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Clippers vs. New Jersey - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
January 17th, 2010, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Devin Harris
Eric Gordon SG Courtney Lee
Rasual Butler
SF Chris Douglas-Roberts
Marcus Camby PF Yi Jianlian
DeAndre Jordan
C Brook Lopez

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season.  The split their two games last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers enter this game with four consecutive losses, their longest losing streak since opening the season 0-4.  The last two losses came against two 30 win teams, and a loss this afternoon would put them six games below .500 for the first time this season.  Fortunately, they're not playing a 30 win team - they're playing a 3 win team.  However, the Clippers are in no position to be taking anything for granted right now.  The team is 0-4 in games without Chris Kaman, and Kaman is once again questionable for this game.  In addition to Kaman and of course Blake Griffin, Al Thornton (sprained ankle) and Craig Smith (bruised lower back) are listed as day-to-day.  That's four of the Clippers top six forward/centers.  If those guys can't go, Marcus Camby, DeAndre Jordan and Brian Skinner become the entire big man rotation.  And when Brian Skinner is your best low post scorer, you know you've got some issues.  The good news is that the wings found their outside shots in the last game.  After going 1 for 14 from three point range on the two game trip to Tennessee and Louisiana, Eric Gordon has made 7 of 11 since returning to LA.  And Rasual Butler erupted for 33 points (tying his career high) on Saturday, shooting 12 for 18 from the floor.  Of course, the Clippers squandered those efforts from Gordon and Butler when they failed to hold on against Cleveland.  Baron Davis on the other hand has lost his three point shot completely in the new decade.  He's 3 for 23 from deep in January.  The rest of his game has looked very good - he's averaging 17 points and 9 assists this month.  If he could make SOMETHING from range, it would really be a big plus for the team.

The Antagonist:

The Nets are on pace to set the all time record for fewest wins in a season.  In fact - they're way ahead of the pace.  With the midpoint of the season just a couple games away and the Nets sitting on 3 wins, they figure to win only 6 games this year, while the futiility record of the 1973 Sixers was 9-73.  Will they break the record?  Probably not.  More on that later.  Of course, this is all pretty much going according to plan in New Jersey.  Just a few seasons ago the Nets had a 'Big Three' that rivaled almost any in the league, at least in marquee value.  But Jason Kidd was traded to Dallas in Feb. 08, Richard Jefferson was sent to Milwaukee the following summer and Vince Carter was sent to Orlando a year later.  In their places they have Devin Harris, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee - and a whole lot of cap space this summer.  So when you trade your stars away in order to free up cap space to make a run at free agents, you have to expect to lose some games.  In fact, the more losing the season before the free agents hit, the better your chances in the draft, so it's all part of the plan.  The strange thing is, they shouldn't be this bad, should they?  Harris is 26 years old and was an All Star last season.  Brook Lopez was the steal of the 2009 lottery, and Chris Douglas-Roberts was the steal of the second round.  Even Yi has played well since returning from injury.  So why can't they win any games?  Part of it is that losing is habit-forming - as the Clippers have proven all too often.  Once the season is lost (which the Nets' was before it began, when they set a new NBA record with 18 consecutive losses to start the year), it becomes very difficult to find the motivation to play hard.  In a game between a team with incentive to win, and one with none, the team with the incentive has a decided advantage.  Having said all that - this game scares me.  Charlotte, Chicago and New York certainly didn't plan to lose to this team.  The Clippers are just the sort of team that could come out flat and become New Jersey's fourth victim, especially playing short handed.

The Subplots

  • Chasing infamy.  It seems like the NBA has a team 'on pace' to have the worst record in history every few seasons.  But none of them have gotten there in the 37 years since the Sixers set the record.  Last season the Thunder were 3-29 - they finished 23-59.  The team I really thought might have a chance was the 97-98 Nuggets.  They were truly terrible.  But even they managed to win 11 games.  That team was 2-38 after 40 games, but they won 6 of their final 19 to avoid the record.  There are a couple of reasons that these teams tend to win enough in the second half to reach double digits in wins.  For one thing, since they tend to be incredibly young teams, they simply benefit from the experience of the season.  In other words, they get a little better.  More importantly, in the latter stages of the season, they run into equaly unmotivated teams and pick up some wins.  The Nets will no doubt win some games in March and April and the Sixers record will withstand another challenge.  This team seems a little too talented to be the worst of all time.
  • Buzzer Beater.  The Clippers-Nets game in LA last March was probably the most exciting Clippers win of that foresaken season.  Vince Carter scored 41 for New Jersey, and sank a deep three with 12 seconds left to give the Nets a three point lead, capping a 16 to 2 run.  But after Baron Davis made two free throws and Jarvis Hayes missed two, Steve Novak sank the corner three as time expired to give LA the win.  
  • What Happened to Harris?  When the Mavericks pulled off the traded that sent Devin Harris to the Nets in exchange for Jason Kidd, it looked like franchisicide.  The Mavs were 35-18 before the deal, and 16-13 after.  They only managed one win in the first round of the playoffs.  Kidd was 35 by the end of that season, Harris was a decade younger and an All Star in New Jersey, and it was looking like one of worst trades of all time.  Now the Mavs are 26-14, the Nets are 3-36 and Harris is shooting 38.5% from the field. Go figure.
  • As bad as it gets.  Why does New Jersey have only 3 wins?  Well, they're terrible on defense, and worse on offense.  They are 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, and dead last in offensive efficiency.  They've made fewer three pointers than any other team in the league, and make only 28% of their threes.  They're last in shooting percentage, and last in assists (since you have to be able to make shots in order to register assists).  They're also 27th in rebounding.  They do however shoot the free throws well - they're fifth in the league in FT percentage - so they've got that going for them.
  • The LeBron Chase.  There was a time when the Nets looked like a potential destination for LeBron James in free agency next summer.  FOLB (Friend of LeBron) Jay-Z is a part owner of the franchise, they planning to relocate to a new arena in Brooklyn, Harris and Lopez looked like nice young pieces to put around him, and they've got plenty of cap space.  However, all those losses might make him think twice at this point.  (Here's where losing may go with the plan, but go against the plan at the same time.)  With the Cavs having just played in LA against the Clippers, there's been a lot of recent speculation about James in LA as well.  Of the teams with enough (or almost enough) cap space to pay the man, the Clippers are the only ones that have both a big market and a core capable of winning next season.  If LeBron views the Clippers' reputation as an opportunity to establish his legacy as opposed to a problem to be avoided, this could actually happen.  I'd handicap LeBron teams in 2010 as (1) Cavs, (2) Clippers and (3) Nets.
  • Former Clippers.  Bobby Simmons won the NBA's Most Improved Player award with the Clippers in 04-05.  He parlayed that performance into a 5/$47M contract from the Bucks - a ridiculous amount of money he was never worth.  It didn't help that he missed an entire season with a knee injury.  He's in the final year of that crazy contract, averaging 5 points per game for the worst team in the league while earning over $10M this year.  It will be interesting to see if he is still in the league next year.  Former Clipper Keyon Dooling is also with the Nets.  And there will be one more former Clipper on the Nets bench this afternoon - Kiki Vandeweghe, who took over as the Nets head coach when Lawrence Frank was fired earlier this season, finished his NBA career with the Clippers in 1993.
  • Movie Quote: 

    Seems like everybody's having sex but me. Good for them. It's not that I'm against sex. I mean, it was clever of God or evolution or whatever to hook the survival of the species to it because we're gonna screw around no matter what. It was a smarter thing to pick than say... the instinct to share your toys or return phone calls. We'd have died out like eons ago. But on the minus side, god... all the *attachment* that goes with it. It's like this net. Sex always ends in kids or disease, or like, you know, relationships. That's exactly what I don't want. I want the opposite of all that. Because it's not worth it, not really, is it? When you think about it?

    Dedee, The Opposite of Sex (1998). This was a nice little movie, though I'm shocked to see that it was 12 years ago.  I really thought Christina Ricci was going to make the transition to major star, but it just didn't happen.
  • Get the Nets perspective at Nets Daily, which has joined SBNation, but hasn't converted to the SBNation platform just yet.