two of them, and last night in Utah, back at full strength, they ran into a very good team.  When you look at the Hornets on paper, they have a solid starting lineup (with the possible exception of Morris Peterson at shooting guard).  But they are not deep, so they can ill-afford injuries.  With everyone healthy against the Clippers, this will be a tough game.  Chris Paul is one of the best young point guards in the NBA, David West is putting up All Star type numbers (19 points and 8 rebounds) from the power forward position, Tyson Chandler is a rebounding and defensive force at the center, and Peja Stojakovic can still shoot.  If you let CP3 break you down and get into the middle of the defense, Chandler will kill you on the offensive glass and Stojakovic (46% 3Pt shooting) and Peterson (40%) will drain open threes.

The Subplots

  • Staying in front of CP3.  Assuming Brevin Knight sits out again, Quinton Ross will have to play big minutes guarding Paul.  When he breaks down the defense, the Hornets offense is great.  When he doesn't, they're dependent on David West.  The other three starters (Stojakovic, Peterson and Chandler) are one (or zero) dimensional on offense.  It all starts with Paul.

  • Tim Thomas has to play D.  West is the Hornets leading scorer, and has games of 40 and 34 to his name this season.  It won't matter much how good a job Ross does on Paul if West is able to have his way with Thomas.

  • Kaman gets another challenge. In a league that has fewer and fewer great centers, the Clippers have played against some pretty good ones lately.  Kaman's faced former All Pro Ben Wallace, last season's Defensive POY Marcus Camby, and current All Pro Amare Stoudemire the last three games.  Tonight it's Chandler, a member of Team USA this summer in Las Vegas (and Yao is on deck).  Kaman needs to go right at Chandler.  He's bigger and stronger, and Chandler is best when he's allowed to roam off the ball.

  • Does resting Cassell pay off?  Sam Cassell had a big night going in Phoenix last night - 26 points in 27 minutes.  But he sat the final 15, coach MDsr choosing to save the 38 year old for the Hornets.  It was probably the right decision.  With Phoenix building a double digit lead while Cassell was in, putting him back in for a final push would probably have been foolhardy.  But if Sam comes out flat tonight, then it will have been for naught.  The good news is that Paul is the type of young, undersized point guard that Cassell likes to take to school.

  • Is Mobley OK or not?  A few days ago, the team was talking about shutting Cat down to let him heal.  Instead, he played 31 minutes Wednesday and 33 Friday.  He looked stong against Denver, but against Phoenix he was a miserable 1 for 5.  If he's anywhere close to 100%, this is a matchup the Clippers could go to.  If not, why is he playing?