For the Pollyanna Clipper fan, there's always a reason for optimism. Within the last month we've had:
- A stretch of 7 wins in 8 games - Pollyanna: "Finally, the team is starting to play like last season." Reality check: Turns out most of those wins were against truly horrible teams. That stretch was followed by the current string of 7 losses in 8 games. Oops.
- The end of a difficult road trip - Pollyanna: "We'll get it going back at home against Atlanta." Reality check: They lost a 15 point fourth quarter lead and the game. Oops.
- The All Star break - Pollyanna: "Some time off is just what this team needs! We'll come back with our heads on right and finish the season strong." Reality check: They lost to Phoenix by 25. Oops.
- And now, we have the passing of the trade deadline. Pollyanna: "Now that all the speculation is behind us, and we know that this is the team that has to get it done, we'll put it all together and finish strong. The 8th, 7th or even 6th spot are all within reach." Reality check: to be determined.
Tonight's game is huge for many reasons. A loss would stretch the current losing streak to five games and drop the team five games below .500, matching the low water mark for the season. More importantly, the Warriors are one of the 45 other teams fighting for the last couple of playoff spots - they're a half game ahead of the Clippers and sitting in 9th. In fact a win for the Warriors tonight moves them back into the 8th spot, so they'll have plenty of motivation as well. Bear in mind also the all important head-to-head record at the end of the season. Having split the first two games with two to go, whoever wins tonight's game will be in position to win the season series.
More than most perhaps, both the Warriors and Clippers should be battling hard for the last playoff spot, even if it means a quick first round exit at the hands of the Mavericks. The Warriors haven't been to the playoffs in 12 seasons, the longest current futility streak in the NBA. The Clippers would like to build on last season's success with a second consecutive trip, something that's only happened once before in the franchise's LA history. If you're Sacramento, used to deep playoff runs and ready to blow the team up, you might be looking to tank and get a better draft pick. The Clippers and Warriors aren't there - just getting to the playoffs means something for these teams.
While this is the third time the Clippers and Warriors have met this season, it feels like a three different opponents. Game 1 featured a big game from Mike Dunleavy Jr. and a Warriors win. In Game 2, Baron Davis was the only veteran playing for the Warriors, who only suited 8 guys and only played 7, as the Clippers beat a bunch of NBDL guys. That was of course because of the trade with the Pacers that sent 4 players each direction, including Dunleavy and Troy Murphy. So tonight is either game three of the series with the Warriors, or game one in the series with the Pacing-Warriors (Warring-Pacers?), depending on how you want to look at it.
The Pacing-Warriors second and third leading scorers, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson came over in the deal, but fortune continues to conspire against the team. Just when they were getting last year's leading scorer Jason Richardson back, this year's leading scorer Davis went out for knee surgery. If these guy's ever get all of their players together at the same time, they could be pretty good. They also have two promising young players in Monta Ellis and Andris Beidrins. The trade has been something of a wash for the Warriors to this point - they were one game under .500 when they made it, and they're three games under .500 now.
Ellis gave the Clippers fits in the first meeting, and if they can't find someone to stay in front of him and keep him out of the lane it could be a tough night. Cat Mobley is probably going to miss his second straight game with a pulled groin muscle, which takes one solid perimeter defender out of the picture for the Clippers. QRoss will probably draw the Ellis assignment.
In addition to Mobley, Chris Kaman will probably miss his second straight game. He's been sick with the flu since the All Star break and hasn't even practiced, so even if he did play he probably wouldn't be very sharp. With Kaman out, the Clippers will start Brand at the 5, Thomas at the 4 and probably go with Maggette at the 3. Cassell sat the second half of the Phoenix game with an abdominal strain but will probably try to go. The Warriors don't really have anyone who can check Brand, but someone else is going to have to step up and give him some help if we're going to get this win.
Like I said, it's a big game. A win is imperative for so many reasons. Most importantly, I have a bet with the guys at Golden State of Mind. If LA wins, they have to write "5 Reasons I love the Clippers." If Golden State wins, I have to write "5 Reasons I love the Pacing-Warriors." (After the debacle with the Suns, no more wagers tied to margin of victory for me.)
Go on over to GSOM and see what they're saying about us. They're notorious trash talkers over there - maybe we can get some stuff to put on the bulletin board in our blog-locker room. Oh, and if you haven't already, you need to vote in the Clips Nation poll - I've noticed that the Warriors numbers have been creeping up since they posted their game preview today, and we can't have that.