|Mar. 3, 2008 - 7:30 PM
After six consecutive games against teams with winning records (the last five of them losses), the Clippers now have a mercifully soft stretch. Starting tonight they play 7 of the next 9 against teams with losing records. There's also some talk of getting Elton Brand back at some point in that stretch, but my money is on the Warriors game when they return home March 19. Yes, the team has lost 5 straight. Yes, three of those losses were by 18, 28 and 30. But no one really expects this team to be competitive against the likes of the Lakers, Celtics and Pistons - not right now. Let's see how they do against the likes of the Sixers, Kings and Wolves before they head East again. Unfortunately it looks like they could be extremely short-handed tonight. Kaman's back must have tightened up after he gave it a go Saturday because he's listed as Doubtful tonight. Tim Thomas, who was listed as Doubtful Saturday, has been downgraded and is definitely out with his groin pull. Meanwhile, Cat Mobley got ahold of some bad sushi or something because he's got food poisoning and may not play tonight. Just when you think maybe things are looking up, the team could have 9 healthy bodies tonight, and that includes two who were in the D League a week ago. So while the schedule is easing up, the injuries are not.
Although the Sixers do still have a losing record, the are one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference and have moved into 7th position in the playoff race on the strength of 9 wins in their last 12 games. And they're coming off probably their biggest win of the season, a 119-114 victory over the Suns in Phoenix. (Steve Kerr said he was either an idiot or a genius when he traded for Shaq -are the votes in yet?) As our friend Ricky from Sizers4Guidos explained to us, the Sixers don't shoot particularly well and they have no low post scoring. But here's what they do when they are playing well, as they have been for a month - pressure the ball, and run, run, run. The Clippers saw them in Philly early in their current hot stretch and the Sixers won easily. Although they had extreme difficulty scoring in the half court, it didn't matter because they got so many layups. The Andre's (Miller and Iquodala) are the closest thing to stars on their team, but it's really an ensemble of guys playing really hard right now. The Clippers would love to avenge an ugly loss - but they may not have the bodies to do it.
- Kaman vs. Dalembert, or Kaman vs. his back? In the game in Philly, Chris Kaman was thoroughly embarrassed by Samuel Dalembert in a way that has not occurred very often this season. He was held to a season-low 4 points, and also had several shots blocked by Dalembert. Chris is a very competitive guy. I'm sure he'd love to be out there to avenge that earlier embarrassment. The strange thing is that while the injury report lists him as doubtful, there was no word on him from the beat writers. Why would Art Thompson tell us about Mobley's food poisoning and ignore a flare up in Kaman's back if indeed that's what happened? So maybe he'll be out there - we'll have to wait and see.
- The Benchwarmers. In the worst case scenario, if Mobley, Thomas and Kaman miss the game, the Clippers bench would likely consist of Nick Fazekas, Andre Barrett, Dan Dickau and Aaron Williams. Dickau would be backing up Quinton Ross at the shooting guard. This is getting ridiculous people.
- Maggette and Thornton. If indeed the Clippers have any hope in this game, it will be behind the efforts of Maggette and Thornton. The two combined for 61 in almost pulling out the upset in Denver. Without Kaman, the Clippers are 1-8 this season, and the one win was when Thornton scored 33 against the Hawks. Ross and Powell and even Aaron Williams can play defense - but Maggette and Thornton are the only scorers on the roster who will be 100% for this game, and could be the only ones on the floor at all.
- Al Thornton versus Thaddeus Young. The Rookie of the Year race only had one participant early in the season. A couple months ago Al Horford joined Kevin Durant in the discussion. And recently some other rookies have begun to show up. But which rookie depends on who you ask. John Hollinger (who trashed Al Thornton as a likely bust prior to the season and who has never acknowledged his decidedly non-bust status) loves Thaddeus Young (and Carl Landry) (Insider required). Young doesn't play as many minutes, nor is he asked to do a lot of scoring. But he shoots a high percentage and rebounds well in the minutes he gets. Consequently, he has a very solid PER (so it follows that Hollinger likes him). But Thornton is the third rookie at the ROY table according to Dave McMenamin on NBA.com. He scored more per minute, and shot significantly better, than Durant during the month of February. So if it's Durant's scoring that is turning people's heads, they need to look at Thornton as well. Opposing teams have certainly noticed: Al's starting to get immediate double teams, and even perimeter double teams. This is the superstar treatment. By the way, Thornton was one of the nominees for Western Conference Rookie of the Month in February, but lost out to Luis Scola. At least it wasn't Durant; Scola's Rockets were 13-0 in the month. For his part, Young was a nominee in the East, but lost to the other Al, Horford.
- Transition Defense. The Sixers are also limited on offense, and if you can take away their fast break points they will struggle to score. In years past this has been a major strength of the MDsr Clippers. They beat the Nuggets in a playoff series and played the Suns tough in the next round based in large part on strong transition defense. Unfortunately, they simply may not have the bodies to get it done tonight. But MDsr knows how to coach transition D, and he'll certainly be emphasizing it in this game.