|Mar. 14, 2008 - 4:30 PM
The Clippers are 1-1 on their Southeast Division trip, winning a squeaker in Miami before losing a non-squeaker in Orlando. Chris Kaman sat out both games to rest his sore lower back, and is listed as questionable for this one as well. Since none of the beat reporters are traveling with the team, we basically have nothing on Kaman. The implication during the telecast of the Magic game was that he was still hoping to play right up until warm ups, so it would seem that he's getting close. But with basically no incentive to win games at this point, it certainly doesn't make sense to rush him back. In fact, the 35 minutes he played in the double OT win against the Kings no doubt exacerbated the current situation. All so that the team could be 21-42 instead of 20-43. As it happens, the Clippers beat the Hawks in LA without Kaman or Maggette while they were battling the flu. Al Thornton exploded for his first ever 30 point game that night (33 to be exact), basically carrying the Clippers to victory single-handedly. The Perry, GA native will be playing in front of hundreds of friends and family today, so there's no doubt he'd love to have another big game.
Why isn't this team better than it is? Joe Johnson is a max contract All Star. Josh Smith is a freak putting up monster numbers. Al Horford is arguably having the best season of any rookie. Marvin Williams was the second player picked in the draft. And Mike Bibby was supposed to be the point guard that they needed so badly that would finally help them put it all together. Well, they were 22-28 in their 50 games without Bibby - they're 4-10 with him, and a disastrous 1-6 in March. It doesn't take much to make the playoffs in the East, but New Jersey is now a half game ahead of the Hawks for the final spot. The Nets are 3-7 in their last 10. Chicago has surged into a tie with the Hawks - by winning 4 of their last 10. This team is messed up.
- Home Sweet Home. I'm being a little harsh on the post-Bibby Hawks. 9 of their 14 games since the trade have been on the road, and 9 have been against playoff teams. So facing a team below .500 on their home court, the Hawks are going to have some confidence that they can get a much needed win against the Clippers. And let's face it - if they actually want to make the playoffs this season, they must win this game. The Nets are idle tonight so a win moves the Hawks into a tie for the eight seed. By the way, the Hawks are a team that is not the least bit conflicted about where they want to be - it's playoffs or bust. The Suns own their draft pick outright this June, so losing doesn't help them one bit.
- Home not-so-sweet. I touched on this before the Magic game, but it bears repeating. There are 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. The Clippers play each one twice in the course of the season. Tonight in Atlanta and tomorrow in DC are the last two Eastern opponents. Of the 13 teams they've played twice, they swept two (NJN, NYK), were swept by six (BOS, DET, ORL, CLE, PHI, CHA) and split with five (TOR, CHI, IND, MIL, MIA). But all five splits were won by the road team, giving the Clippers a 7-6 road record against the East, compared to a 3-12 home record. 3-12! At home against the Eastern Conference! That's the stat of the year, right there. If Atlanta wins tonight it will be the one and only split where the home team wins both games.
- Shopping for Free Agents. The Hawks have a couple of restricted free agents this summer - Josh Childress and Josh Smith. With Bibby and Johnson scheduled to make almost $30M between them next year, they'll have to carefully consider what offers they're going to match for those guys. Neither is a particularly good fit for the Clippers - but I expect at least one of them to be elsewhere next season. Salim Stoudamire is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and would be a very good fit for the Clippers as a designated shooter.
- Second Guessing. You think it's maddening to be a Clipper fan and discuss blown draft picks? The Hawks are the only team in the league to have had a top 5 pick in each of the last 3 drafts. They came away with Marvin Williams, Sheldon Williams and Al Horford. They could have had Chris Paul (or Deron Williams), Brandon Roy and Al Horford. One out of three ain't bad. And this isn't just Monday Morning Quarterbacking, 20-20 hindsight. EVERYONE knew they should have taken a point guard in 2005. And Sheldon Williams? REALLY?
- The Smush Era Begins. Smush Parker will be in a Clipper uniform tonight. I can hardly wait. Bibby's not exactly a post up point guard, and back up Acie Law is a rookie, so I don't see a glaring need for Smush's size in this game. Other than garbage time, I don't expect him to make his Clipper debut tonight. Maybe tomorrow against Antonio Daniels.