The Back Story:
- First meeting. Utah swept the series last season 3-0. If you're curious, the Clippers actually play a team they managed to beat at least once last season tomorrow when Dallas comes to LA.
- The Big Picture:
The Clippers have opened the season 0-2 after leading most of the second half against Phoenix Wednesday night only to lose in the final seconds. In a game as dependent on emotion as basketball, the risk is that the team will get into a tailspin if the season starts poorly, especially considering the ill-timed injury news on Blake Griffin the day before the season started. And with Utah and Dallas in back-to-backs, the Clippers could easily have 4 losses before November, which would pretty much have to be an NBA record for worst October record of all time. The fact that the Clippers are 1-38 in Utah since the 80s (that's not a typo, 1 win, 38 losses, almost 20 years) - well, let's just say that unless you believe in the law of averages and think the Clippers are about to go on a sustained Utah winning streak, it doesn't bode well. Having said that, the team has actually played well for long stretches in the first two games. Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby were great against Phoenix, Eric Gordon has been impressive, Baron Davis has played well. They just really, really need to play a 48 minute game and get a win. Can they do it in Salt Lake City?
Utah finished last season in a funk. They were 2-7 in their final nine regular season games (with one of the wins coming against the Clippers, naturally). Then they lost to the Lakers in the Playoffs, 1-4. And they opened this season with a loss at Denver Wednesday. So I have them at 3-12 over their last 15 NBA games. And that's terrible news for the Clippers. These guys need a win as badly as the Clippers do. And this game happens to be their home opener - there will be a big crowd, with Halloween costumes and free hats and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (though not during the game itself hopefully). Why the team is 3-12 in their last 15 is a bit of a mystery, because the roster is loaded. Deron Williams currently holds the title "Best NBA player not to have made an All Star team", while Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur all have been All Stars. Ronnie Brewer is an effective and efficient wing, and Paul Millsap is a productive (and now expensive) power forward off the bench. With Matt Harpring's career essentially over (he remains on the roster as an expiring contract in case they get a chance to trade him) and Kyle Korver having undergone surgery a couple days ago, the bench is pretty thin right now past Millsap - but who cares with that starting lineup? Still, if ever there was a team experiencing some bad chemistry, it would be the Jazz. Carlos Boozer had one foot out the door all last season, and the only reason he didn't opt out of the final year of his contract is because of the terrible economy this summer. Suddenly finding him still on their roster, the Jazz spent most of the off-season trying to trade him after they re-signed his ostenisble backup Millsap for 4/$32M. Boozer remains on most people's short list of 'most likely to be traded'. So know, it's not the healthiest situation in Utah right now.
- UPDATE: Hat tip to Citizen sqreback, as I had missed this. Okur hurt his knee and his ankle against Denver Wednesday, and although he returned to that game, he did not practice yesterday. If Okur is limited, it helps the Clippers' chances tremendously.
- Schedule confusion? Note that the NBA schedule says that this game starts at 6PM Pacific time (which makes sense for a 7 PM tip in Salt Lake City, in the Mountain Time Zone), but that Prime Ticket program guide seems to think it starts at 5 PM Pacific, an hour earlier. Just in case, I set the DVR to record from 5 PM until 9 PM, but I'm 99% certain that the game starts at 6.
- Matching up with the bigs. The Utah bigs have usually been murder on the Clippers. Neither Kaman nor Camby really wants to stay home with Mehmut Okur on the three point line. And Boozer's combination of strength and quickness is a tough cover for a lot of players (he's another one I'd like to see Giffin defend). Then there's Millsap, who single-handedly beat the Clippers in an early game last season. Since neither Boozer nor Millsap are particularly big, this might be a good game to see some more of Craig Smith. And hopefully Kaman can at least dish out some punishment to Okur on offense, even if Okur lights up Kaman on the other end.
- Baron vs. Deron. A few seasons ago, Baron Davis was one of the top point guards in the league and Deron Williams was a young up and coming player. Last season, there was no comparison. For the Clippers to have a chance against good teams, Baron will have to hold his own against the top point guards.
- Millsap. Paul Millsap is one of those very active undersized power forwards that has killed the Clippers in recent years. Among the others are Carl Landry and ... Craig Smith. Now that Smith is a Clipper, will LA be able to fight fire with fire? Smith had a nice game against the Lakers and then was pretty dreadful against Phoenix. But Utah would seem to be a better game for him than Phoenix. Both Camby and Kaman were forced to play huge minutes Wednesday since Smith was ineffective and MDsr didn't trust DeAndre Jordan against the Suns. It would be really helpful if the Clippers actually got some productivity from their backup bigs tonight.
- Keeping it close? In the three meetings last season, the Jazz won by 22, 16 and 19, and average margin of victory of 19 points. The first step in getting a win in Utah will be to keep the game close until the end.
- Rebounding. The Clippers were outrebounded by the Suns last night, which should never, ever happen. Kaman had one rebound at halftime, and tried to redeem himself with 8 second half rebounds. The team needs to take their rebounding responsibilities serious from the first quarter tonight.
- Without looking it up, match the player to his country or state of birth:
Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Kosta Koufos, Kyrylo Fesenko, Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams.
Greece, Germany, Alaska, Ohio, Turkey, Russia, West Virginia, Ukraine.
'C'mon Babe, why don't we paint the town... And all that Jazz.
I'm gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down... And all Jazz.
Start the car I know a whoopie spot... where the gin is cold and the piano's hot.
It's just a noisy hall, where there's a nightly brawl... And all that Jazz.
- Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.