|Energy Solutions Arena|
|Jan. 18, 2008 - 6:00 PM|
|Sam Cassell||PG||Deron Williams|
|Quinton Ross||SG||Ronnie Brewer|
|Corey Maggette||SF||Andrei Kirilenko|
|Tim Thomas||PF||Carlos Boozer|
|Chris Kaman||C||Mehmut Okur|
How can a team that has lost 10 of their last 12 be hot? Well, with a win last time out over the 27 win Suns following a shoulda win over the 26 win Mavs, the Clippers are playing better than they have since the first week of the season. In fact, they have not won back to back games since opening the season 4-0. If Sam Cassell can play anything like he did against Phoenix and Tim Thomas continues his current solid play, suddenly the previously punchless LA offense looks a lot better. Unfortunately, at Utah is another tough assignment - for a couple of reasons. Not only are the Jazz 16-3 at home this season - they also happen to have won 34 of the last 35 games against the Clippers in Salt Lake City. That's one Clipper win since early in the Bush administration - the George H.W. Bush administration. For what it's worth, the Clippers won in Sacramento at the end of last season and in their first meeting this year after losing a billion in a row there - maybe they can reverse this Utah trend as well.
The Clippers were the party crashers in the Western Conference playoffs in 2006, joining the Mavs and Suns and Spurs - they missed the playoffs the next year. Last season it was the Jazz playing with the big boys, and they made it all the way to the Conference Finals. But if the season ended today, the Jazz would be out of the playoffs. As I mentioned above, the Jazz are 16-3 at home, which ties them for fewest home losses in the NBA. But they're a miserable 6-15 on the road. Of course that doesn't help the Clippers tonight (hopefully it helps Monday afternoon at Staples Center). Astoundingly, after what seemed like 40 years of Stockton and Malone, the Jazz now have Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer running the pick and roll - it's deja vu all over again. Here's the weird thing about their poor showing thus far - going into the season, it looked like they had some great pieces, but they didn't have a decent shooting guard and they didn't have much depth. Well, Ronnie Brewer has started every game at the two and has done better than anyone imagined (12.3 points per game, almost 54% from the field, a PER over 18 - wow), and the recent addition of Kyle Korver gives them three solid guys (along with Millsap and Harpring) coming off the bench. So why are they in third place in the Northwest Division?
- The Talented Young Point Guard from Illinois and the All Star Power Forward from Duke. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer will be on the court. Shaun Livingston and Elton Brand will be on the sidelines. No real point here. It's just interesting that Utah's two best players are doppelgangers with the Clippers injured duo. I'm giving the edge to Williams and Boozer in this matchup.
- Dr. Cassell and Mr. Sam. Sam Cassell was 1 for 8 against New Orleans; he was 1 for 11 against the Spurs; and he was 15 for 21 against the Suns. Obviously he can still play. He's looked fine physically since he's been back from his calf injury. But nothing went in the bucket for 3 games, and then everything went in against the Suns. Interestingly, if you combine his 1 for 11 and his 15 for 21, you get an even 16 for 32, 50%. You can't make this stuff up! I'm going out on a limb and saying that if Cassell makes one or fewer field goals in this game, the Clippers will lose. By the way, today's LA Times and OC Register both have stories about the Clippers fielding calls inquiring about Cassell's availability. I'd be shocked if he finished this season in LA.
- Another Jekyll-Hyde Analogy. As inconsistent as Sam has been since returning from his injury, the Clippers were even less predictable against the Jazz last season. After losing the first three meetings by 22, 19 and 10 (giving up an average of 106 points per game), they held the Jazz to 72 points in the final meeting of the season. And won by 32. In a game that was not as close as the final score might indicate. Obviously it won't be easy without EB (nothing is), but the Clippers should try to figure out what they did in that last game and do it again.
- My New Nickname for Chris Kaman. I never liked the Kaveman moniker. It doesn't work for him; it reflects his name, but not his game. In fact, his tendency to be soft around the basket makes me WISH he would behave more like the stereotypical Neanderthal (not the Geico kind). So I'm going to start calling him K2, an abbreviation of Kaman 2.0, as well as a reference to the second highest mountain in the world, the Himalayan peak K2 (maybe Yao is Everest in this analogy). K2 did not have his strongest outing against Phoenix, nursing a sore ankle and missing 11 of his 14 shots. Mehmut Okur is not the strongest defensive center in the league - I'm expecting a big game from K2.
- Memo to Self. Speaking of Okur, if you wanted to point a finger at a single player to explain Utah's relative drop off, it would have to be Memo. Maybe you subscribe to the 'Derek Fisher is just a winner' school of thought, and I'll admit his loss has hurt some while he has helped the Lakers. But Brewer's performance would seem to more than offset that loss. Meanwhile, Williams has been great, and Boozer is once again a 20-10 guy, one of four in the league. And Kirilenko, who was unhappy in the off-season and everyone thought would be the problem child, has actually played better this year than last (though he's still not the player he once was). But Okur has followed up his all star season of 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 46% shooting with 12.8, 5.6 and 41%. It will be interesting to see how MDsr decides to matchup on defense against the Utah bigs. Okur likes to take his man away from the basket, while Boozer does his damage in the post. I'd put Thomas on Okur and K2 on Boozer.
- Beyond the Arc. If you're a big fan of the long ball, this is NOT you're game. Utah is dead last in the league in threes attempted per game and the Clippers are 25th. And while the Clippers have been bad on the season, they've been ridiculously bad in the last month. Tim Thomas, theoretically the Clippers best shooter, is 1 for 10 in 2008, and 5 for his last 33. That ain't good. Utah, on the other hand, should have gotten better in late December with the addition of Kyle Korver. (It should also be noted that Tim Thomas has been a monster the last three games by taking the ball to the basket rather than settling for the three.)