The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers may or may not have their leading scorer, Zach Randolph, and their best player, Eric Gordon, back for this game. Gordon has missed the last four with a bruised shoulder while Randolph has missed two straight while he's been back in Indiana with his family and his stricken father. Needless to say, the last four games have been Clipper losses. Part of me says leave them out. If Zach needs to be with his family now, let him stay there. If there's any chance that Gordon's not ready to return, hold him back a little longer. The Clippers aren't playing for anything, and the ping pong balls are always nice when you can get them. Even the concept of finding out what the team is capable of when fully healthy isn't in play yet with Chris Kaman still out. Kaman's return is seemingly imminent - Ralph said Denver next Saturday, Kaman told a fan he's still targeting Cleveland Tuesday - so play extra short handed now, and shoot for being as complete as possible when Kaman is actually back. Then again, if I'm going to have to watch the game, I'd rather watch Randolph and especially Gordon. The Clippers will once again need good games from Al Thornton and Baron Davis to be competitive. My confidence is not high on that one. Marcus Camby left the Grizzlies game after the first quarter with a migraine, but he should be back. Ricky Davis is out indefinitely with severe tendinitis in his knee. UPDATE: According to the LA Times, Gordon will play, and Randolph will not.
The Pacers will in all likelihood be without their two leading scorers for this game. Mike Dunleavy Jr. (son of the Clippers coach of course) has missed all but 18 games this season with knee problems which they're now discovering are more serious than anyone previously knew. Leading scorer Danny Granger played through some knee pain to be a part of his first All Star game last month, only to strain a tendon in his foot a couple of games later. At first they thought he might be back tonight, but that has been all but ruled out. In contrast to the Clippers, the Pacers have continued to play hard and compete despite their injury woes. They've won 27 games on the season, and are only two games out of the final playoff spot in the East. They've won 5 of their last 8 without Granger or MDjr, and the three losses were all on the road by 5 or fewer points - one at Boston and one at Portland Wednesday! So give them credit for not quitting. And more importantly, don't take them lightly simply because their name players are hurt. Of course, the Clippers shouldn't really be taking anyone lightly, but that's another story. Jarrett Jack has been on a scoring binge since Granger went down (21.5 his last 8), as has Marquis Daniels (19 his last 8), and Troy Murphy is getting every rebound (9 straight double doubles). With Clipper-killer T.J. Ford and 7'3" rookie Roy Hibbert rounding them out, it's still a pretty good starting lineup - but the bench is extremely thin as you might imagine.
- Playing with injuries. Looking at the Pacers, who have certainly had a lot of injuries, points out two things. (1) It is possible to play hard and compete despite injuries, and the Clippers clearly have not done that. And (2) the Clippers really have had a LOT of injuries this season. The Pacers situation seems bad. MDjr has been out all but 18 games - Kaman has him beat by 3. Granger is out now - but he's only missed 12 games total, which is a lot until you consider that Randolph, Camby, both Davises, Skinner, Taylor and Collins have all missed more than a dozen. The simple fact of the matter is, unless you're the Wizards (who now have four guys including three starters out for the season), don't talk to me about injuries.
- Last meeting. When these two teams met in Indianapolis in December, the Pacers were missing even more players than this time after a viral infection hit the team. In a ragged game, the Clippers won in double overtime, needing an Al Thornton 3 in the final seconds to get the game out of regulation. Mike Taylor broke his thumb in the first quarter of that game.
- Coaching Changes. As we've mentioned before, there are only three NBA teams with losing records who have the same coach today that they did last March: the Warriors, the Clippers and the Pacers. Why those three teams are bucking the coach-firing trend is open to debate - in the case of the Warriors and the Clippers, dysfunctional/cheap ownership likely has something to do with it. Injuries have probably helped all three of these guys keep their jobs as well. But Jim O'Brien of the Pacers can at least be said to be keeping his team motivated. Expectations were pretty low going into the season, and MDjr's injury has certainly hurt. But the team has played hard every night, and consequently no one is calling for O'Brien's head. In fact, GM Larry Bird recently verified that O'Brien will be back next year.
- Clipper lineup possiblities. It's hard to know who's going to start for the Clippers tonight. Baron Davis will start at one guard. Eric Gordon, Mike Taylor or Fred Jones could start at the other. Even if Gordon is healthy, it's possible he'll come off the bench, which is MDsr's usual MO when working a player back into the lineup after an injury. I would probably start Taylor, since T.J. Ford is the hyper-quick type guard and he matches up well there. But faced with a similar situation against Mike Conley of the Grizzlies, MDsr went with Jones. At the bigs, Camby will start if he's healthy, and you could see Randolph or Steve Novak or DeAndre Jordan at the other spot. Randolph will start if he's back. Novak started against the Spurs (the Matt Bonner matchup allowing it) while DeAndre Jordan started against the Grizzlies (Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur being deemed to big for Novak). Based on that logic, I think we'll see DJ starting if Zach isn't available.
- Jamaal Tinsley - Unprecedented? I'm trying to think of a precedent for Jamaal Tinsley for the Pacers this season. A productive point guard in his NBA career, in a league so desperate for point guards that Jason Hart just signed with a playoff team, he has been exiled by the Pacers and remains in basketball purgatory. The fact that he has two more seasons and almost $15M on his contract certainly doesn't help the Pacers trade him. But still. Tim Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson - who else has been told at some point to just stay away? And those guys all got bought out or traded. Tinsley has filed a grievance, but assuming the Pacers are paying him, I don't really know what his beef would be.
- Clipper Rookies. Although the Clippers season overall has been dismal, the play of their three rookies has been a real bright spot. Eric Gordon has been among the best rookies in the league, especially since being inserted into the starting lineup. Meanwhile DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor both have the potential to be big time players, which is amazing for second round picks. But we've rarely, if ever, gotten to see the three of them together. Taylor broke his thumb before Baron Davis got injured, and missed out on the January playing time bonanza. Then, when Taylor came back, Gordon got hurt. The last three games have been Taylor's most impressive of the season. Now that Taylor has re-asserted his place in the point guard rotation and with EJ due back soon, hopefully we'll get some chances to see the three rookies begin to work together in the hopes of building a solid base for the future.
- Superstar for one game. T.J. Ford. Quick guards give the Clippers trouble and Ford has had some big games against LA in his career.
My old man was one of the most feared furnace fighters in Northern Indiana.
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