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Clippers at Cleveland - Game Preview

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Quicken Loans Arena
January 30th, 2009, 4:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Mo Williams
Eric Gordon
SG Sasha Pavlovic
Al Thornton
SF LeBron James
Brian Skinner
PF Ben Wallace
Marcus Camby
C Anderson Varejao


The Back Story:

  • First meeting of the season.

The Big Picture:

The first wave of cavalry arrived for the Clippers Wednesday night against the Bulls and they were led by Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker.  OK, not really, but the entire team looked a lot like the cast from F Troop Wednesday in a game that we'd all very much like to forget.  In their defense, Baron Davis and Marcus Camby jumped into a game situation without having had any practice time, so it's not entirely surprising that they looked rusty.  The bigger question may be why the rest of the Clippers, who had seemingly overachieved to stay competitive in many games without their high-priced teammates, suddenly came up completely flat as a group.  Were they expecting Baron and Camby to carry them?  Was it just one of those bad games?  Or is there a more sinister chemistry issue lurking?  The team remains well short of full strength.  Leading scorer Zach Randolph and erstwhile starting center Chris Kaman, the only low post scorers on the roster, are still out of action, so the team is still limited, particularly considering MDsr's preference for running his offense through the post.  Randolph is traveling with the team on this trip, and may play as soon as Monday in Miami.  But for now, the team will have to make do without Z-Bo and Kaman.  Still, it's an improvement to have Baron Davis back - or is it?

The Antagonist:

Cleveland has the best home record in the league (a perfect 21-0) and the best player on the planet.  They are 35-9 and the Clippers are almost the inverse at 10-35.  Looking at this game on the schedule yesterday, there was only one way I could think of that they might possibly, just maybe, be vulnerable - if they were tired and somewhat complacent after a win in Orlando the night before.  No such luck.  The Clippers still look a little like a trap game on their schedule stuck between the Magic and the Pistons, but a loss in Orlando last night likely means a focused effort tonight.  Cleveland hasn't lost back-to-back games this season.  Are they going to start against the Clippers?  At home?  Not likely.  Despite the loss to the Magic, the Cavs are still tied with the Celtics and the Lakers for the fewest losses in the NBA.  The top three reasons why the Cavs are so good this season are LeBron James, LeBron James and LeBron James.  The fourth reason is Mo Williams.  LeBron leads the Cavs in scoring, assists, rebounding and steals.  He leads them in rebounding!  They have Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao on the team, and LeBron is their leading rebounder!  The only players I can think of who ever produced anything like LeBron's 28 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds this season were named Oscar, Magic, Larry and Michael.  As it happens, the Cavs are dealing with some injuries of their own.  Delonte West is out with a broken wrist and Ilguaskus has missed several weeks with a bum ankle.  But Ilgauskus has resumed practicing with the team and may be ready to play tonight, though he's listed as doubtful.

The Subplots

  • Poor Al Thornton.  Al will draw the assignment of guarding LeBron James.  It's really just process of elimination.  Al can't possibly guard the guy, but no one else on the team can either.  It is actually an interesting assignment for Thornton.  He can be a pretty good on ball defender - his lapses tend to happen on rotations and help situations.  That's not really a problem tonight.  LeBron will have the ball a lot, and even when he doesn't Al's job will be to stay home.  No one in the league can really stop the guy - Al will need a lot of help.
  • Ricky Davis.  Ricky Davis had his most productive year as a pro playing in Cleveland, when he averaged 20.6 points per game in 2002-2003.  Later that June, the Cavs drafted some kid who played the same position as Ricky, and Ricky found himself in Boston by December.  Ricky and LeBron were teammates for a couple of months, so maybe he picked up some tricks for stopping him.  But probably not.
  • Mo Williams.  I was reading recently about how most of the major acquisitions of the summer of 2008 have not worked out well.  Baron Davis, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Jermaine O'Neal... a whole slew of big name acquisitions from this summer have not really yielded dividends for the acquiring team.  One exception to that is Mo Williams.  Acquired this summer from Milwaukee (the Cavs gave up only Joe Smith and Damon Jones), Williams has been the second scorer to LeBron that Cleveland has long sought.  He's averaging 17.2 points per game, which is more than any Cleveland player other than LeBron has averaged since James joined the team, and he went for 43 last week against Sacramento.  He's played well enough that although he didn't make the All Star team (despite LeBron's lobbying) he did make one prominent bloggers list of snubs.
  • Baron Davis.  After missing 13 consecutive games - all of January to that point - Baron returned to the Clippers lineup and shot 1 for 10.  It's not easy to hurt a .360 shooting percentage - but 1 for 10 will do it.  He's now shooting .355.  What is interesting is that for the first 4 or 5 possessions of his return, he looked great and the team looked good.  Eric Gordon and Brian Skinner each blew layups, or Baron would have had 4 assists within about 2 minutes of walking onto the floor.  Of course, when he finally made a jump shot, he immediately took a long three early in the shot clock on the next possession.  If Baron has his legs back, what he most needs to do is attack, penetrate, and create.  He did that for a couple minutes Wednesday and the team looked good.  Obviously, we need it for more than a couple of minutes.
  • Fred Jones.  Fred Jones signed with the Clippers for the rest of the season today, which must come as quite a relief to Fred and his pregnant wife.  Jones earned his contract with his play - he's been shooting the ball well and doing an adequate job running the point.  He's made 7 of his last 11 threes and has scored in double figures in 3 of the last 4 games.
  • Eric Gordon.  Gordon had a very poor outing on Wednesday and I look for him to bounce back against the Cavs.  EJ has in fact been in a mini-slump for three games, ever since his 41 point outburst against the Thunder - he's 16 for 44 since then.  I don't think Sasha Pavlovic is quick enough to keep him out of the lane, and Mo Williams has never been known for his defense, so EJ should be able to get some shots tonight.
  • Superstar for one game.  Let's go with Daniel Gibson.  Just because his nickname is Boobie, and I have a thing for Boobies.
  • Get the Cavs perspective at Fear the Sword.