Now that, my friends, is a quality loss.
The Clippers are now 1-8 without Chris Kaman this season. And by 'without Chris Kaman' I mean of course without Chris Kaman (starting center), Elton Brand (starting power forward) and Paul Davis (backup center). And they finished this one without Tim Thomas who pulled a groin muscle late in the game.
As it happens, the only time the Clippers won without Kaman this season, Al Thornton scored 33 points and beat the Hawks single-handedly. Well, he scored 33 again, and got some help from Maggette with 28, and together they gave the Clippers a chance without their center. But in the end Denver's stars came through, which is just as well.
The Nuggets finished the game with 18 offensive rebounds and a 55-41 rebounding advantage. Sometimes they were the result of missed box outs (as when Corey just ignored Camby at 10:45 in the fourth). But more often the Nuggets just outmuscled LA for the ball. The Clippers gave away a lot in size to this team. Look at it this way - Denver's small forward (Carmelo Anthony) was bigger than the Clippers' power forward (Al Thornton) for much of the game.
Thornton was terrific. And these 33 were much quieter than the 33 against the Hawks, which is a good thing. In the Atlanta game he made unlikely shots, he got steals and fast break dunks, he just made everything he put up. This game was different - he didn't dominate the ball as much as he sometimes does. He just scored the ball and did so efficiently. He finished the game 13 for 22, but he actually missed a layup and two tips in about 2 seconds the first time he touched the ball - so he was 13 for 19 from there. And contrary to what has been his tendency, he contributed other ways as well. Against the Hawks, 33 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist. Against the Nuggets, 33 points, 12 rebounds (a career high) and 4 assists.
As for Corey Maggette, well he just concluded one of the most productive months of his career. Over 25 points per game in February, while shooting 50% from the field, 49% from three and 89% from the line. Put it this way - I know he won't get Western Conference Player of the Month, but I'm not sure he doesn't deserve it.
The first game after Cassell was waived was better at the point guard than the one before, if still somewhat troubling. Knight and Dickau combined for 15 points, 12 assists and 4 steals, which is obviously better than the 1 point, 0 for 8 suck fest against Portland. But Dickau couldn't guard anyone - unfortunately for him, he was never on the floor with Anthony Carter, which left him guarding Iverson (no chance) or JR Smith (who he actually did OK against). I assume it was the matchups, and not a change in overall strategy, that resulted in Dickau playing only 8 minutes, a season-low for him in non-Cassell games.
Knight had his best game as a Clipper - he accounted for all 12 of those point guard assists, which is his season-high, and the first time any Clipper has been in double figures in assists this season, if you can believe that. He's not going to average double figure assists the rest of the way, but if he can play like he did today it will help keep the team respectable without Sam. It would seem that the stress reaction is a thing of the past - they no longer list it on the injury report, and no one was limiting Knight's minutes tonight. He played 35, which is more than he's played since Dec. 9.
They did experiment with Cat Mobley at the point for 5 minutes in this game. It was not as bad as I thought it would be (I would have pressured him if I were George Karl). But after a single horrendous possession with Cat running things in the fourth, MDsr thought better of it and Knight returned to close things out.
I don't generally like to borrow themes from Ralph and Mike, but I have to agree with them whole heartedly on one thing. Especially given how tough it has been to score this season, it is going to be really, really cool to have Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette and Al Thornton playing together - maybe even all four on the floor at the same time. With everything else going on, I basically ignored the mention in the paper recently that Brand participated in light contact drills this week. No one is rushing anything, but it's pretty clear the guy is going to play by mid-March. Assuming Kaman can get these nagging injuries behind him, that should give them a full month to see those four together. (If Livingston could be there for some of that, it would be gravy.) I still think it's a long shot that Corey will be back next season, but he and Thornton were a dynamic scoring duo tonight. If the team can generate some excitement in the final month, it will certainly figure into off-season decisions.