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Clippers at Chicago - Game Preview and Open Thread

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
United Center
December 17th, 2008, 5:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Derrick Rose
Eric Gordon SG Ben Gordon
Al Thornton SF Luol Deng
Zach Randolph PF Drew Gooden
Marcus Camby C Aaron Gray

The Big Picture:

The Clippers head into Chicago riding a three game winning streak and winners of four of the last five. In fact, going back over the 10 games they played with Zach Randolph, they are 5 and 5 with wins over Portland and Houston, and near misses against some of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, the Nuggets, Mavericks and Magic. And that's without Chris Kaman and Ricky Davis. In short, there's reason to suspect that the Clippers are a pretty good team right now. Their starting five has been playing really well lately. All five have been in double figures for all three games in the winning streak. And guys like Camby and Gordon and Baron give you a lot more than scoring as well. The bench is problematic - they cost the team the lead in the first half in Oklahoma, and if they don't step up they're going to cost the team a win or two on this road trip. But if they can provide some hustle and some defense, the starters should be able to handle the scoring.

The Antagonist:

Every time you think the Bulls are going to be really good, they surprise you by sucking again. OK, they don't completely suck. But remember when people were predicting that the Bulls would win the NBA title after they signed Ben Wallace? How'd that work out? This time they lucked into the number 1 overall pick, and used it on Derrick Rose. Rose has not disappointed - he's averaging over 18 points and 6 assists per game. Although he struggled mightily last night in Charlotte shooting just 3 for 16, on the season he's shooting 48% from the field - an unusually high number for a rookie or for a point guard - ridiculous for a rookie point guard. There's lots of young talent on this roster - they have 5 top 10 draft picks from the last 5 drafts (Rose #1 2008, Joakim Noah #10 2007, Tyrus Thomas #4 2006, Luol Deng #7 2004 and Ben Gordon #3 2004) - but Noah and Thomas have yet to show any consistency, and the team continues to lack any sort of low post threat. And no, Aaron Gray is not the answer. Rose's ability to penetrate makes them less dependent on jump shots than they have been in the past, but they're still going to live and die with their shooting.

The Subplots

  • Who's Tired? Both teams played last night and then traveled to the second (really third, but whatever) city. The Bulls went to OT in their loss in Charlotte, and the Clippers of course won in Oklahoma City. Two Clippers starters played 38 minutes, and two played 41 minutes. The Bulls backcourt played huge minutes - 47 for Rose, 49 for Gordon. For what it's worth, the Bulls game ended a little earlier, and the trip from Charlotte is a little shorter (568 miles versus 693 miles). OKC to Chicago is not an easy trip for a back-to-back.
  • Wacky NBA Schedule Makers. Speaking of the back-to-back, the Clippers schedule has been particularly strange this season, don't you think? First there were all of the tough teams in the first month. And while the Clippers haven't played very many back-to-backs so far, the real bane of an NBA team is the "4 cities in 5 nights" trip. It doesn't happen very often, but the Clippers are on their second such trip in three weeks. And these whirlwind periods are juxtaposed with periods of complete inactivity; they had three days off last week, and they have five days off next week. FIVE DAYS OFF?! What is that? I don't think I've ever heard of such a thing. We couldn't have put some of those rest days between all these back to backs? Remember to bench any Clippers on your fantasy team next week.
  • Me likey the matchups. The Clippers starters hold their own at every position against the Bulls. Rose versus Baron is going to be interesting - the rookie versus the vet. It could go either way, but I like Baron's experience here. Gordon versus Gordon (see below) is very interesting, and while you can give Ben the veteran edge, EJ is the better defender and I think he can shut Ben down (or rather he would, except that MDsr is giong to stick EJ on fellow rookie Rose). Deng versus Thornton is a nice battle - Deng was well on his way to an All Star career two seasons ago, but has taken a couple of steps backwards. I think you have to give the edge to Al here at this point. And the bigs are no contest. Zach is on a tear. Meanwhile, Camby will get to roam all he wants looking for blocks against the limited scoring of the Chicago bigs. Camby's presence could really limit Rose's effectiveness getting into the lane, although shockingly Marcus had zero blocked shots in Oklahoma City last night.
    Gordon versus Gordon. Since before the 2008 draft, and continuing into his rookie season, Clipper Eric Gordon is compared to Ben Gordon more than any other NBA player. Frankly, I think the comparison is a tad facile. They have the same last name, I get that. And they can both shoot. It would be great if EJ turned into as prolific a scorer as his namesake, which I think he will. But EJ is going to be a much more complete player. The other thing the pundits say is that they're both undersized 2 guards. This is where it starts to break down for me. While both players are listed at 6'3", take a close look when they're next to each other tonight. And height aside, EJ is just built differently - he's not an undersized shooting guard in any regard other than where is head ends when he's standing flat footed. His arms are long, he jumps out of the building... it's just not a problem. Ben on the other hand is a major defensive liability; partly because of his size, but mostly because he is just not a good defender.
  • Former Clippers, Now Coaches. Last night it was Scott Brooks, who spent the lockout shortened 1999 season on the Clippers bench. Tonight it's Vinny Del Negro, who, like Brooks, never actually played a game for the Clippers. There's Doc Rivers in Boston. Bob McAdoo is an assistant in Miami. Any others you can think of?
  • More Vinny Del Negro Trivia. What was the significance of the trade that brought Vinny Del Negro to the Clippers at the end of his pro career?
    Superstar for one game. Tough one. Tyrus Thomas? His got season high of 22 last night. His career high is 26. His athleticism could give Zach Randolph some trouble.
    Get the Bulls perspective at Blog-a-Bull.