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Clippers 103 - Bulls 89

Here's what I know.  I still don't have to take off my shoes to count the Clippers' road victories this season.  Until tonight, they had beaten exactly two teams currently over .500 on the road, and in both of those games the opponent was missing not one but TWO All Stars (at Houston and at Miami).

But they're 1-0 on the road against quality opposition when I go to the Clipper viewing party!  Coincidence?  I think NOT!

It's a funny thing, how you're own personal viewing experience can be at odds with a team's position in the standings.  For me, Denver and Chicago always seemed like pretty mediocre teams on paper, and then, lo and behold, the Clippers have tended to make them look mediocre as well.  Even when I have occasion to watch them on ESPN or TNT against other teams, they still usually look beatable.  But they seem to do pretty well against the rest of the league, at least based on their records.

Chicago has just nothing in the middle.  To say that they are in trouble if the jump shots aren't falling is simplistic, but accurate.  Problem is, if you know they have to make jump shots, and you get up on their shooters, it makes it a lot tougher for them to make those jump shots.  It's just so much easier to defend against one-dimensional teams where you know exactly what you have to stop.  

At the end of the first quarter tonight, the Bulls had a two point lead.  Kirk Hinrich was 6 for 7, as a team they were shooting over 60%, and they also had 6 offensive rebounds.  At that point, I had a pretty good feeling about this game.  If the Bulls are shooting 60% and only up 2, you have to like your chances.

Sure enough, after a dicey start to the second quarter, the Clippers started to take over the game, led by their defense.  The Bulls field goal percentage steadily dropped and they finished the game at 42%.  The Clippers outscored them 32-19 in the fourth quarter to put the game away.  

Cuttino Mobley, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette carried the load on offense.  They each ended up over 20 for the game, which I'm guessing is the first time that's happened this season for the Clippers.  Suddenly, even without Sam, this multi-faceted Clipper attach we were expecting this season is starting to show up.  Better late than never, I guess.

The often maligned Daniel Ewing was terrific in this game.  With Cassell out with back spasms I didn't hold out much hope for the Clippers.  But it's an interesting game for Sam to miss - the Bulls perimeter players are all so good, it's hard to hide Sam on defense against this team.  Daniel played solid defense, ran the team reasonably well, and came up with 11 huge fourth quarter points.  I really think he's more of a 2 guard than a 1, and when looked to score tonight good things happened.  

And I really don't understand Ben Gordon.  If the Bulls always look worse than their record to me, Gordon represents the team in microcosm.  I mean, sure, I've seen him get hot in a couple of games.  But the Clippers seem to be able to take away his shots simply by focusing on him.  I mean, despite being listed at 6'3", the dude can't be much over 6', and if you put a long defender on him he has trouble getting good looks.  I know I'm wrong, because he averages 21 points in 32 minutes per game, so it can't be that easy to stop him, but the Clippers have made it look easy this season - he's 7 for 25 against the Clippers in the two games.

I'll probably re-watch the game on TiVo tomorrow, and I may have more to say at that point.  It's not my usual viewing situation, what with no TiVo remote in hand, and Kristin from the Clipper Spirit chatting me up all night.  I'm just saying, I wasn't able to concentrate on the hoops quite as much as I normally would.  

But even without TiVo, I know that it's the biggest win of the season, and that Utah's come from behind victory over the Warriors puts the Clippers back into that virtual tie for 8th.  And suddenly, the next few games don't look that bad.   Of course we need the Bucks game; then there's the three game home stand against three playoff teams.  But the Jazz have been struggling a bit, the Wizards will be without All Star Caron Butler, and you know the Clippers are looking forward to the rematch with the Rockets after the way last Wednesday's game ended.  Unlikely as it is, the Clippers are actually playing pretty good basketball and have a chance to finish strong.  

And you can be sure I'll be at the next viewing party.