Yes, the Clippers have played well during the first three games of this road trip. Yes, they got their 9th road win of the season at Charlotte Friday. But wins against the Nets, clinging to the 8th playoff spot in the East, and Chicago, a solid 10 games over .500, will be more difficult. Nonetheless, they need these wins to keep pace with the red hot Warriors, who are now 6-0 with Baron Davis since his return.
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When the teams met in January, it was arguably the most exciting game of the season. The Clippers squandered an 18 point second half lead, and a 10 point lead beginning the final quarter, but won the game on a Cat Mobley three pointer with 0.6 seconds left. Clipper-killer Vince Carter scored 24 second half points, and Bostjan Nachbar made 4 of 5 three pointers to lead the Nets comeback.
With Richard Jefferson back in the lineup, the Nets have more weapons for this meeting than they did in January. The Clippers must do a better job on Carter, a better job defending the pick-and-roll and a better job defending the three point line if they are going to prevail in the Meadowlands.
This is a tough team to match up against. You have to use solid perimeter defenders on Jason Kidd, Carter and Jefferson, and they're also all big enough to post up smaller players. Whoever gets the start at point guard (Hart or Cassell) will have a big challenge trying to contain Kidd. (It would be really nice to have Shaun Livingston in this game.) On the other end, it's hard to imagine how the likes of Mikki Moore, Jason Collins and Uncle Cliffie can contain Elton Brand and Chris Kaman.
The Clippers have been playing well, no question about it. Both Corey Maggette and Tim Thomas have been playing their best basketball of the season lately, and even Chris Kaman has shown some signs of life. The shorter bench has helped at least as concerns crunch time minutes, although MDsr may have to use QRoss down the stretch of this one.
If Elton Brand can dominate the Nets front line as we would have expected last season and if the Clippers point guards can hold their own with Kidd and Marcus Williams, the Clippers should win this game. If they do, they'll be back in a virtual tie with the Warriors. If they don't, the Warriors will take a one game lead in the race for the final playoff spot, which they may never relinquish.