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Clippers vs. Orlando - Game Preview and Open Thread

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2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Lac1_70_medium

vs.
Orl_70_medium

4-16
15-5
Staples Center
December 8th, 2008, 7:30 PM
FSN West
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Jameer Nelson
Eric Gordon SG J.J. Redick
Al Thornton SF Hedo Turkoglu
Zach Randolph PF Rashard Lewis
Marcus Camby C Dwight Howard

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are coming off their most lopsided win of the season Saturday night in Minneapolis. I won't say most impressive - nothing very impressive about beating the T-Wolves. But the team did play well. Marcus Camby led an assault on the glass with 19 of the Clippers' 54 rebounds and Baron Davis and Zach Randolph led the offense with 27 and 21 respectively. Randolph has scored at least 21 in every game he's started for the Clippers, and is shooting 56% from the field in those five games. Unfortunately, the Clippers bench is very thin with Chris Kaman and Ricky Davis currently out, and they got very little productivity from the reserves on the recent 1-3 road trip. The starters almost have to play big minutes and play well for the team to have much of a chance against quality opponents. It's a brief trip home for the Clippers, but they don't have to conserve their energy. They don't play against until Friday in Portland.

The Antagonist:

Orlando is 15-5 after starting the season with consecutive losses. They have the fourth best record in the NBA - and that's with Boston, the Lakers and Cleveland in a class by themselves right now. Dwight Howard, who had an MVP type season last year, is scoring more and rebounding more this season. The bad news is his shooting percentage has dropped... all the way down to 58%. The most amazing stat about Howard is that he's blocking essentially twice as many shots per game as he did last season, which was his preview career best. He's gone from 2 blocks a game to 4 blocks a game. That's unheard of. It's a good thing Howard is playing so well, because starting forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are not - they've both way below their career numbers in shooting, both overall and from distance. Hedo is a miserable 39% overall, and Lewis is only a little better at 41%. It tells you how dominant Howard has been that this team has won 15 of 18 with their second and third leading scorers struggling. Jameer Nelson returned from a hip flexor injury on Friday, but their new addition, Mickael Pietrus, is out for several weeks with a thumb injury. Last year's starter Keith Bogans is also out, leaving Dukie J.J. Redick and rookie Courtney Lee holding down the shooting guard position for now. [UPDATE: My bad... Bogans is back early from his injury. He played 26 minutes in their last game, but he did not start.] But the way Howard is playing, it may not matter who else is on the court.

The Subplots

  • Matchup Hell. With Chris Kaman out, it's hard to imagine a worse team for the Clippers to matchup with. They need Camby and Randolph to log big minutes in order to compete, but neither one of them will be particularly effective guarding any of the Orlando bigs. Camby is too thin to check Howard, Randolph too short, and neither of them wants to hang with Lewis at the three point line. MDsr will probably use Zach's heft against Superman, which unfortunately means Camby will not be able to hang around the rim looking for blocked shots. But there's just really no good way to play this.
    Guard play. The Clippers guards, on the other hand, should have a pretty distinct physical advantage. Jameer Nelson is strong, but he's only about 5'10" (he's listed at 6'0", but that's just not true). Baron is just as strong, and has several inches on Nelson. Meanwhile J.J. Redick didn't make it to the NBA because of his athleticism - I'd like to see the Clippers go to Eric Gordon early and see if they can get him off to a fast start. He struggled on the road trip, and it would be good to get him back into the groove at home.
    Three point shooting. The Magic's offense relies heavily on three point shooting. They get the ball to Howard, spread the floor, force the double team, and kick it back out to shooters. Once again I'm surprised at their stellar record, because most of their shooters have been off this season. As a team, they're shooting 34.4% from distance, which is 20th in the league. Lewis is still shooting 36% - respectable, though well below his career mark. The other starters are all below 32%, which is not good. Of course you never know what's going to happen in any one game. The Magic made 7 threes in a quarter in a game with the Clippers last season.
    The freon cooled seat. Three coaches have already been fired. Randy Wittmann of the Wolves is probably next. (By the way, making McHale the head coach, when he's basically the one who created such a mess in Minny, seems pretty lame.) Marc Iavaroni probably saved his job, if only for another week or so, when the Griz beat the Clippers Friday. There are also rumors swirling around Mo Cheeks in Philly and Reggie Theus in Sacto. But there's one name conspicuously absent from all the hot seat talk. Why is there no talk (other than idle speculation by crazy bloggers and the crazy people who read blogs) about MDsr's job being in trouble?
  • Shot blocking 2 guard. Is anyone else blown away by Eric Gordon's ability to block shots? I mean, he gets a piece of the ball on guys shooting 20 foot jump shots. That just doesn't happen very often, but he's gotten 9 blocks in 7 games since he became the starter. The knock on him was that he was too small to play the 2 - that big guards would shoot over him. But he's so quick, with such long arms, and such a good jumper, that it's just not a problem. He is sixth in the league among 2 guards in blocked shots - behind guys like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant - and that's in limited minutes. He's 3rd in blocks per minute among 2 guards, behind DWade and Tony Allen.
  • Superstar for one Game. This one is pretty easy. You gotta go with J.J. Redick. Rashard Lewis is a notorious Clipper killer, but as a former All Star, he just doesn't qualify for the honor. Redick on the other hand is perfect. He's never gotten much burn in Orlando, but they've remained very enthusiastic about keeping him, much to his chagrin at times. He tore up summer league a couple summers ago, and can certainly shoot the ball. His career high is 18 in the final game of last season - he's a lock to go for 20 something as a starter against the Clippers given the way things have gone this season.
    Al Thornton. Al Thornton turned 25 yesterday - happy birthday Al. His rookie year was marked by wild inconsistency. He's not quite as up and down this season, but he's still not the steady performer we'd like to see. For three games last week, he averaged over 24 points and 8 rebounds per game. Then in the next two he fell off to 8.5 points and 3 rebounds. When he's attacking the rim, he's been great.
    Check out the Magic perspective at Third Quarter Collapse.