|Nov. 7, 2007 – 4:00 PM
|Mike Dunleavy Jr.
The Clippers meet the Pacers today in a matchup between easily the two most pleasant surprises of the first week of the season. Both teams are 3-0 despite the fact that they were each widely predicted to finish at or near the bottom of the league. Both teams are scoring points in bunches. And while the Generic Clippers are playing completely without their All Star Elton Brand, the Pacers own All Star Jermaine O'Neal has been limited by a hyperextended right knee. O'Neal is currently fifth on the team in scoring. So it goes without saying that players are stepping up both in LA and in Indy.
The Clippers were supposed to be bad this year because Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston were hurt. The Pacers were supposed to be bad just because. Indy was 20-18 when they dealt Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to the Warriors for MDjr and Troy Murphy. They finished the season 35-47, meaning they were 15-29 after the trade. Given that they had pretty much that same team coming back, there was little reason to expect anything different. Add a disgruntled star who wants to be traded, and really it's supposed to get worse.
Instead they've started the season 3-0, with two close home wins and an easier road victory in Memphis. MDjr is averaging 22 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists and generally playing like the guy he was paid to be in Golden State. Danny Granger (the guy the Clippers DIDN'T draft when they drafted Yaroslav Korolev) is also averaging around 22 and 9. That's a lot of production from your starting wings. And Jamaal Tinsley is running the show, playing 36 minutes and dishing out 8 assists per. I must say, they don't look great on paper, especially with Jermaine limited to 24 minutes per game. But they're getting it done.
- The run-and-gun Clippers and Pacers. A week into the season, the Clippers are second in the league at 111 points per game and the Pacers are third at 109. A lot of that has to do with the opponents each team has faced - the Pacers have wins over the Wizars (get it, no D?) and Grizzlies, while the Clippers have seen the Warriors and Sonics. It will be interesting to see what happens when these two teams that have been reflecting their opponents thus far meet each other.
- The kid is all right. MDjr, certainly overpaid in Golden State, does some things very well on a basketball court and has started this season incredibly well. He has games of 25 and 27 points so far. And as it happens, he has usually played very well against his father's team, so don't be surprised if this trend continues.
- Chris Kaman, a double-double machine. Three games, three double-doubles for Kaman. Jeff Foster and David Harrison are the sort of big, traditional centers that Chris has traditionally done very well against. The Clippers will go to Kaman early and often in this game to see if he can keep his hot hand going.
- The wacky lineups. In three games, MDsr has started three different lineups. Eight different players have gotten the nod to start, despite the fact that no one has been hurt. Only Kaman and Maggette have started all three. In other words, I'm not sure what I mean by 'Probable Starters' above. I THINK he'll go back to the Cassell / Ross back court that started the first two games (Tinsley is not the kind of guard that will torch Cassell, and meanwhile Sam thrives on smaller guards at the other end), but it may be difficult to keep Cat out of the starting lineup the way he's been playing.
- Cat Mobley, scoring machine. Mobley averaged 21.7 points per game six seasons ago in Houston. He was a top tier scorer. He has told anyone who will listen that he's that guy again, and I'm beginning to believe him. After putting up 33 in Chicago, he's the Clippers leading scorer at almost 24 per game, and he's clearly been their go to guy in the fourth quarter of each of their games. He's got a different demeanor - he's a scorer this year.
- The long ball. The Clippers are averaging almost 8 three point makes per game and shooting over 41% from distance. Last season they averaged fewer than 4 makes per game. Clearly they have the green light to put it up this year, and it shows, as Clippers from Maggette to Mobley to Thornton are not hesitant to launch a three.