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Catching up (just a little)

Hi.  I'm Troy McClure ClipperSteve.  You may remember me from such blogs as clippernation.blogspot.com and www.clipsnation.com.

As you may also remember, I left for a holiday trip with the family a couple of Sundays ago.  After 3 days in Roseville with the ClipperWidow's family and another 4 days in Tahoe with my family, we returned to the LBC last Monday.  And I immediately fell ill with the worst cold I've had in a very, very long time.  My planned trip to Death Valley for three days of canyoneering was necessarily canceled.  Turns out, in addition to me being sick, the storm arriving in southern California will be bringing rain and snow (at the higher elevations) to Death Valley, so we would have ended up canceling the trip anyway.  As inhospitable as Death Valley is in the heat, it's more dangerous to be there in deep canyons in the rain.  They don't call it Death Valley for nuthin'.

So I've been here with plenty of access and plenty of time for several days.  But I've been asleep most of the time.  

A little like the Clippers.

Before I forget, a big thank you goes out to citizens mp, supac and John R for their solid work on recaps for the two Suns games and the Wolves' game.  I enjoyed them very much - and they all gave me a much better feel for what happened than the little I could get from national coverage (like for instance, a final score).  Too bad Maggette couldn't make a shot in Phoenix, as it seems like that was a winnable game.

Since I'm back and not going to Death Valley, I can take on the Spurs game myself.  Of course, if citizen Lawler's Law absolutely had his heart set on writing a recap, then go for it.  ClipsNation is a democracy, not a dictatorship.  ClipperSteve just has a lot more time on his hands than most of the other citizens.

Extemporaneously, there are some thoughts I have at this time after spending such a long time away from the keyboard.

In today's LA Times, Jonathan Abrams gives us the 'what might have been' piece, almost obligatory at this juncture, two months in and 4 days off between games.  It's only human nature to wonder about the difference between the team that opened 4-0 and the team that is 6-20 since that time.  More than one quote puts the blame on an absence of teamwork:

"The first four games, we played hard, played together. I think the games after that we tried to take it on ourselves more individually to try and win. It didn't work out the way we wanted to, coupled with the injuries that we've had," said point guard Brevin Knight.  Said [Chris] Kaman: "We don't play together anymore. The first four games, we were really moving the ball, executing properly, and it was more of a team effort than what it's been now. It's kind of more of a one-on-one effort now and our one-on-one isn't very good. We need to get back to the team stuff and the execution."

All due respect to Brevin and Chris, but bullshit.  It's simply not true.  The simple fact is, they started 4-0 against three teams struggling horribly to begin the season (the Sonics opened a league worst 0-8, the Warriors opened 0-6, and the Bulls opened 2-10, with one of the wins being over the Clippers).  And in those wins, they played one-on-one basketball in every single crucial possession.  Here's what I said in my recap after the win over the Warriors in the first game of the season:

With the Clippers clinging to a one point lead after giving up 8 straight in 2 minutes, Cat [Mobley] sank really tough shots on consecutive trips in the final 90 seconds to put the Clippers back in control.  On the second shot, Cat got the defensive rebound, dribbled up court, backed Baron Davis down, and put in the bank shot.  It wasn't what you would call great basketball, but clearly Cat was planning on winning that game.  You gotta like the attitude.

So let's not re-write history here, Chris.  In game one of the season, on a crucial possession, Cat Mobley was the ONLY player who touched the ball.  That's what I would call one-on-one basketball at best - it's arguably closer to one-on-five basketball.  He happened to make the shot, and the Clippers happened to win the game, but it had nothing to do with 'team stuff'.  Similarly, great individual efforts from Cat in Chicago and Sam Cassell in Indianapolis resulted in wins.  As for Seattle, well, that's a game even the Generic Clippers are supposed to win, like a home game against Minnesota.  

So what is the difference between early November and now, if any?  Well, I'd argue there isn't a big difference.  But as we've said, the margin of error for the Generic Clippers is non-existent.  And injuries have hit the team hard, above and beyond the absences of Brand and Livingston, no matter how you look at it.  Ignoring lesser players like Ruben Patterson, Paul Davis, Aaron Williams and Al Thornton (who all suffered injuries which have become significant simply as regards team depth) and of course ignoring Brand and Livingston, the Clippers have played 4 games this season where their top 5 players have been available (the first three games and the game against the Knicks).  They are 4-0 in those 4 games.  

By the way, you'd be right to ask how I'm defining 'top 5 players.'  Well, almost any way you'd like.  Certainly their top 5 players in terms of salary.  Also their top 5 scorers.  The fact is the Clippers haven't played a full game with Cassell, Maggette, Mobley, Thomas and Kaman healthy since Nov 14... really since Nov. 6, given that Mobley was hardly healthy against the Knicks.  Is it an excuse?  Well, yeah, that and a fact.

In the second Warriors game, they started with everybody, but clearly Mobley was far from 100% at that point, and both Maggette and Thornton suffered injuries in the course of the game.  And they've been missing either Cassell or Maggette or Thomas or a combination of those guys and other injured players IN EVERY SINGLE GAME SINCE.  If you accept the premise that the Generic Clippers have no margin of error, then the story isn't 'why are the Clippers 6-20 in their last 26 games' but rather 'how the hell have these guys managed to win 6 games'?

That is not to say that it doesn't feel different.  Confidence is a funny thing, and winning breeds winning.  I would argue that the 11/21 win against Denver, while the team was 5-4, playing with some confidence but without Maggette and mostly without Cassell, would not be possible now for the 10-20 Clippers.  It's also true that the early offense opportunities that the team sought back in November (opportunities which porous defenses for the Warriors, Sonics, Pacers, Knicks, etc were happy to provide) have dried up, partly because the injury-depleted roster has stopped looking for them.  When you don't have a backup center or a backup power forward, you tend not to run as much.  It's no coincidence that the comeback against Minnesota was spearheaded by steals and fast break points, or that the team looked almost competitive against the Hornets when Maggette and Thornton were filling lanes.  

But the simple fact is, the Clippers have beaten only one team over .500 this season (the inexplicable Nuggets win).  And that's about right, given the situation.  It would have been nice to see if they could have hung around with a healthy Generic roster - there was that squishy soft stretch of games - but the point is moot.  

Note also that in this season of the supposedly resurgent East, the Clippers, despite all their issues, would be a mere 4 games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff race, but are already 7.5 games out in the West.  In a way, I'm glad that New Orleans and Portland are tearing it up - it makes it a little easier to accept that the playoffs were not ever a possibility this season if the 8th place team in the West is playing .575 ball.

Extemporaneous indeed.  

I'm just rambling at this point.  Of course, it's a Friday afternoon, which means that no one is going to read this anyway.  Oh well.  Maybe I'll repost it on Monday and see if anyone is interested.