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Utah 101 - Clippers 79

In losing the first three games of the season, the Clippers have suffered through a 17-0 run in a previously close game with the Lakers, blown an 18 point second half lead on their way to an overtime loss against the Nuggets, and now given up 18-0 and 28-2  runs in a tie game against the Jazz.  The fact that Denver and Utah were each playing without members of the US Olympic Team is just salt in the wounds - missed opportunities against a steady stream of formidable early season opponents.

So where is the first 'W' going to come?  Monday against a Utah team that just beat them by 22?  Wednesday against the Lakers who beat them by 38?  Next Friday against 3-0 Houston?  And for which, if any, of these games will Baron Davis return?  Or Marcus Camby?

While the Clippers were playing the Jazz even through the first half and all the way to a 60-60 tie with 5 minutes left in the third, I had the very distinct feeling it couldn't last.  Cat Mobley was unconscious, starting the game by hitting his first 5 shots.  He finished 8 for 10 in the first half; but he went 1 for 6 in the second.  Meanwhile, Al Thornton was being shut down by a variety of Jazz defenders, and Chris Kaman has yet to make a jump hook this season.  This team can't score.  They are shooting below 39% on the season.  However, I will say this for them - they are consistent.  They've shot between 38.1% and 39.7% in all three games.  If they crack the 40% mark this week it will be a cause for celebration.

There were two good things about this game, and they both have to do with Mike Taylor.  The first is that he clearly has the ability to really help this team.  The second is that MDsr apparently recognizes that.  With Baron Davis back in LA getting treatment on his sore hip, Jason Hart got the start at point guard as we knew he would.  However, at the end of the game, Taylor had logged 33 minutes to Hart's 15, deservedly so.  MDsr even gave the kid the second half start.  It will be interesting to see who gets the nod at the beginning of Monday's game.

Taylor has some tantalizing skills.  He is incredibly fast - he must be among the fastest players in the league with the ball.  He reminds me of Leandro Barbosa in that regard.  And after so many years of watching Clipper point guards who were congenitally incapable of finishing at the rim (remember Marko Jaric?), Taylor appears to be a very good finisher.  He's no Tony Parker - not yet anyway - but he has a combination of quickness and body control that allows him to get his shot against backpedaling defenders and at least last night, he was able to make those shots.  And he appears to have good range on his jump shot.

Don't get me wrong, he's got plenty to work on.  He needs to realize that you can't play the point at top speed the entire time.  When he figures out how to use a change of pace, he'll be much better.  He continually tries things that just aren't there - a dunk that he couldn't quite finish, a bounce pass through traffic that had no chance of reaching it's desitination, an ill-advised steal attempt that left him out of position - but these are all things that we can expect him to improve on, maybe even pretty quickly.

And that is the single biggest difference between Taylor and Hart.  Hart is a 30 year old of limited abilities who came into the league 9 seasons ago.  His ceiling is Jason Hart.  What you see is what you get.  He's not going to suddenly develop a J (although one wonders if Fred Vinson shouldn't totally rework his funky mechanics); he's not going to get better at breaking down defenses as he gets further into his 30s.  Playing Mike Taylor is an investment in developing a pretty decent future point guard.  The fact that he also appears to be a better option in the present is just a bonus, and makes the decision that much easier.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the Clippers offense looks so bad - really, truly, horrifyingly bad - while other teams remain capable of running coherent sets even with missing stars.  I'm not in the camp that says 'Injuries happen and you still have to win.'  That's clearly just not realistic - if the Clippers had lost Elton Brand and Corey Maggette this summer and replaced them with Jason Hart and Brian Skinner, they would have been picked as the worst team in the NBA, and rightly so.  So they're not going to win a lot of games when Baron Davis AND Marcus Camby are both out (or when just Baron Davis is out, for that matter).  But must they look this useless?  Yes, there are a lot of new players.  But this is actually the group that practiced together and played together in preseason, since Baron and Camby were sitting out then also.  Why can Brevin Knight go to Utah and look like he fits during his second game in Utah, when he never looked comfortable in LA.  I know, I know, he needs some good players around him.  But why can he throw a timing alley-oop to Ronnie Brewer after 20 minutes of playing time with the guy, when the Clippers basically didn't connect on an alley-oop for an entire season?  It goes without saying that MDsr is a defense-first kind of coach.  But do they work on offense at all?  Or do they just do defensive slides all day every day?  Because, let's face it, it doesn't take a lot of practice time to clear out the side for Mobley and stand and watch.  Which is what the Clippers offense consisted of last night.

A few other random observations, in bullet format since I can't come up with a clever way to integrate them:

  • Ricky Davis looks terrible.  I mean, it's not just that his shot's not falling - he's 3 for 16 on the season and 1 for his last 11.  But his shot just looks awful.  Everything is short - even the one that went in last night hit the front of the rim and took a friendly bounce.  As Robbie's dad always says, "Back of the rim, good.  Front of the rim, bad."  I don't know why that's true, but it feels true, and Robbie's dad wouldn't lie.
  • We've said it before, but it bears repeating.  Cat Mobley as a fourth scoring option and Tim Thomas off the bench are valid indicators of a solid NBA team.  Cat can still score the ball, and will eat up some matchups this season.  If opponents have to key on stopping Baron and Thornton and put their weakest perimeter defender on Cat he'll be a good option most night's.  Likewise Thomas has shown his skills in the first three games.  But Thomas is a poor to very poor rebounder for a power forward, and the Clippers are getting killed on the boards, and will continue to do so as long as he's in the starting lineup and playing 30+ minutes per game.  And while Mobley might be able to carry the team from time to time (like for a half against Utah), if Baron is out and Kaman and Thornton don't step up, there are going to be a LOT of '8 minutes without a field goal' stretches this season.
  • I mentioned this above, and I don't think it's hyperbole - Chris Kaman has literally not made a jump hook in three games.  At least not that I can recall.  The theory of Kaman is terrific.  A center who has an array of moves with either hand.  The practice of Kaman too often has been a different story.  Because it doesn't matter how many moves you have if the ball doesn't go in the hoop.  In fact, it would be far better to have no moves and realize it (Andris Biedrins) than to have every move but not be able to complete plays.  If the jump hook doesn't fall, what's he got left?  He can face the basket and shoot, which he's done a couple of times.  Or he can go to the spin move.  He got one dunk on that last night.  And he also had 5 turnovers spinning into traffic.  He's averaging a double double so far, and it must be mentioned that our expectations for the guy are pretty high (perhaps unrealistically high) given how disappointed we are.  But the difference between Chris Kaman, all star, and Chris Kaman, solid rebounding center, is his shooting percentage.  He's 10 for 32 so far this season.  
  • Ronnie Brewer is turning into a great player.  He's always been a good defender.  But he appears to be able to score this season.  Both his jump shot and his post up game looked significantly improved.  Two seasons ago, the Jazz were forced to play Derek Fisher at the two for lack of a better option.  From what I can tell, Brewer will be a significant contributor for them this season, meaning that the biggest weakness in their lineup is now a strength.  When Williams gets back, this team will be very, very good.
  • What is it with the Jazz and creepy looking seven footers?  Continuing in the tradition of Mark Eaton, the Jazz brought a couple of young bigs into the game during garbage time: rookie Kosta Koufos and second year player Kyrylo Fesenko.  A day after Halloween, those guys were still pretty scary.  Of course, Koufos could take a page out of Kaman's book and just get a different haircut.