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Clippers vs. New York - Game Preview

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
February 11th, 2009, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Chris Duhon
Eric Gordon
SG Quentin Richardson
Al Thornton
SF Danilo Gallinari
Zach Randolph
PF Al Harrington
Marcus Camby
C David Lee


The Back Story:

  • First meeting of the season.

The Big Picture:

Depending on which games you've watched in the last week, you might think the Clippers are one of the worst teams in NBA history, or poised to make a deep playoff run.  If you've watched them all (as most of us have), you're ready for therapy.  The team either shoots under 40%, or over 55%. It either wins by 20, or loses by 20.  If either takes terrific care of the basketball (6 turnovers versus Atlanta) or is remarkably careless (24 turnovers versus Washington).  One thing is certain though - if you're team is on a five game losing streak (like the Bobcats and the Wizards), you want to see the Clippers next.  Guess what?  The Knicks are on a five game losing streak.  I wish I knew what the magic switch was for the Clippers - obviously they have to make shots.  But it has gone way beyond that these last few schizophrenic games.  The energy level in Orlando and Charlotte was about a 2.  In Memphis and in Atlanta, it was definitely at 11.  Home in Staples Center for the first time in a couple weeks, one would think that they would not need a lot of extra motivation.  By the same token, with the All Star break looming, they might be looking to check out of work early and get started on their vacations (not that many of them haven't had most of the season off already).  Despite the loss in Charlotte, the lineup that's expected to start for the Clippers tonight still has a winning record at 8-7.

The Antagonist:

Expectations are an interesting thing.  The Isiah Thomas Knicks were so bad and so dysfunctional, that 21-30 has everyone in New York thrilled at the progress.  Indeed it is progress - the Knicks didn't win their 21st game until April last year.  Of course, the performance on the court this year and next is subordinate to another goal - cap space in 2010.  With a potential bonanza of super-mega star free agents on the market in 17 months, the main thing in New York is to be in position to sign one or more of them.  So 21 wins before the All Star break is really just gravy.  Mike D'Antoni, in his first season in New York, is on a pretty short list of 'coaches who make a difference' in my humble opinion.  It remains to be seen if his style of play can win a championship, and certainly he doesn't have the talent in New York yet to do so, but he can win regular season games.  As was the case for D'Antoni in Phoenix, he has the Knicks playing at a very high pace - second in the league behind only Golden State.  Unfortunately for the Knicks, they're not nearly as effective at that pace as D'Antoni's Suns teams, ranking 16th in efficiency.  Defensively, they're 24th in the league.  Amazingly, the team has gotten much better results while either shipping out (Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford) or simply mothballing (Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry) well over $50M in salaries.  Of course that's more an indictment of the disastrous tenure of Isiah than an endorsement of D'Antoni and new GM Donny Walsh.  Al Harrington (acquired from the Warriors for Crawford) leads the team in scoring, while David Lee leads them in rebounding and is arguably their best player.

The Subplots

  • Former Clippers.  Former Clippers Quentin Richardson and Tim Thomas are key Knicks this season, both averaging in double figures for the team.  Q ended up in New York via Phoenix, the big contract the Suns gave him fitting in nicely in New York.  Thomas began the season with the Clippers, but went to New York in the deal that brought Zach Randolph to LA.  It looks like both teams will get what they want out of the deal - LA gets a bona fide low post scorer, New York gets 2010 cap space.  Cat Mobley was also part of that trade, but retired before ever playing for the Knicks after it was discovered that he suffered from a potentially serious heart condition.
  • What Isiah Did Well.  Isiah Thomas was a bad coach and a horrendous GM in terms of managing the salary cap.  But the guy was a shrewd judge of young talent.  Trevor Ariza (2004, 43rd pick), Nate Robinson (2005, 21st), David Lee (2005, 30th), Mardy Collins (2006, 29th), and Wilson Chandler (2007, 23rd) are all low picks who are performing better than their draft position.  And they were all picked or acquired on draft day by Isiah.  Of course, the reason he was picking so low despite constant losing records in New York is because he kept making bad trades where he sent great draft picks out the door. 
  • Big two guards from DePaul.  Lately, both Richardson (6'6") and Chandler (6'8") have been getting some minutes at the two guard for the Knicks. so that could present some problems for Eric Gordon (6'3").  Q used to play in the post quite a bit when he was in LA, but he seems to have been pigeonholed as a three point specialist in his post Clipper career, so we'll see if they can take advantage (I must admit, I know nothing about Chandler other than that he is playing for the Sophomores in the Rookie Challenge next week).  At the same time, Chris Duhon (6'1") and Robinson (5'9", the smallest current player in the NBA) both play a lot of minutes, and will certainly be on the floor together at times, in which case the Clipper guards will have a big size advantage.  Of course it didn't help much against D.J. Augustin and Raymon Felton Monday.
  • Trivia Time - Why are the Knicks on the road currently?  What has been happening in Madison Square Garden?
  • A High Scoring Game?  The Clippers have scored over 120 in each of their recent wins.  The Knicks allow over 107 points per game, second highest in the league.  They gave up 144 to Golden State last night in a loss.  Meanwhile, according to Baron Davis, the Clippers 'don't pride themselves on their defense.'  So apparently we're in for a good old-fashioned ABA style shoot out. 
  • Eerie Parallels.  Way back in December, the Clippers went on a long road trip during which the team began to show some signs of life.  They concluded with an abysmal performance in the last game of the trip, and the excuse was that they were tired.  They returned to LA for a single home game before a long lay off.  That time, they laid an egg against Toronto, lost Zach Randolph during the game, and started a downward spiral of futility.  We'll see what happens this time.  If Malik Rose enters late in the third quarter and starts shoving people, watch out.
  • Gallinari or Gordon?  Despite having identical records last season the Knicks got the sixth pick in the 2008 draft, while the Clippers picked seventh by virtue of a coin flip.  The Knicks picked Italian teenager Danilo Gallinari, leaving Eric Gordon on the board for the Clippers.  Gallinari has spent most of his rookie season injured, while Gordon was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for January.  Still, a career is a long time, and Gallinari is starting to play now - he recently was inserted into the starting lineup.  It appears he can shoot, as he's 14 for 30 from beyond the arc so far.  With Harrington and Gallinari both on the floor, and Tim Thomas coming off the bench, D'Antoni has three players in the 6'9"-6'10" range capable of shooting the three ball, which is how he likes it.
  • Baron's Struggles.  It's hard to fathom what has happened to Baron Davis this season.  We're so close to it, it's hard to keep it in perspective.  During his injury absence, I pointed out that he was shooting 36%, worse than any other qualified point guard, while only Rafer Alston was worse among starters.  Since Baron has returned, he's been worse, which is pretty hard to do.  He's actually lowered his percentage to 35.3%, and he airballed not one but two three pointers against Charlotte on Monday.  Alston has now passed him, and we're left with Sebastian Telfair as the only point guard with more than 150 field goal attempts shooting worse than Baron - who has taken 600 shots.  Looking back over the Clippers season, Baron actually led the team in scoring in 7 of the first 21 games.  It's hard to imagine that ever happening again the way he is playing now, and none of us want him getting anywhere near the number of shot attempts for it to happen.  Something is very, very wrong with the guy, either with his mind, or his body, or his heart.  If only we knew which it was.
  • Superstar for one game. Let's go with Gallinari.  He's playing in his 14th game, his career high is 11 - sounds like a guy who could go for 30 against the Clippers. 
  • Get the Knicks perspective from Posting and Toasting.