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Clippers at Cleveland - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Quicken Loans Arena
January 31st, 2010, 3:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Daniel Gibson
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:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers and the Cavaliers played a little over two weeks ago, and if I were writing this preview based solely on that game, I'd have to say that the Clippers have a real good chance in Cleveland.  After all, the game went down to the wire, with Cleveland holding on for the one point win as the Clippers failed to convert on their final shot.  In addition, the Clippers were playing without Chris Kaman and Al Thornton  but Kaman figures to be back from a more recent sprained ankle tonight and Thornton will also play; for the Cavs, they've since lost both Mo Williams and Delonte West to injuries.  So it was a close game, the Clippers roster is stronger, and the Cavs roster is weaker - maybe the Clippers should be favored, eh?  Trouble is, the Cavs are 7-0 since facing the Clippers, while LA has won only 3 of their last 11.  And of course there are those last two losses, against New Jersey and Minnesota, the two worst teams in the league.  Cleveland just happens to have the best record in the league, and the fewest home losses in the league.  I suppose stranger things have happened.  If the Clippers are going to have any chance at all, they're going to have to figure out how to shoot.  In the first five games of this trip, they've shot 37.8%, 43%, 38.8%, 42.1% and 41.5% - and they can't make their free throws either.  Gee, I wonder why they're 1-4 on the trip.  Can they bounce back from the embarrassment of the last two games?  Can Kaman play and play well?  Can they make a decent percentage of their shots?  If the answer to any of those questions is 'No', it's going to be a very long afternoon.  Of course, it will probably be a long afternoon regardless.

The Antagonist:

The Cavs have won seven straight and swept the season series with the record.  They have the best record in the NBA.  They are 17-3 in their last 20 games, with the three losses coming by a combined 6 points.  They have 19 road wins versus 3 home losses, a +16 in that important metric compared to the Lakers +10, the second best mark in the league.  In short, it's pretty easy to argue that they're the best team in the NBA.  And the reason is LeBron James.  The All Star reserves were announced Thursday, and no Cavaliers joined LeBron on the team.  Nor are there any Cavs on the myriad lists of snubs.  This is despite the inclination of the coaches to reward the best teams with extra All Stars.  In a league where the conventional wisdom is that you need three stars to build around if you want to win, LeBron leads the Cavs in scoring and assists and steals, is second in rebounding and blocked shots, and scores almost 30 points per game.  The second leading scorer currently playing for them with Mo Williams on the shelf is Shaq at just over 11.  And it doesn't matter.  They play good defense, and LeBron is unstoppable, and that's the entire formula.

The Subplots

  • Baron Davis.  In the third quarter in Minnesota, Baron Davis set a Clippers record for points in a quarter with 23.  It was an impressive display, reminiscent of Baron from his Warriors days.  But the outburst stands in stark contrast to his lack of productivity the rest of this trip.  The other three quarters in Minnesota he scored 5 points.  He's 14 for 53 in the other four games.  Is the Minnesota quarter the beginning of a Baron surge - or just a blip on the radar?
  • Eric Gordon.  Gordon strained his big toe against Chicago before the trip began.  He's been back for the last two games - which just happen to be the Clippers two worst losses of the season.  He's shot 10 for 28 overall, 3 for 13 from deep, and 6 for 12 from the line in the two games.  He also has 6 turnovers.  On this, the last day of January, EJ has only one single 20 point game in the entire month so far.  It's not that he's been bad - but expectations were pretty high for him, and he's got the capability to score 20 every night, so once in a month is disappointing in the extreme.  As it happens, that one game was a 28 point gem the last time the Clippers played the Cavs.  With Williams and West out tonight, the Cavs will have to put Booby Gibson on either Baron or EJ.  My guess is they stick Anthony Parker on Baron and take their chances with Gibson on Gordon.  That's a matchup the Clippers need to exploit.
  • Rasual Butler.  In addition to Gordon's 28 point night, Rasual Butler scored a career high 33 against the Cavs in the first meeting.  In fact, the only reason the Clippers had a chance to win the game was because Butler and Gordon were each white hot.  It will take similarly unlikely performances - not necessarily from these two, but from somebody - for the Clippers to compete in this game.
  • Defense.  In the first game against the Cavs, the Clippers seemed to do a good job of defending LeBron.  And yet he still scored 32.  Rasual Butler drew the primary assignment, and Ricky Davis took his turn on his former teammate as well.  Al Thornton missed the first meeting, but figures to match up against LeBron some tonight.  If the initial defender can make him work for his shots and the help can keep him from getting easy finishes at the rim, that's about all you can ask for.
  • Bradley Brave.  As Ralph will tell you many times this afternoon, new Cav Anthony Parker went to Bradley in Ralph's home town of Peoria, Illinois so 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 are now 0 and 5 without Kaman in the lineup, including the first game against Cleveland of course.  He considered playing Friday night but felt the ankle was not strong enough.  It seems likely that he'll play tonight.  It's a good thing too - the Clippers' half court offense has been pretty terrible when Kaman has missed games this season.
  • Movie Quote: 

    My mother was about to make another brilliant maneuver in the legendary battle of the lamp. The epic struggle which follows lives in the folklore of Cleveland Street to this very day.

    Adult Ralphie, A Christmas Story (1983). I made my kids watch A Christmas Story this year.  They don't seem to think it's as funny as I do.  What's wrong with kids these days?
  • Get the Cavs perspective at Fear the Sword.