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Clippers vs. Magic - Game Preview and Open Thread

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LA Clippers logo
vs.
Spurs logo
10-21 22-14
Staples Center
Jan. 9, 2008 - 7:30 PM
Probable starters:
Sam Cassell PG Carlos Arroyo
Quinton Ross SG Keith Bogans
Corey Maggette SF Hedo Turkoglu
Al Thornton PF Rashard Lewis
Chris Kaman C Dwight Howard
The Big Picture:

I probably shouldn't say it, but when you look at the Murderer's Row of Division leaders and 22 win teams the Clippers have been playing (we're on opponent 7 in a string of 9 out of 10 games), this is the one you think, hey, we can win that one.  Why?  Well, it's probably just Western Conference bias.  Not to mention a since of history.  The Mavs, Suns and Spurs have been great for years - the Magic had a losing record last season.  But it goes beyond that.  Despite the 16-4 start, one always had the feeling that the Magic were overachieving.   Indeed, they have since gone 6-10.  Add in the fact that the generic Clippers are as healthy as they have been since game 3 of the season, and I have a very good feeling about this game.  The Clippers played well enough to have beaten a lesser team than the Spurs Sunday.  The Magic are a lesser team than the Spurs.

The Antagonist:

OK, so why all the Magic bashing?  No reason really.  When they were 16-4, without looking under the hood, I assumed that several things had happened.  (1) Dwight Howard had arrived.  (2) The Rashard Lewis signing had paid off big time.  (3) Jameer Nelson was playing well.  It turns out, that only one of those three things is true.  Dwight Howard is playing like the monster he is.  But other than Hedo Turkoglu, no one else on the Magic is having a particularly good season.  Lewis is who he is - a one-dimensional player (albeit one who has destroyed the Clippers in recent years).  Meanwhile, Jameer Nelson has been benched in recent games.  Hence 10 losses in the last 16 games (I can't really explain the 16-4 start).  In fact, in their last 9 games they are 4 and 5, but the four wins came against New York, Miami, Charlotte and Chicago - literally the 4 worst teams in the Eastern conference.  They have one win against a team with a winning record in their last 16 games - which is one more than the Clippers have, but still.  Their first forward off the bench is Mo Evans.  Their backup center is Adonal Foyle.  Dwight Howard is shooting almost 61%, but no other shooter is better than 46% (most are much worse).  Dwight Howard is averaging 15 rebounds per game, but the starting forwards combine for just over 11 (almost identical to the Clippers' situation.)  This team is beatable.

The Subplots

  • Dwight Howard is a liar.  I'm told that he's a good Christian boy, but Dwight Howard apparently lied about being able to touch the top of the backboard.  According to this fascinating book excerpt from TrueHoop today, Dwight Howard says he can touch the top of the backboard, but no one's ever seen him do it, despite all the tricky videos of him kissing the rim and what-not.  Everyone always says his 'sticker dunk' score from last year's dunk contest was too low, and I agree, but you can understand why it happened.  When Dwight's been telling everyone how he can touch the top of the backboard, what's with a sticker 9 inches below?  He may have overpromised a tad on that one.  (Seriously, this guy is a complete freak of an athlete, top of the backboard or not.  He's such a good athlete, that it doesn't much matter that he's still not that great a basketball player.  He just dunks on people because he's so much stronger and bigger than they are.)
  • Kaman vs. Howard.  Ready or not, here he is.  And Kaman knows it.  For all of his quirkiness, Chris Kaman is one of the more self-aware guys in the NBA.  He knows his numbers, and he knows Howard's numbers, and he knows that people will watch this matchup tonight.  Statistically speaking, there are really only four centers worth talking about in the NBA - Howard, Stoudemire, Yao and Kaman.  If you consider that Stoudemire is really more of a power forward, that leaves three traditional, back to the basket centers.  If you want some combination of scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, these are your guys.  Howard averages 22.6, 15.2 and 2.6;  Yao is at 21.6, 10.5 and 2.3; and Kaman is at 18.1, 14 and 2.9.  That's some pretty impressive company.  Chris has had trouble handling big challenges in the past.  How he fares in this one will go a long way toward determining the Clippers' chances.
  • Lots of Practice Time.  While the schedule has been brutal in terms of the opposition, it's been strangely kind in terms of the pace of games.  In four weeks from Dec. 22nd until next Friday, Jan. 18th, the Clippers play 10 games, essentially playing 1 game every three days.  Indeed, they've had two days off since the Spurs game Sunday, and they get 2 days off for each of the next 3 after this one as well.  Big deal you say.  Well, to put this in some perspective, look at it this way.  During the season, if the team has back to back games, there's no time for anything more than some game film and a shootaround.  If they have one day between games, they can have a full practice, but with aging players and injuries, most teams will keep it pretty light and basic.  It's these times with at least two days between practice that coaches can introduce new wrinkles and push their teams to improve.  Between Dec. 22 and Jan. 18, the Clippers have a total of 7 such lulls.  After that, not counting the All Star Break, they don't have another one until March 23.  So if it seems like the Clippers haven't been playing much lately, you're right, but it's going to change in about a week.
  • Will Thornton Remain the Starting 4?  Now that Tim Thomas is back, it remains to be seen if MDsr will leave Al Thornton in the starting lineup.  He was still there against the Spurs, but of course that was Thomas' first game back.  I think you know how I feel on the subject.  As it happens, the Magic essentially start two small forwards in Lewis and Turkoglu, so there's no reason not to start Al tonight.
  • The Guillermo Diaz Era Begins - Tonight could mark the NBA debut of the Clippers 2007 second round pick, Guillermo Diaz.  For what it's worth, he could actually square off against his countryman Carlos Arroyo.  By my count, Arroyo, Diaz and Juan Jose Barea are the only three Puerto Rican players currently in the NBA.  See, it's these little things that keep you coming back to ClipsNation.
  • Bringing the Subplot Full Circle - Diaz is athletic.  How athletic?  Well, in a follow-up to the 'top of the backboard' story referenced above, TrueHoop says that "[David] Thorpe saw Diaz get his hand within a couple of inches of the top of the backboard when Diaz was not in peak shape."  Holy crap.  Given that Diaz is 6'2", that would make him the greatest leaper in the NBA.