The Indiana Pacers come into Staples Center to face the Clippers Saturday night. The Pacers are riding a four game losing streak (tied for their longest this season), but Mike Dunleavy Jr. seems incapable of losing to his dad lately, so I'm more than a bit concerned.
I'm especially concerned if Daniel Ewing is going to be the Clippers starting point guard. Sam Cassell actually warmed up with the team in Seattle and only decided against playing at the last minute, so hopefully he'll be ready for Saturday after two days off. But Sam is dealing with a myriad of infirmities common in our older citizens, so it's very possible he will be limited even if he does play.
The Pacers won the first meeting between the teams, on February 11 in Indianapolis, 94-80. But that win, an OT win over Milwaukee, and one over Memphis are the Pacers only three victories in their last 10 games, and that includes 8 home games. I'm not sure what's wrong with them - they don't have any more injuries than most teams this time of year. Jermaine O'Neal has some knee issues, but continues to play and put up good numbers. Marquis Daniels has missed some games and will reportedly sit tonight, but he really shouldn't be the lynchpin to their season, should he? They're just not playing winning basketball right now.
Although the Clippers lost a winnable game in Seattle on Thursday night, they did prevail in the three before that, and there have definitely been some positive developments for the team in the past week (as well as one incredibly negative development of course). For one thing, the defense has improved, particularly in the fourth quarter. It certainly wasn't the defense that let them down in Seattle, where the Sonics were held to 77 points. In the last 4 games, the Clippers have held their opponents to an average of 19.5 points in the fourth quarter.
Corey Maggette has played pretty well as a starter, averaging 19 per game in the last five, and has even made some jump shots lately. Refs can make or break Corey - he's going to go flying into the lane one way or the other. If they give him the calls (he went to the line 20 times against Charlotte), he's a huge weapon. If they don't (6 free throws against Seattle), he can be a liability.
And Chris Kaman has looked very good, as good as he has all season, in his three games after his illness. He has made 13 of 22 shots in that time. He played 36 minutes in Seattle Thursday, so presumably he's ready to be put back into the starting lineup. If he could return to his 2006 form down the stretch, it would be a big boost for this team and take some of the burden off of Elton Brand.
Minnesota, Golden State, New Orleans and Denver all lost Friday night. Believe it or not, the Clippers can actually move percentage points ahead of Denver into 7th in the West with a win over the Pacers. They really need to get this win. Four of the next five games are against the Spurs, Rockets and Pistons. If the Clippers don't win this one, they could easily be a season-high 6 games under .500 by mid-March.
Oh, and I have another wager. This one is with PacerTom (that's what I like to call him) from the newest SBNation NBA site, Indy Cornrows. So look for his Diary, "Why I love the Clippers and ClipperSteve" after the Clippers send the Pacers to their season-high 5th loss in a row.