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Clippers @ Golden State - Game Preview

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Oracle Arena
March 17th, 2009, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Monta Ellis
Eric Gordon
SG Jamal Crawford
Marco Belinelli
Al Thornton
SF Kelenna Azubuike
Zach Randolph
PF Brandan Wright
Marcus Camby
C Ronny Turiaf

The Back Story:

  • November 15, 2008 in LA - Golden State 121 - Clippers 103  box score   recap
  • January 25, 2009 in Oakland - Golden State 107 - Clippers 92   box score   recap
  • February 23, 2009 in LA - Clippers 118 - Golden State 105  box score   recap

The Big Picture:

It's homecoming week for the Clippers.  With less than a month remaining in the season, Marcus Camby had his long-awaited return to Denver on Saturday, and Baron Davis has his even longer-awaited return to Oakland tonight.  We can expect Baron's reception to be more mixed - they left their former teams under different circumstances, after all.  Still, Baron would have stayed in Oakland if they'd paid him, so I expect there to be plenty of Baron supporters tonight - but it certainly won't be the same love fest Camby experienced.  Hopefully the game result will be different also.  The last time the Clippers and Warriors played Baron had a bounce in his step and played his best game of the season, coming within one rebound of a triple double.  He also looked good against New Jersey on Sunday.  With the extra motivation of playing in Oakland, the emotions-on-his-sleeve Baron should have a big game tonight.  The Clippers should also get Zach Randolph back, meaning that they'll have Randolph, Kaman and Camby for only the third time this season, and hopefully they're each closer to full strength than they have been.  With the healthier lineup for once, and a motivated Baron Davis, I think the Clippers should win this one.

The Antagonist:

The Warriors, aka the Clippers-North, haven't had as bad a season as the Clippers - but it's been bad.  In fact, the team that won 48 games last season and beat the number 1 seed in the West playoffs the season before that, was eliminated from the playoff race Sunday night, with a month left in the season.  Injuries, front office dysfunction, too many players at the same position... like I said, their the Clippers-North.  For this game, they'll be without team leader Stephen Jackson, who leads them in scoring, assists... and presumably technical fouls, since he's suspended tonight after picking up his 16th of the season Sunday.  They're also missing center Andris Biedrins, who twisted an ankle a couple games back.  But they do have Monta Ellis back, who was resting his surgically repaired ankle when these teams met in February.  Since taking those two weeks off, Ellis has been more like his old self, averaging almost 25 points per in the three games since he came back.  Even without Jackson, the Warriors have plenty of guys who can score - Ellis, Corey Maggette is averaging almost 20, Jamal Crawford, Kelenna Azubuike.  (UPDATE - Crawford isn't playing, as part of Don Nelson's rapid descent into dementia.  See below.)  But the Warriors problem is stopping people - Phoenix hung 154 on them Sunday, and losing Jackson makes them even worse defensively.  But they won't change their style of play without Jackson - especially against the big Clippers front line, they're going to push and push and push.  Watch out for youngsters Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph.

The Subplots:

  • Crawford's Future.  The Clippers have three big salaries tied up in two front court positions.  The Warriors have a similar problem, with four big salaries tied up in three small positions - Ellis, Jackson, Maggette and Crawford.  Don Nelson recognizes that someone has to go, and he has picked Crawford.  The Warriors have told him that if he does not exercise his opt out this off-season, they will trade him.  But here's the thing - Crawford's option is for two more years and about $19M.  There's no way he's getting that kind of money on a per year basis this summer.  Financially, he's much better off hanging around and letting them trade him.  He'd have more control if he opted out - but he'll have more bling if he stays.  Which do you think he'll pick?  Yeah, me too.
  • UPDATE: Wacky, zany Don Nelson.  The Warriors mad genius of a coach is much more mad than genius these days it would seem.  Despite the fact that the league has suspended his leading scorer for this game, he's going forward with his plan to sit his third leading scorer, Jamal Crawford.  And why is Nellie holding Crawford out tonight?  Is it to rest a nagging injury?  I believe the word that best describes the reason is 'Cuz'.  For the last few weeks, Nelson has held some of the Warriors top players out of the lineup periodically in order to get a better look at the young guys so that he can make informed personnel decisions during the off season.  That's a valid goal, if more than a little disrespectful to the fans who would still like to win some games this season.  But why tonight?  Already missing Jackson and Biedrins, why put the team at an even bigger disadvantage in a winnable game?  Rest Crawford some other time.  It's even stranger when you consider the above bullet - Nellie may think he can drive Crawford into opting out with his shenanigans, but it seems to me he should be showcasing the guy down the stretch.  Crawford's more likely to opt out if his stock is high and he can sign for something reasonable - and if he doesn't opt out, the Warriors want his trade value to be high.  Does Nelson think he's Coach Moreland Smith in One-on-One, going to force Robby Benson to transfer by making his life misearble?
  • The Clipper Bigs.  I wrote this before the New Jersey game, and I'm going to keep writing it until it happens: 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.  Against the Warriors the situation becomes more complex.  Turiaf is the only guy on the Warriors roster who Kaman or Randolph is really capable of defending.  Wright and Randolph are very young, and aren't likely to do huge damage, but they're both way too quick for either of those guys.  So it will be tough to play them together at all.  Of course, on the other end, the Clippers can pound the skinny Warriors kids - but traditionally Kaman has not handled these small ball lineups well.  Add in the fact that it's slow, out of shape, still catching up to the game Kaman, and it could be a disaster.
  • Guard matchups.  As they often do, the Clippers will put Eric Gordon on the quicker backcourt opponent, Baron Davis on the bigger backcourt opponent.  That means EJ on Monta, which frankly has the earmarks of a GREAT duel.  David Thorpe rolled out the old 'Gordon's small for a two guard' chestnet last week, and unfortunately these matchups play into that misconception.  But it's important to note - the Clippers cross-match this way NOT because Eric Gordon can't defend bigger twos; they do it because Baron Davis can't defend quicker ones.  I really don't recall EJ getting posted this season - Boston Cleveland tried it once with Delonte West a week ago, and all Gordon did was own him, blocking West's shot.  The kids is still third among shooting guards in blocked shots per game - he may be shorter than the experts think he's supposed to be, but he's not too small to defend the two.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen EJ on Vince last night when he was going off.
  • Al Thornton.  After the San Antonio game a couple weeks ago, Clipper owner Donald Sterling made a rare locker room appearance to yell at the team.  By one account, he singled out Al Thornton, calling him a selfish player.  Since being called out by the owner, Al has scored 25, 22, 20, 19 and 20 points while shooting over 50% from the field, the most consistent five game stretch of his career.  He's also improved his rebounding numbers during that time.  Give Al credit for apparently taking the owner's strong words as a challenge.
  • A tough stretch coming.  After this quick trip to Oakland, the Clippers return to LA immediately to play one of the only teams in the league with a worse record than them, the Washington Wizards.  After that, they leave on a 6 games in 9 nights trip, with 4 of the games in Detroit, Boston, San Antonio and Houston.  In other words, win tonight in Oakland and tomorrow night against the Wizards, because it's going to get much, much tougher.
  • Division record.  The Clippers are an anemic 1-12 against Pacific Division teams, the lone win coming last month against the Warriors.  They have three chances to improve that record - tonight, and in remaining games against the Kings and Lakers.  No team has ever gone winless against their division, but Washington actually has a chance - they're 0-14.
  • Superstar for one game. Anthony Randolph.  With Jackson and Biedrins out, there are plenty of minutes available for someone.  This baby-faced kid is crazy long and athletic, and could give the Clippers fits.  Or he could completely disappear.
  • Movie Quote: 

    Stand back, ye flies! We are the greatest warriors in all Bugdom.

    Francis, the Lady Bug - A Bug's Life (1998).  Pixar is pretty amazing when you get right down to it.  I've got kids, so I've got plenty of cover for watching (OK owning) all the Pixar movies.  But the fact is, their movies are some of the best things to come out of Hollywood in the past 15 years.  The Incredibles and Wall-E were both major accomplishments that work on many, many levels.
  • Get the Warriors perspective at Golden State of Mind.  UPDATE:  Speaking of that perspective, check out ATMA's breakdown of the pros and cons of NOT signing Baron Davis last season, a subject most apropos for us as well.