The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
No more excuses. Marcus Camby flew to Denver and played 32 minutes. I can only assume his ear and migraine issues are behind him. Chris Kaman has played a couple of games, and with only 17 remaining, I don't think we can use the 'he's rusty' excuse very long if this is supposed to be the evaluation period. Zach Randolph is back with the team after his father's funeral, no doubt with a heavy heart, but hopefully ready to play some ball. And frankly, playing at home against a team that's 9 games under .500 is one of only two games that look winnable on paper for the rest of this month. The team is already 0-5 in March and riding a seven game losing streak - how bad is it going to get if they don't win this game? 1-13 in March? 0-14? Since Camby was only cleared to play at the last minute on Tuesday, and Randolph was gone last night, this is actually the first game in which MDsr has the real 'who starts?' dilemma. I assume it's Kaman who comes off the bench since he (a) is the one most likely to be on restricted minutes and (b) sucks (so far at any rate). With New Jersey being very dependent on their guards and not particularly strong in the front court, the Clipper bigs are going to have to be very big indeed to win this game. I think Zach will have a huge game - Yi's not strong enough to guard him, Lopez isn't quick enough. But defending Harris and Carter at the other end will be just as big a challenge. I assume that MDsr will put on Baron on Vince and EJ on Devin Harris since there's no way Baron will be able to stay in front of the ultra quick Harris.
I find all of this 'resurgent Eastern Conference' talk somewhat amusing. Sure, Boston and Cleveland and Orlando are strong at the top. But you've also got a team like New Jersey, 9 games under .500 in mid March, and tied in the loss column with the team in 8th place! It's making for a lot of excitement in east coast NBA cities - six teams with a legitimate shot at the final playoff spot, but only one of them gets the honor of being swept by the LeBrons in the first round. New Jersey's got as good a shot as any of those teams it would seem, but they've been going the wrong direction since the All Star break - they're 4-10 in their last 14 games. Devin Harris is an All Star, Vince Carter's putting up surprisingly good numbers still, and Brook Lopez is a candidate for Rookie of the Year - but they're forwards are terrible. Yi Jianlin must surely be the only 7 footer in the league shooting 40%. Former Clipper Bobby Simmons has lost his starting small forward job to Trenton Hassell, which is never a good sign. (Simmons has been on fire the last 5 games however, making 16 of 20 shots during that time.) Eduardo Najera is out for the season after having a hernia operation. And their young big who looked promising coming into the season, Josh Boone and Sean Williams, after given them much. Still, with Harris and Carter forming one of the best backcourts in the league, they have a chance down the stretch of the season if they can get anything from their forwards.
- Regretting Devin Harris. You think the Clippers are sad that they drafted Shaun Livingston (of the Tulsa 66ers) ahead of Devin Harris in 2004? Imagine how Dallas feels? They had the guy, and then traded him for Jason Kidd, at the same time giving away 2 first round picks, $3M in cash, and an actual ton of cap space. All Harris did was immediately prove to be better than Kidd and make the All Star team. He's averaging 22.7 points and 7.1 assists per game - oh, and he's 9 years younger than Kidd.
- Man, I was WAY off. This is the second meeting this season between the Clippers and Nets. The first game happened shortly after the Zach Randolph trade was completed, and Zach and Mardy Collins were not in uniform pending the results of player physicals. Here's one thing I said after that game:
Eric Gordon is a major talent, but also a rookie, and a 19 year old in the deal. In the first half of this game he threw not one but two passes to people wearing blue shirts in the crowd....He's just not going to be a productive and effective NBA shooting guard on a consistent basis any time soon.
In his next game, he got the starting nod and scored 25 points. He's been a fixture ever since, and has scored in double figures in 43 of 49 games since the first New Jersey game. So, by almost any definition of 'any time soon' and 'consistent basis', I could not have been more wrong, I'm happy to say.
- Brook Lopez. This time last season, many of us in Southern California were watching Brook Lopez in the Pac-10 tournament. And we knew he was going to be a solid pro - but I don't think anyone knew he was going to be this good this soon. He's got great size, and he has an incredibly polished offensive game. Nonetheless, I suspected he was going to have a big adjustment to the pros where he'd be going up against opponents just as big as he is. In the Pac-10 he just out-bigged everybody. I can remember one game against USC where Stanford couldn't shoot at all, but it didn't matter, as Brook and his brother Robin (now with the Suns) just kept getting every offensive rebound until the team scored. But to my surprise, he's had little trouble making the transition - he's averaging almost 13 points and 8 rebounds a game, and also blocks 1.8 shots per. Rookie of the Year voters like scoring, so he doesn't really have much of a shot at the award, but he and fellow Pac-10er Kevin Love are clearly the cream of the crop as far as front court players from this draft.
- The Clipper Bigs. As I said above, this is really the first game where MDsr has to decide who starts and who comes off the bench out of Kaman, Camby and Randolph. I think Randolph is a no-brainer. The Clipper offense is moribund without him on the floor. My first reaction is that Kaman will come off the bench, simply because he's not ready to play big minutes. But as I think about it some more, I realize that Kaman is easily the most logical matchup for Lopez. So I;m going to second guess myself and say that Kaman gets the start, and Camby comes off the bench. However they split the time, the Clippers need a lot of productivity from these guys tonight.
- Superstar for one game. Former Clipper Keyon Dooling. Truthfully, there aren't any good candidates for this award on the Nets. Harris and Carter are going to have big games, but they're stars. And I just don't think Yi or any of the forwards are going to do much. So let's say that Vince plays a lot of three, Dooling gets big minutes at the 2, and has a big game against his former club.
The man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.
- I have no idea where one goes to get the Nets perspective. Do they have bloggers in New Jersey? One would imagine so. UPDATE: NetsDaily, apparently.