The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The Clippers swept the season series last year (thank you, Al Harrington).
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have won two games in a row, and are coming off one of their most complete games of the season in Minneapolis on Wednesday. It's obvious to the point of banal, but things sure do go a lot more smoothly when everybody plays well at the same time. Eric Gordon appears to be in back in top form after losing some time to a couple of nagging injuries - he has scored 20+ points in three of his last four games, including 29 and 25 in the last two. Rasual Butler has recently broken out of a prolonged shooting slump, making half of his 14 three point attempts in the last two games. With Gordon and Butler providing a legitimate outside threat for defenses to deal with, suddenly the inside is a lot less crowded for Chris Kaman, who has scored 23 in each of the last two. Baron Davis is running the show with an enthusiasm and drive that we didn't see last season, and Marcus Camby continues to amaze with his productivity at 35. This team was clicking on Wednesday and Clips Nation is feeling pretty good right now. But it only takes one clunker to lose all this good feeling - if you don't believe me, reference LAC vs. HOU, which followed LAC vs. MEM.
The Knicks always seem to provide a million story lines. I won't have any trouble coming up with plenty of bullet points for this preview. New York was 3-14 at one point this season - and then they won 5 out of 6, including wins over Phoenix and Portland and at Atlanta and at New Orleans. So then you're thinking, "Oh oh, these guys are starting to buy what D'Antoni is selling, and they're going to be tough the rest of the way." They've since lost two straight against mediocre teams in Charlotte and Chicago, so who knows. The Knicks get almost all of their scoring from their bigs. Al Harrington (19.8), David Lee (18.1), Danilo Gallinari (13.6) and Wilson Chandler (13.1) are the only players averaging double digits who are likely to play tonight since Larry Hughes is out with a groin injury and Nate Robinson has fallen completely out of the rotation. There's plenty of scoring talent in that group. But with Hughes out, the backcourt is pretty suspect - Chris Duhon at the point and Jared Jeffries at the two (or maybe it's Chandler at the two - neither is a two of course). D'Antoni, as he did in Phoenix, is going with a VERY short bench - last night against the Bulls only six players logged more than 4 minutes on the court. With the Knicks traveling from Chicago to play this back-to-back game, that's a huge plus for the Clippers tonight. Four Knicks played 40+ minutes last night, and Harrington played 37. As you would expect with a D'Antoni team, the Knicks play at a very brisk pace (5th fastest in the league) and shoot a ton a threes (over 28 a game, second only to the Magic). Unfortunately for the coach, he doesn't quite have the offensive talent in New York he had in Phoenix, and the Knicks offensive efficiency ranks them 18th in the league, and their three point shooting percentage of 34.8% is 15th in the league. Meanwhile, defensively they are 23rd in efficiency. So expect a high scoring affair tonight.
- Defending the three ball. Despite recent barrages from the Rockets and the Magic, the Clippers remain in the top 10 in the league at defending the three. They'll need it tonight. 28 a night is a lot, but some nights they go completely bonkers. Last night in Chicago, 47 of their 86 field goal attempts were threes. That's almost unfathomable. You know how much Marcus Camby hates defending stretch fours? Al Harrington took 13 threes last night, and Danilo Gallinari took 15. On the season, 161 of Gallinari's 250 field goal attempts have been from beyond the arc. And he makes 44% of them. So yeah, you might want to stay home on that guy. I must admit, I haven't seen this team play, but looking at the stats and the roster, it seems pretty clear cut. Defend the three, win the game.
- One game at a time. With the Knicks tonight and the Sixers tomorrow, the Clippers have a golden opportunity against teams with losing records to get back to .500 for the first time this season. Of course, they'd better be focused on the Knicks and not looking down the road.
- The dumbest play I've ever seen - twice. You can't talk about Clippers-Knicks without flashing back to last season. In each meeting between these teams, the Knicks were in control of the game in the final seconds when Al Harrington dunked the ball - and then was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Rarely do you see a bonehead play directly cost a team a win. Harrington did it twice in one season, against the same team, in exactly the same manner. If it was in a movie, you'd say it was totally unrealistic.
- Look Who's Back. Although he hasn't played yet, Jonathan Bender is back in the NBA with the Knicks. Bender was drafted out of high school in 1999 (the Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom draft) and spent seven seasons with the Pacers while current Knicks boss Donnie Walsh was there. Severe knee troubles forced Bender to miss a ton of games - he only play 30 games in his final three seasons in Indiana - and he hasn't played a minute since November 2005, over four years ago. But he's feeling a little better, has a new workout routine, and Walsh is giving him another shot at the NBA. The guy could play back in the day. I always felt sorry for him - I hope he does OK with his comeback.
- Nate. Last February, Nate Robinson scored 33 points, handed out 15 assists and grabbed 9 rebounds against the Clippers. He re-signed a one year deal this summer - and he's gotten DNPs by his coach's decision in the Knicks' last seven games. Then again, Mike Taylor scored 35 against the Knicks last season and he's out of the league completely now, so it just seems like strange things happen when the Knicks and Clippers meet.
- Eric Gordon's matchup. With Hughes out and D'Antoni just as nutty as ever with the substitutions (or lack thereof) the Knicks are basically playing one guard, Chris Duhon, currently. That puts Eric Gordon at 6'3" defending either the 6'8" Wilson Chandler or the 6'11" Jared Jeffries. I'm guessing it will be Chandler. It will be a good challenge for Gordon, who is turning into a lockdown wing defender. Let's see how he does giving away 5 inches.
- Rent-a-team. Of the Knicks top eight players in terms of minutes per game, five of them are not signed beyond this season, and Jeffries wouldn't be if any other team would take his bloated contract. Basically, after this season the team will consist of Gallinari, Chandler, and a bunch of rookies who aren't currently getting any playing time, including 8th overall pick Jordan Hill. Oh, and whatever free agents they can lure to MSG with all that money. But I just can't see that many guys itching to lace em up next to Gallinari and lose 60 games.
- The Final Quarter is all that matters. It has now been 10 consecutive Clippers games in which the team that won the fourth quarter won the game. So I suggest that the Clippers play well in the fourth quarter.
Hmm, I knew I should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque. Oh well, I'll just ask this gent in the fancy knickerbockers. Eh, I beg your par...
- Get the Knicks perspective at Posting and Toasting.