Three days in March without a Clippers game? Normally I wouldn't care at all - I would be immersed in NCAA Conference Tournaments. But the combination of Pepperdine sucking this year and this here ClipsNation thingie has me a little extra NBA-obsessed. It'll be good to see them back on the court.
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It kind of goes without saying at this time of year, clinging to a 1.5 game advantage in the race for the final playoff spot, but this is a big game. A win tonight probably puts them back in 7th (Denver is hosting the Pistons), and allows them to keep pace with the Lakers (who will probably win in Philly, and are now a mere two games ahead of the Clippers in the loss column, if you can believe that). But after tonight, the Clippers play three straight and seven of their next ten against teams with winning records. The season could really slip away quickly in the next few weeks.
Although the Warriors do have a losing record, this is NOT going to be easy game by any means. During the 13 games that Baron Davis missed recently, the team went 4-9 and appeared to be falling out of contention. But they have won both games since Baron's return, including an 18 point laugher AT Detroit. Given that none of the other West teams appear serious about making a run, the Warriors' hopes are very much alive. Especially when you consider that Baron and Jason Richardson appear to be healthy at the same time for the first time in 2007. In other words, THIS Warriors team (Baron, Richardson, Biedrins, Jackson and Harrington) is undefeated.
The last time the Clippers played the Warriors, Chris Kaman was recovering from the flu, and Elton Brand played center. All he did was respond with 31 points, 12 boards and 8 blocks, tying his career high. His 4 fourth quarter blocks were the difference in the game. As effective as that unit was, I'd love to see it start this game: Brand, Maggette, Ross (guarding Baron), Mobley and Cassell (Hart? Ewing?). If MDsr decides to go with Kaman, it will be interesting to see who gets the call on the wings. Maggette has started every game since the All Star break and played well; Ross is the best defensive option on Baron (his two steals and inadvertent elbow provoked a swing from Davis in January); and Mobley = Blanket. So who sits? Of course that Warriors game was also the last time the Clippers had Shaun Livingston, and all he did was dish out a career-high 14 assists. Livingston is a particularly tough matchup for the Dubs - he will be missed tonight.
Cassell actually practiced on Thursday, so he will undoubtedly play tonight. (Let's face it, at 37 you're looking for any excuse not to practice. If he felt good enough to practice, he'll play.) I doubt Cassell will start - it will probably be Jason Hart getting the start over Ewing; who's had three practice days in a row now, which brings his total number of practices with the team to three.
Maggette had one of his best all-around games of the season in the last Warriors game. With Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington both most dangerous with the ball in their hands, it's the kind of game where Maggette's on ball defense helps and his off-ball defense probably won't be exploited too badly. Corey had some huge individual stops against both Jackson and Harrington in the last game.
The Warriors are a very good offensive team, especially with Baron back. If the Clippers can continue their recent strong defense, they should be able to win this one. They will definitely need Brand to return to form on the offensive end, and the presence of Cassell should help there as well (we'll see how many minutes he can play). Ross' defense on Baron (he won the January game with his defense just as Brand won the February game) will also be a key. Of course Ross left the Spurs game with a hip pointer, so if he's unable to play tonight it will be a major blow to the Clippers' chances.
And of course, there is the game within the game: the ClipsNation rivalry with Golden State of Mind. A bit one-sided at this point of course. GSOM is what ClipsNation wants to be when it grows up. But head over there and see what Atma Brother One and Fantasy Junkie et al have to say about our mighty Clippers and the Warriors. It's always good stuff. I like those guys partly because they understand how good Corey Maggette is. Atma's game preview is here.