|Nov. 6, 2007 - 5:30 PM
The Big Picture:
The Clippers, who missed the playoffs and lost their best player, are 2-0. The Bulls, who went to the Eastern Conference semis and got a top 10 draft pick, are 0-3. So go figure. As it happens, the Clippers first road game this season is against one of the only quality teams they actually managed to beat away from Staples Center last year, when they swept the season series from the Bulls. The Clippers 2-0 start and 115+ points per game is nothing more than a scheduling anomaly until they make some noise (a) away from home, and (b) against a good team (particularly a good defensive team). A win against the Bulls would go a long way towards making believers of people.
The Bulls horrible start this year is perplexing. (And let's face it, losing at home to a talentless Sixers team is horrible.) Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng were all planning on polishing up their All Star team credentials this year, and Ben Wallace is a fixture there. Instead, those four mainstays have gotten off to s-l-o-w starts. Hinrich, Gordon and Deng are shooting a combined 39% from the field, and Ben Wallace has 3 defensive rebounds on the season. (That's not a typo.) As Matt from Blog-a-bull quips, "You can't play a rebounding specialist who can't rebound." Is it possible that all the Kobe rumors have been a distraction? You THINK? The bad news for the Clippers is that these guys can all play and they're going to break out at some point, probably sooner rather than later. The one possible exception is Wallace, who is 33 and was over-rated before he was 33. He's also been battling a sprained ankle.
- Will the Clippers handle Ben Gordon again? While lighting up the rest of the league last season, Ben Gordon was a combined 7 for 25 in two games against the Clippers. Quinton Ross, who will get assigned to Gordon at the start of this game as well, simply took away everything Gordon wanted to do. Likewise, Deng was rather quiet against the Clippers last year (17 and 12 in the two games.)
- Hinrich on the other hand was terrific, averaging 27 against the Clippers. Although he is off to a poor start, Hinrich is a terrific NBA point guard. He is very good at keeping his dribble alive, has deep range on his jump shot, and plays great defense. There's not a significant weakness in his game frankly, though he is not spectacular.
- The Kaveman versus the Fro. OK, I hate the Kaveman nickname. But the biggest question of the night has got to be if Chris Kaman can continue his great start against the likes of Ben Wallace (slow start or no, overrated or not, he's still Ben Wallace).
- Guarding the perimenter. The Bulls are easily the most perimeter oriented team in the league. Wallace is not an offensive threat, and Tyrus Thomas is all athlete and no post moves. Their best post threat from last season, PJ Brown, is gone. BUT, Hinrich, Deng, Gordon, Nocioni, et al are terrific perimeter players. In particular, with Ross checking Gordon on one wing, Corey Maggette is going to have to step up and do a job on fellow Dukie Deng. If he's not up to the task, don't be surprised if he gets the early hook in favor of Cuttino Mobley or Ruben Patterson for defensive purposes.
- Those high-scoring Clippers. With the highest scoring average in the league after two games, we'll see what happens in Chicago. The same six players each scored in double figures in the first two games, and four players are averaging over 18. Can they keep it rolling? Can they get Al Thornton into the act (4 for 10 on the young season)?
- On the road again. The Clippers did not win a road game last year until Dec. 9th in Memphis. Bad teams can still win home games. Good teams win on the road. The team can't afford another oh-for-November on the road.
- Sammy the closer. I think everyone was thrilled that the Clippers got two wins while playing Sam Cassell only 23 minutes in each game, thus reducing the wear and tear of an 82 game NBA season. Everyone was thrilled except for Sam. In an unforeseen development, Sam is grousing a little about minutes , particularly fourth quarter minutes. Hopefully MDsr sat him down and explained to him that when the team needs him, he'll be out there, and that fortunately the team didn't need him too badly in the first two games. Maybe this is the game that Sam has to win in the fourth.