After seven consecutive games against teams with winning records, the Clippers got a break today when the New Jersey Nets came to town. Nearing the midpoint of the season, the Nets have just three wins, giving them a real shot at the worst record in NBA history. And that lack of competence was on full display in the first quarter, as the Clippers picked them apart to score 39 points and take a 15 point lead.
Although the Nets began to play a little better (and the Clippers clearly relaxed a little too much), it was never much of a game. The closest New Jersey got after the first six minutes was seven points a few minutes into the second half - and the Clippers quickly went on a 9-2 run to stretch the lead back out to 14. With the first basket of the fourth quarter, the Clippers established their largest lead of the game at 24, and the rest of the way was extended garbage time.
Chris Kaman returned to the lineup after a four game absence and continued his scoring binge, putting up 22 points in about 30 minutes and making 10 of 16 shots. Craig Smith was even more prolific on a per minute basis - he scored 18 points in fewer than 19 minutes, making 8 of 10 baskets. Marcus Camby scored 17 and Eric Gordon 16, and the Clippers as a team shot over 55%.
The Clippers lost all four games that Kaman missed, and while those were obviously much better opponents than the Nets, it's pretty clear that the team needs him out there to thrive. In fact, the starting lineup of Kaman, Camby, Butler, Gordon and Baron Davis is now 8-1 on the season - so if you're still hoping for the team to make a playoff run even without Blake Griffin, it will have to start with having those five guys healthy.
The emergence of Smith over the last week or so is also a boost to the team's chances. Even if a successful starting lineup is in place, the team will need some help off the bench. In particular, given the offense that MDsr likes to run, they need a big on the floor who can score in the post. When Smith joined the team in the off-season, we had hoped that he could provide that post scoring off the bench. He was inconsistent (and mostly bad) for the first couple of months - but he's been terrific since the new year.
One of the more interesting stats from this game is that Baron Davis took only 5 shots - his lowest total as a Clipper. Baron had 9 points and 9 assists in fewer than 30 minutes of play, so he was into the game and productive - the fact was he preferred passing over shooting in this game, and with Kaman, Smith, Gordon, Camby and Butler all making shots, it was a great decision. It won't happen often that five other Clippers take more shots that Baron in a game, but overall it's a good sign if Baron is distributing and not feeling as if he has to score himself to keep the team in the game.
After the first quarter, there were definitely some things that needed work. For instance, after committing zero turnovers in the opening frame, the Clippers committed 18 in the final three periods. There's also the question of interior defense, as Brook Lopez scored 23 points and Kris Humphries scored 21 (a career high). But on the whole, the Clippers can be forgiven if they let down periodically in the game - the good news is that they responded and rebuilt the lead whenever they needed to.
The Clippers have one more home game before they leave on an eight game trip, their longest of the season. It will be imperative to beat Chicago on Wednesday.