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Clippers vs. Cleveland - Game Preview

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2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Clippers_medium
vs.
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17-21
30-11
Staples Center
January 15th, 2010, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Mo Williams
Eric Gordon SG Anthony Parker
Rasual Butler
SF LeBron James
Marcus Camby PF J.J. Hickson
Chris Kaman C Shaquille O'Neal

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season.  The Cavs swept the season series last year.

The Big Picture:

Five days ago, the Clippers had won four straight games each by double digits, were within a single game of .500 in the standings, had just had leading scorer Chris Kaman named the conference player of the week for the second time this season, and were eagerly anticipating the imminent pro debut of Blake Griffin, the number one pick in the draft.  Today, they are 4 games below .500, Griffin is done for the season and going under the knife next week, Kaman has missed three straight games with a strained back, and they were outscored by 37 in the second half of last night's game against the Lakers.  It would be hard to imagine a more precipitous fall in the spirits of Clips Nation, and perhaps of the Clippers themselves.  There is no rest for the weary, as the best team in the East comes into town tonight.  Can the Clippers stop their slide?  They will have at least one and possibly two things in their favor tonight.  For one, they will be at home after three road losses.  The Clippers have of late built a bit of a home court advantage, with a 12-8 season mark and a six game home winning streak.  Secondly, they will likely get leading scorer Kaman back tonight.  Kaman warmed up before the Lakers game and considered playing before opting against it at the last minute.  Unless he has some sort of setback, one would assume he'll play in this one.  It's also worth noting that following an earlier embarrassment this season, the 31 point Christmas Day loss to the Suns, many people suspected that the Clippers would head into a tailspin.  Instead, thecame out and beat the Celtics in their next game.  Beating the Cavs would fit very nicely with the recent wins over the Celtics and Lakers.  If Kaman plays, it will be a major improvement.  But they'll also have to get big games from Baron Davis and Eric Gordon - and of course they'll have to contend with LeBron James.  When the Clippers were playing well a week ago, they were led by their defense.  Finding a way to contain James tonight will be the key to having a chance.

The Antagonist:

The Cavs may be my new least favorite team.  Play good defense.  Give the ball to LeBron on every important possession on offense.  As good as LeBron is, it can get more than a little boring.  I mean, it goes against the sense of competition if one guy is simply better than everyone else.  It's a little like Dash from The Incredibles racing in an elementary school track meet.  For the Cavs, the Clippers are the final stop on a five city Western Conference road trip - so the good news for the Clippers is that they may be a little road weary.  The bad news is that they're 2-2 and looking for the win to make it a successful trip, and that they lost a heart breaker in Utah on Thursday.  After giving up a huge run to fall behind, they went on a huge run of their own (ok, LeBron went on a huge run) to regain the lead, only to give up a buzzer beating three to Sundiata Gaines and lose the game.  My guess is that they'll be looking to take some of their frustrations out on the Clippers.  James is a nightmare matchup for almost any team, and the Clippers are no exception.  Of the Clippers' two candidates at small forward, James is way too strong for the frail Rasual Butler, and Al Thornton is not a great individual defender (although he did a good job on James last year, and he tends to be better on the ball than off the ball, so that helps him here).  Beyond LeBron and defense, the Cavs don't do much of interest.  They take a lot of threes since teams have to send multiple players at James.  Shaq posts up a few times a game.  But more or less, it's the LeBron show.

The Subplots

  • Four games under .500.  The Clippers opened the season with four consecutive losses.  Since that time, they've gone 17 and 17.  They've been no worse than five games under .500 - no better than one game under .500.  A loss tonight drops them back to their low water mark, just five days after it looked like they'd finally climb back to .500 in Memphis where they led by 13 in the final minute of the third.  It has been a bad five days.
  • Defense.  During the Clippers good run they won consecutive games against the Blazers, Lakers and Heat while containing three of the game's mega stars, Brandon Roy, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.  James presents a different challenge.  For instance, the Clippers can't consider putting Eric Gordon on James because of the size disadvantage.  But if Butler and/or Thornton can do a reasonable job on the initial defense, the rest is not that different.  Deny the ball to James as much as possible and make him make catches further out than he wants, Camby and Kaman (if he plays) have to defend the rim when James beats his man on the perimeter, rotations have to be sharp, and the Clippers will have to double to get the ball out of LeBron's hands as much as possible.
  • Bradley Brave.  As Ralph will tell you many times tonight, new Cav Anthony Parker went to Bradley in Ralph's home town of Peoria, Illinois.  As it happens, both Parker and Jamario Moon were on my short list of intriguing free agents this summer (during our 'glue guy' period), and both ended up in Cleveland.  Moon is currently out, but Parker has been a solid addition to their lineup - one of those D and 3 guys in the Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier mold.  He's a solid defender, and is making 47% from deep, taking three per game.  And don't forget the Bradley drinking game.  When Ralph says "Bradley Brave" you drink; when he says "Peoria, Illinois" you chug.
  • Can Kaman Play?  The Clippers have been worse on defense and lost on offense since Kaman has been out of the lineup.  As Kevin Arnovitz pointed out last night on ESPNLA, the Clippers' half court offense has run through Kaman all season, and without him the lat three games the team has really struggled.  In fact, when the Clippers have been good this season, they've gotten easy scores in transition, and played inside out with Kaman in the half court.  But the defense has gotten fewer stops with Kaman out, making the transition opportunities less frequent.  And the halfcourt offense has been reduced to hoping that Baron Davis or Eric Gordon can break down his man.  Kaman's presence is important for another reason as well - the Cavs feature two of the biggest men in the NBA in Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  Marcus Camby doesn't have the bulk to handle those guys, and DeAndre Jordan is still a work in progress when it comes to post defense.  If Kaman can't play, it's probably Skinner or disaster against these guys.
  • A bit of deja vu.  In the Cavs-Jazz game Thursday night, the Jazz held a 12 point lead with 3:33 to go.  Over the next three minutes, Cleveland went on a 20-2 run in which LeBron scored 16 points and no other Cleveland player made a hoop.  It was a little reminiscent of the game in which LeBron led the Cavs back from a 19 point fourth quarter deficit against the Clippers the last time these teams met, last March.  The difference - Utah came back in the final 30 seconds to win Thursday.
  • Craig Smith.  Although the last few games have been difficult, one bright spot has been the play of Smith.  In six games in January, he's shot almost 62% from the field, while averaging 10 points per game.  With the news that Blake Griffin will not be playing this season, it's imperative that Smith provide some depth and in particular some low post scoring off the bench if the Clippers are going to remain competitive.
  • Baron Davis.  In the first meeting with the Lakers, Baron dominated Derek Fisher and the Clippers won.  In the second game, Fisher crowded Baron, the Lakers doubled him, they baited him into throwing an elbow for which he received a flagrant foul, and the Lakers won by 40.  A roundabout way of saying that Mo Williams is another matchup that Baron needs to dominate if the Clippers are to have a chance.
  • Movie Quote: 

    You know Mr Van Cleeve, girls are awfully smart these days. It might be rather sad for the great cavalier of the gay 90s to find his technique is getting rusty.

    Peggy Nash, Heaven Can Wait (1943). It's slim pickings for 'cavalier' quotes.  I've never actually seen this Ernst Lubitsch movie.  You may think that the 1978 Warren Beatty movie of the same name was a remake, but you'd be wrong.  Strangely enough, the 1978 movie was a remake of a 1941 movie called "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" which was made from a play called "Heaven Can Wait" (the boxer from the play and first movie was changed to a quarterback in Beatty's version).  As a basketball tie in, longtime Laker fan Dyan Cannon had probably the best performance of her career in the second "Heaven Can Wait."  Why Lubitsch chose to name his unrelated movie the same thing as a recent stage play is anybody's guess.  Last thing in this meandering and meaningless bullet - many years ago I played the role of the trainer Max (Jack Warden's role in the football movie) in my high school's production of "Heaven Can Wait."  It's these kinds of insights you don't get at ESPN.com.
  • Get the Cavs perspective at Fear the Sword.