|October 29, 2008 - 7:30 PM|
|TV: ESPN, KTLA
|Al Thornton||SF||Vladimir Radmanovic|
The Big Picture:
The Clippers open their 2008-2009 season exactly where they closed their home slate last April - against the 'visiting' Lakers in Staples Center. Now, the whole Clippers-Lakers thing is a different dynamic than anywhere else in the league, given that they share a building. But the Clippers actually switched 'Fan Appreciation Night' last season so that it wouldn't occur against the Lakers because they weren't so very appreciative of all those Lakers' fans who snap up tickets. It's no fun feeling like the visiting team when your logo is on the floor, but that's life in LA. By the way, the Trailblazers found out last night how it feels to be a non-playoff team, hoping to make the step forward this season, and to run into the Lakers on Opening Night.
But this is a special home opener for the Clippers. The roster has been completely revamped, and most importantly it's Baron Davis' debut as a home town NBA player. His grandma will be in attendance, the game's on national TV, and he's playing against the Lakers. I think he'll be sky high, and I hope the rest of the roster follows his lead. It looks like Baron (finger) and Tim Thomas (groin) will each play for the first time since the first pre-season game back in early October, but we'll probably have to wait a little longer to see Marcus Camby's (bruised heel) Clipper debut.
The Lakers looked very good last night against the Blazers. They opened up an early lead, cruised to a 20 point win, and looked impressive the whole way in doing so. In stark contrast to the Clippers, the Lakers' roster is virtually unchanged from the end of last season. Except that they're a lot healthier than the team that ripped through the Western Conference on their way to the NBA Finals. Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum are back on the court; Ronny Turiaf is the only subtraction who played more than 8 minutes per game last season. The team is so deep that Lamar Odom, Kobe's erstwhile second-banana, is starting the season as the Sixth Man. Citizen Zhiv will watch that situation closely for us, looking for Maggette 06 parallels. It's still Kobe's team of course, and he went for 21/11/5 last night. But Bynum and Pau Gasol may form the best all-around front court in the league, and the Lakers surround those guys with shooters. If this team can commit to playing defense, they will be tough for anybody to beat.
- The Baron Davis era begins! Make no mistake, this is big. The Clippers have never had an elite point guard. And certainly not one with the star power of Baron Davis. A spectacular showing on National TV, even in a loss, could create a lot of buzz. Of course, a flameout could create buzz as well - just ask Greg Oden. Baron will be playing for the first time since injuring the ring finger on his left (non shooting) hand. The finger will be taped, but is likely to be painful. Every Derek Fisher slap will be an anxious moment for Clipper fans.
- Don't forget your name tag. The Clippers are still getting to know each other. Baron has logged 18 minutes of game time with his new teammates. He's never played a game with rookie Eric Gordon, who sat out the one game that Baron played. The adrenaline will be pumping and there should be no shortage of energy out there (hopefully). But the possibility is pretty strong for a no look bullet pass from Baron to wind up flying past an unsuspecting teammate. If you have courtside seats, keep your hands up.
- Matchups. So many questions. Matchups are always interesting, but with the Clippers extreme makeover, it's a real mystery. Cat starts out guarding Kobe, that much is clear. But can MDsr trust anyone else on the guy? Ricky Davis? Eric Gordon? Does Baron take a turn? Down low, without Camby, Tim Thomas will have his hands full with Gasol. But what are the other options? Look for Brian Skinner to get a bunch of minutes because of defense. Davis3 is outclassed, and DeAndre Jordan is a rookie. This is a bad one for Camby to miss from that standpoint.
- Al Thornton. After Baron against Fisher (and don't forget how well Fish played him in the 2007 playoffs when his return to the Jazz lineup basically turned the series around), Thornton versus Vlad is the Clippers other 'go to' matchup. Al's got all the tools - he's got the first step, the range, the assorted moves, the motor. The Clippers need him to have a big game tonight, and he's fully capable of doing so.
- Dr. 2.0 and Mr. Flippy. Chris Kaman meandered through an uninspiring pre-season a year ago, and then went for 26 and 18 in the season opener, and on that day Kaman 2.0 was born. Yet Mr. Flippy, the guy who skips through the lane, dribbles incessantly, and flips those oh-so-cute left handed scoop shots towards the rim, remains with us, and was spotted several times this pre-season. I floated the theory a couple weeks ago that Chris just doesn't respond well to pre-season - that he needs the extra focus that comes with a 'real' game. That's what happened last year, but the Warriors front line is a little different than the one he'll see tonight. With Camby out, and facing Bynum and Gasol, this will be a big challenge, with or without focus. As the Clippers ONLY low post big, he has to have a good game. If he doesn't, you can forget about winning this one.
- Rookie debuts. The Clippers have three promising rookies who figure to play in their first NBA game tonight. Gordon, Jordan and Mike Taylor all showed great promise in the pre-season. Gordon is likely to make appearances in the regular rotation, however brief, from the beginning. Jordan and Taylor may not get on the court before garbage time - but that could still be 12 minutes or so, unfortunately.
- October 9, 2008. That's the day the Clippers beat the Lakers by 27 in Fresno in the first pre-season game. Good times. Of course, it was only a pre-season game, and if anything it will motivate the Lakers to come out and play hard. But still, it was fun.