The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The teams split the season series last year one game each.
The Big Picture:
Momentum. The thing about momentum, is once you have it, you need to keep it. The Clippers have wins over the last two defending NBA champs (the Lakers and the Celtics) in the last two weeks, and have won four out of five in that time. A win against the Heat gets them to within a single game of .500, but most importantly it keeps the team psyche elevated. The win over the Lakers on Wednesday wasn't just the biggest of this season - it was the biggest since 2006. But a loss in the very next game and it would be like it never even happened. If the Clippers play like they have been, they should be fine. Their last two home games came against teams relying heavily on scoring from an All Star shooting guard, and the defense in each case forced him into a poor shooting night. Well, that's pretty much the formula for beating Miami. On offense, it would seem wise to get the ball to Chris Kaman. He's scored 20 or more in 11 of his last 12 games and I don't think the 31 year old Jermaine O'Neal can handle him. Baron Davis is also on a roll, and the Heat like the Lakers have issues at the point. Baron needs to dominate his matchup once again, as he did last Wednesday. If the defense plays well, Baron and Kaman are good, and at least a majority of the supporting case shows up, the Clippers should win this game.
I expected Miami to fade on this trip, I really did. They were 17-16 when they left on a tough, six-game west coast trip. That barely winning record was compiled with the help of a very favorable home schedule that saw them play 21 games in Miami to only a dozen on the road. So what happens? They go into Phoenix and beat the Suns on the first game of the trip. Then again, being on the road may not be such a bad thing for the Heat. They are now 7-6 in away games, and they've been terrible at home lately. The fact is, they have a chance in any game they play because of Dwyane Wade - he's that good. This team is thread bare - they just picked up a guy off of waivers who was cut by the worst team in the league to be their starting point guard, and their starting small forward was traded four times this summer alone. But none of that matters much if Wade is on. He is most definitely on lately - 29, 28, 44 and 33 in his last four games. After Wade there's a bit of a drop off. Wade averages over 27 points per game, eleven more than second leading scorer Michael Beasley at under 16 a game.
- Home Court Advantage. The Clippers were 13-28 at home in 07-08. They were 11-30 at home last season. They opened this season 2-5. Since then, they've won 9 and lost 3 to build their home record to 11-8 on the season. They've already won more home games this season than they did all of last season. For the elite teams in the league, it doesn't much matter where they play - they win wherever. The next group of teams has to be great at home to stay in the playoff race. The Clippers are starting to build that home court advantage.
- Get away game. After this game, the Clippers take a short trip (short in duration, pretty long in distance) to play in Memphis and New Orleans on Tuesday and Wednesday. It's always nice to get that last home win before heading out onto the road, especially with a nice run going.
- Undefeated for the Decade. If it feels like there hasn't been a lot of Clippers basketball in 2010, it's not just your imagination. The team had Jan.1, 2 and 3 off between games, and then Jan. 7, 8 and 9 off again. It's pretty unusual to have three consecutive days off in the NBA - in fact, other than the All Star Break, it doesn't happen again for the Clippers this season. But it does leave the Clippers as one of only three teams who are undefeated in 2010.
- Trap game? It's Wade and the Heat, so it's not your usual trap game. But I am a little worried. Three days off after a huge win over the Lakers. The Matinee tip. Last game of the home stand. It feels like a game in which they might lack the proper energy. How they play the first few minutes will be key.
- DFending DWade. Of all the superstars in the league, Wade is the most amazing to me, because it seems like you should be able to defend him. He's not a three point threat (a couple ticks under 28% this season, a couple ticks over 28% for his career) and doesn't have a a particularly good jump shot. So all you have to do is stay in front of him, and you can back off a couple of steps to help you. Easier said than done, and in fact, almost no one can do it.
- More on that. It didn't occur to me as I was writing the other previews, but we've been talking over the course of the last three games about the premier shooting guards in the NBA - Kobe, Roy and Wade - and the team has faced them all in succession. Obviously, the defense did the job in the first two meetings. The defensive schemes are going to be very similar in this one. They'll try to deny Wade the ball, double him every chance they get, and try to make someone else beat them. Gordon's getting a first hand look at the elite shooting guards of the league, a group he could join at some point. But the task at hand is to play good defense on Wade. Wade's actually a little better matchup for EJ than either Kobe or Roy, who both have a lot of size on him. It's not easy to defend the guy, but Gordon's got a chance.
- Reversal of fortune. Rafer Alston was the starting point guard for the Magic in the NBA Finals in June. Last week, he was waived by a team on pace to have the worst record in the history of the NBA. Skip always seems to land on his feet, though. He's been through a lot lately. In fact, the Heat are his fourth team in the course of 11 months. But he also lands on his feet - everywhere he goes, no matter how he got there, he's always the starter. Believe it or not, Skip's now in his 11th season. Not bad for an old And-One playground kid. By the way, he's shooting 34% from the field for the season. Ouch.
- Beasley. I have one thing to say about Michael Beasley: don't let him go left.
- Telfair doubtful. Sebastian Telfair has a sore groin and is doubtful for the game. It's not necessarily a bad game to be missing him. None of the Miami point guards are super quick types, and assuming Mardy Collins gets the backup one minutes, he can match up fine within any of them. But don't be surprised if Baron plays more minutes than usual.
- The bench. The loss of Telfair hurts the bench a bit. But DeAndre Jordan has been playing pretty well and Craig Smith is coming off a big game. Assuming Al Thornton is over his bout with the flu (and that he's coming off the bench) it would be great to see him have a big game.
You can stand here with me if you want but you'll have to agree not to talk about the heat.
- Get the Heat perspective at Peninsula is Mightier.