|Jan. 21, 2008 - 12:30 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|
Here we go again. The Clippers and Jazz meet for the second time in 4 days in a Martin Luther King Jr Day Matinee. The Clippers have won two of three and played well in 5 of their last 6. That's the good news. The bad news is that the 6th one was a blow out loss to the Jazz. Of course last season, the Clippers suffered multiple embarrassing losses to the Jazz, and then turned the tables in their most impressive win of the season in their final meeting. So it's hard to gauge this game. Utah has looked unbeatable in 4 of the last 5 meetings with the Clippers - and just awful in the other one. Sam Cassell is back into a great groove scoring the ball (23 per game in his last three); Corey Maggette has been sharp (22 per game and 55% shooting in January); Tim Thomas and Cat Mobley have played well at times; Chris Kaman remains a force on defense, and an automatic double team on offense; and Al Thornton is coming into his own, having had the best game of his career against New Jersey Saturday night. The Generic Clippers are playing about as well as they can. Aside from that game in Utah, that is.
There's a pretty distinct home court advantage in the NBA. Much more significant than in baseball or football. But this is ridiculous. The Jazz are 17-3 (+14) in Utah, 6-15 (-9) out of the Beehive State. That 23 game swing is the biggest in the NBA, even bigger than the also schizophrenic Blazers (+14 and -6). It makes some sense that Utah would have a pronounced home court advantage - Salt Lake City is at over 4,200 feet elevation, second only to Denver among NBA cities. But Utah was a respectable 20-21 on the road last season. There's really no excuse for 6-15 for a team this talented. Still, let's hope that the problem stays with them. It's shown no signs of letting up - their last road win was exactly one month ago, Dec. 21. And that was their only road win since November. They have 1 win in their last 12 road games. Of course, many a team has broekn a losing streak against the Clippers in Staples this season.
- More on the Home Court Advantage. There's something strange going on in the Northwest Division. Utah, Denver and Portland all have outstanding home records and losing road records. San Antonio and Sacramento are the only other teams in the Western Conference with a winning home record and a losing road record. The Jazz, Nuggets and Blazers all have terrific overall records and have great shots at making the playoffs. But if they don't win a few more road games, they're unlikely to get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. And without that, they can't win a playoff series. Not the way these guys play on the road.
- Al Thornton, Go To Guy. The Clipper rookie scored 22 points in 26 minutes Saturday night against the Nets and was the main source of offense in the crucial fourth quarter. Maybe it doesn't make sense to go small at the four against the Jazz, but it's not like anything was working the other day, so what do the Clippers have to lose? At any rate, I'd like to see Al start getting a few more minutes.
- Utah's Hot Shooting. The Jazz shoot just under 49% from the field, second best in the NBA, less than one tenth of a percent behind Phoenix. The Clippers shoot just under 43%, second worst in the NBA. Still, Utah's shooting on Friday night was crazy. They finished at 52% after cooling off considerably. All five starters shot at least 55%. And they started the game seemingly without a miss. Carlos Boozer was 6 for 7, and even jump shots from the likes of Jason Hart and Jarron Collins were going down in the first quarter. The Clippers have to (a) play better defense and (b) hope they miss some shots if they hope to win this game.
- Long Odds. Speaking of Jarron Collins, this makes the third straight game that the Clippers will face one of the Collins twins. Am I the only one that finds it totally bizarre that there's another set of 7 foot twins at Stanford right now? I mean, how many sets of 7 foot twins are there? And how many of them are good enough to play major college basketball? And how many are good enough to play in the NBA? And how many have the grades to get into Stanford (even for an athlete)? I can only think of three sets of twins in NBA history, and the Van Arsdales were only 6'5", while the Grants didn't go to the same college. Which means that if Brook and Robin Lopez both make it to the NBA (and it looks like they will), they'll be the only other set of twin centers from the same school to play in the NBA; and the school is always Stanford. I just find that really bizarre. Maybe it's just me.
- K2 Blocks Everything. Since I bestowed a new sobriquet on Chris Kaman, he's averaging 6 blocked shots a game. K2 was 7 for 9 against Utah on Friday, but it was a struggle getting him the ball. He needs more than 9 shots today, but he also needs to shoot better than the 5 for 16 we saw Saturday night against New Jersey. Still, as long as he's rebounding and blocking shots (third in the NBA in each category), K2 is earning his nickname.
- AK47 Can Make a Pass. I'm not talking about the once a year deal he has with his wife. There was a time when I considered Andrei Kirilenko one of the elite players in the NBA. A game changing defender, he combined the on ball abilities of Ron Artest with the shot blocking of Marcus Camby. And although he was never a great scorer, he had enough offensive skills to be effective. In particular, he was always a great passer for a player his size. He's had a couple of down seasons lately, but he displayed his passing ability on Friday. He's averaging 5 assists on the season - no player his size gets more. What a luxury to have a player 6'10" (with those crazy long arms) who has such a feel for passing. The Jazz got several easy buckets on inbounds lobs where AK47 simply looked over his defender and put the ball precisely where it needed to be.