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Washington 106 - Clippers 94

Final - 1.31.2009 1 2 3 4 Total
Los Angeles Clippers 22 25 28 19 94
Washington Wizards 26 32 23 25 106

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The basic design of the game of basketball allows each team to have the same number of opportunities to score. This isn't 3-on-3 winner's outs. When team A makes a basket, team B takes its turn with the ball. Regardless of who wins the opening tip, each team will start with possession in 2 of the 4 quarters. All other things being equal, each team will get the same number of possessions, and therefore each team will generally take a similar number of shots.

Of course we know that not all things are in fact equal, and there are many factors that will allow one team to get more shots than the other team. The three major factors that account for a disparity in field goal attempts are:

  • Turnovers;
  • Offensive rebounds;
  • Free throws.

If a team turns the ball over, they lose the opportunity to shoot, costing themselves a field goal attempt and a chance to score. Conversely, if a team gets an offensive rebound, they give themselves another opportunity to score. Finally, if a team takes a free throw, they lose a chance to take a field goal, but of course in this case they're getting a higher percentage opportunity to score, so losing out on field goal attempts while piling up free throw attempts is a good thing.

In tonight's Clippers loss to the Washington Wizards (owners of the worst record in the NBA going into this game), the Clippers finished the game with 74 field goal attempts compared to 90 for the Wizards. That number is even worse than it at first appears when you realize that the Wizards also shot more free throws than the Clippers - 31 to 18. If you assume that those 13 extra free throws probably represent at least 5 distinct possessions (eliminating and-ones, for instance) it easily adds up to over 20 extra opportunities to score for Washington. League-wide, most teams score about a point per possession. So looking at it that way, the Clippers really did well to only lose by 12.

The Clippers committed 25 turnovers in the game, including a season-high 15 in the first half when they fell behind by 11. The Wizards committed 14. The Clippers also gave up 18 offensive rebounds and only grabbed 7 themselves. Minus 11 in turnovers, minus 11 in offensive rebounds, 22 extra possessions for the Wizards - there is no way any team is going to win a game doing that, let alone the Clippers.

Unfortunately, the Clippers ineptitude went beyond carelessness with the ball and a lack of desire to protect their defensive glass. Although they shot 46% for the game and made 11 threes, the Clippers have become an almost exclusively jump shooting team. With no Zach Randolph and no Chris Kaman in the low post, with Baron Davis making infrequent forays into the lane, and with Al Thornton close to useless in this game at least, it was left to Eric Gordon and Steve Novak to cast away from long range. I give MDsr credit for designing several plays that are getting Novak open looks (and I give Novak credit for not needing a lot of daylight for us to consider these 'open looks'). But if Brian Skinner is the low post threat, and no one is getting to the basket, this team is simply not going to win many games. The Clippers took 26 three pointers against Washington, after taking 28 Friday night in Cleveland. I love the fact that they appear to have some premier shooters for the first time in a long time. But without a low post threat, it's rarely going to result in wins. The shame is that this could have been one of those rare wins - LA certainly shot well enough come away with a victory, despite the fact that they were taking exclusively jump shots. But the problems taking care of the ball and the glass were too much to overcome, even given the hot shooting.

While we're on this subject, a quick word about points off turnovers. The Wizards scored 27 points off of the Clippers' 25 turnovers, while the Clippers scored 16 off of the Wizards 14 mistakes. That all makes sense tonight. But to me, points off turnovers is an almost completely meaningless stat. A turnover is a turnover, and it isn't any less bad if the other team doesn't happen to score on that particular possession. Your opponent's shooting percentage, and the number of extra possessions you give them, are going to add up to some number of points over the course of the game. It is true that turnovers sometimes lead to easy baskets - a steal in a passing lane is often a dunk going the other way. But long rebounds lead to easy baskets too - and the best way to track these things is with fast break points. So, for me, turnovers and fast break points are telling - but points off turnovers is pretty worthless.

In the Clippers ongoing tradition of making superstars out of relatively unknown players, we got a bit of a twist tonight - they gave the red-carpet treatment to two different Wizards. Last year's first round pick Nick Young (my choice for Superstar for One Game in the preview, which does not bode well for my vaunted reverse mojo) broke out of a recent scoring slump with 22 points on 8 for 11 shooting. Joining him having a big game was this year's rookie, JaVale McGee, who tied a career-high with 18 points. The Wizards fans are probably feeling pretty good about their young talent after watching this game - but then again, they only get to play the Clippers twice a season.

LA gets a couple days off before their next game in Miami. Hopefully they can get a practice in, because frankly I'm getting a little tired of the 'Baron is using these games as his practice' excuse. Zach Randolph has been targeting the Miami game for his return, and if he can play it could be a huge boost for a team that has always focused on post play, but has had not post scoring for a month.