The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The Bulls swept the two game series last season.
The Big Picture:
One good week followed by one bad week. The Clippers won four games in a row from the end of December through January 10th, then lost four straight the next week. They got another win on Monday, so maybe they'll start another winning streak. It's no coincidence of course that Chris Kaman played in all five of the wins, and missed all four of the losses. He's been a force on offense all season, and also happens to be a very good defender - so needless to say he's important to the team. And while we're on the subject of positive trends, the starting lineup of Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Marcus Camby and Kaman that figures to take the floor at the tip tonight is 8-1 on the season. The shame of course is that the lineup will be making only it's tenth start as we reach the midpoint of the season. That's partly due to injuries (Eric Gordon has missed 9 games, Kaman missed those 4) but a lot of it was just figuring out the lineup I guess. It seems like the lineup is now set - not even an impending Blake Griffin return to muddy the waters. So if this group can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see if they can be competitive. The eight game trip that starts tomorrow night on National TV in Denver will be a huge test. But first things first - have to win the getaway game against the Bulls. I like the Clippers chances tonight - I like the way they match up against the Bulls.
There are a few candidates for 'most disappointing team' and I think the Bulls have to be one of them. They took the Celtics to seven games in a thrilling first round playoff series last season, but they're barely hanging onto the eighth playoff seed this year, even in the watered down East. Sure, they lost Ben Gordon in the off-season and are stockpiling cap space for next summer, so I suppose you could say that a drop off was to be expected. But with Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose expected to take the next step, there were expectations that Chicago could overcome the loss of Gordon (a flawed player at any rate) and be a middle playoff seed. It might still happen of course - the Bulls have been perhaps the most inconsistent team in the league, and have looked good at times. But they've also looked very, very bad at times. They're a decent defensive team (10th in defensive efficiency), but terrible on offense - 28th out of 30 teams in the league. Their problem on offense is that they have absolutely no low post scoring - which has been their problem every single season since they traded Elton Brand to the Clippers. It's really amazing how every season everyone knows what the problem is - yet the Bulls are never able to fix it, and frankly barely seem to try. So with offensive cipher Joakim Noah starting at center, and USC rookie Taj Gibson starting a power forward, it's up to Rose, John Salmons and Luol Deng to generate all of the offense for the Bulls. This bodes well for the Clippers defense, which has been pretty good against perimeter scorers lately. I assume that Eric Gordon will draw the assignment of keeping Rose out of the paint. With Gordon, Butler and Baron watching the perimeter, and Kaman and Camby guarding the rim, it could be a long night for Chicago's lackluster offense. The Bulls had won four straight before losing in Oakland to the Warriors on Monday. Kirk Hinrich missed that game with the flu, but will probably be back against the Clippers.
- [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/20/10 12:50 AM PST ] Illness/Injury Updates. Hinrich practiced for Chicago, but it looks like John Salmons will miss the game as the flu moved on to him. Baron was sick and missed practice Tuesday for the Clippers. No word on his status. Al Thornton has missed the last two with a bad ankle but is getting closer to playing - he's lited as probable.
- How bad have the Bulls been? This bad. They gave up a 35 point second half lead and lost to the Kings at home. We've suffered through some terrible collapses in Clips Nation - a couple of pretty ugly ones this season in fact. But a 35 point lead? That's a whole different level.
- Vinny Del Negro. Last season seven coaches were fired by Christmas. This season, there have only been two firings so far. On the short list of survivors are both of the coaches in tonight's game. VDN got his first head coaching job with the Bulls last season, and frankly has not shown much aptitude for it. As the Bulls were on a 4 and 13 run in December (a stretch that included the aforementioned Sacramento loss), it seemed inevitable that VDN would get canned. But the Bulls have strung together a couple of four game winning streaks since, including big wins over Orlando and Boston. As for MDsr, there were rumors his job was on the line earlier this season, but the twin events of the Clippers playing better and Blake Griffin being lost for the year have no doubt made his job safe through the start of next season. The Clippers have been pretty consistent on this point - they won't fire him (which would of course cost them money) while his players are hurt.
- Home court advantage. The Clippers have been playing well at home. Overall they are 13-9 at home, and are one missed jumper away from an eight game home winning streak (they're 7-1 with a one point loss to the Cavs). More importantly, as it happens they are undefeated at home against teams currently sporting winning records. Losses to Toronto and New Orleans and Oklahoma City seemed like disasters at the time, and indeed they were not pretty - but all of those teams are now above .500, indicating that they were not as bad as we thought when they happened. The Bulls are below .500, and moreover have a 4-14 road record.
- Can they stop Kaman? Joakim Noah is a lot of fun. He goes after every ball, he's quick, he's long, he's full of energy. And he's listed at 232 pounds. Chris Kaman has about 30 pounds on him, and while Noah will surely try to use his quickness to bother Kaman, I just don't think he can keep Kaman from going where he wants to go. Look for the Bulls to double early and often, opening up perimeter shooters for the Clippers. If Gordon and Butler continue to shoot well, the Bulls should be in trouble.
- Sharing the ball. The Clippers recorded 32 assists on 40 field goals against the Nets on Monday afternoon, an astounding 80% of their shots. Baron Davis and Marcus Camby are both terrific passers at their positions, and they seem to be setting the example for Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon (who tied his career high of 7 against the Nets).
- Clipper Killers. Former Sacramento Kings Brad Miller and John Salmons always seemed to play great against the Clippers. This is the first time that the Clippers are facing them since they were traded to the Bulls - let's hope they don't act like old times.
- Mid Point. Tonight is the Clippers 41st game, half way through the 82 games season. A win would give the team 19 wins, equally their total from all of last year.
Nor would I, were I given the full rights of an Englishman. But to call me one without those rights is like calling an ox a bull. He's thankful for the honor, but he'd much rather have restored what's rightfully his.
- Get the Bulls perspective at Blog a Bull.