|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|October 27th, 2010, 7:30 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket and ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
- First meeting of the season. Portland won the season series last season 3-1.
The Big Picture:
Well, here we go everybody. The Clippers start the 2010-2011 season with a new coach, a new general manager, a new star, seven new players and a new star. This is the long-awaited (and I do mean loooonnnngggg-awaited) NBA debut of Blake Griffin. His first summer league game in Las Vegas in July 2009, he made a dunk and a three on the first two possessions. His first televised pre-season game this year, in Mexico City against the Spurs, he caught an alley-oop from Baron on the first possession. He seems to rise to occasions, and this is certainly an occasion - the game is even on ESPN. My expectations are sky-high, at least for him. The Clippers were a terrible 1-7 in pre-season, worst in the league, but that will all be forgotten and irrelevant if they win their opener tonight. If they lose, it will on the other hand be remembered, and quite relevant. The schedule makers didn't do the Clippers many favors this year - not with a league-high 11 game road trip in February. But they do catch a break tonight. It's the Clippers season opener, at home, but it's the second night of a back to back for the Blazers, who beat the Suns last night.
The Blazers open this season the way they spent most of last season - with a bunch of big mean injured. Neither Greg Oden nor Joel Przyzbilla have recovered from the injuries they suffered last season, and continuing the trend, Jeff Pendergraph tore his ACL in pre-season and is out for the year. And people say the Clippers are cursed. With big guys dropping like flies, the Blazers still have former Clipper Marcus Camby holding down the middle, and the absence of all those injured centers didn't hurt them against the Suns, whom they outrebounded 48 to 30. Then again, that was the Suns. The Blazers do have a healthy Brandon Roy, which is more than they had going into last year's playoffs. When healthy, Roy is one of the elite shooting guards in the NBA and a real difference maker for the Blazers. Really, you have to like Portland's starting lineup, even without Oden. Andre Miller is no Clips Nation favorite, but he's a savvy veteran point guard, Roy is an All Star, Nic Batum is coming into his own, LaMarcus Aldridge is a deadly scorer, and of course we know all about Camby. What's not to like?
- Batum. Last February the Blazers traded Travis Outlaw to the Clippers as part of the Camby deal. This summer they traded Martell Webster to Minnesota for rookie Luke Babbitt (and Clippers starting small forward Ryan Gomes, whom they subsequently cut). The net effect is that Portland's small forward job is now indisputably Batum's. His first two seasons, he was usually the starter when he was healthy, but he wasn't necessarily the closer, averaging just over 20 minutes per game on the Blazers crowded wing. Now he's the starter, and likely the closer as well, which could be addition by subtraction for the Blazers, because this guy is very, very good.
- Matchups galore. There are fascinating matchups all over the floor in this game. Davis and Miller, two old LA guys, at the point. Eric Gordon versus Brandon Roy (so interesting, it gets its own bullet). Blake Griffin against LaMarcus Aldridge, one of those stretch fours that have given the Clippers lots of trouble in recent years, but perhaps Griffin is the answer. And of course Kaman versus his old buddy Camby. Even Gomes versus Batum has an air of revenge for Gomes given that the Blazers waived him this summer.
- Finally Healthy. I heard a quote from Neil Olshey the other day, talking about being healthy on opening night for the first time in four years. I hadn't really thought about it, but it's kind of huge. Last season they were of course without Griffin. Before that, in 08-09, they began the season without a tweaked Camby. And of course in 07-08, it was Elton Brand who was injured. So this is the first time in four seasons that they've had their starting power forward, and indeed their entire team, available to start the season. Will it make a difference?
- Not the Lakers! It's also the first time in a while that the Clippers have opened the season against a team other than the Lakers. The last two seasons the Clippers have opened against (and lost to) the other LA team.
- Gordon and Roy. Everyone knows that the Redeem Team took the summer off, creating an opportunity for Eric Gordon to be a major part of Team USA's gold medal run in Turkey. But another member of the broader Team USA program had to skip try outs in Las Vegas. Roy is officially on the Team USA roster, but was recovering from knee surgery in July and had to miss the World Championships. EJ took advantage of the opportunity to raise his NBA profile considerably, and you can now make an argument that Roy is one of only a small number of NBA shooting guards who are ahead of Gordon in the pecking order (Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade being the other two obvious choices). Gordon's calling card for Team USA was lock down perimeter defense, and he'll have his hands full with Roy tonight. Turns out, Roy is a little better than anyone on Turkey's roster.
- The Wait is Over. This moment has been a long time coming for Clipper fans, and even longer for Blake Griffin. (Actually, it's been the same amount of time, but I mean that it probably feels longer for Blake, but you probably knew that's what I meant.) From the time the Clippers won the draft lottery on May 19, 2009, until his first NBA game tonight, it will have been 526 days.
- Baron. As exciting as it is for Blake to make his debut, Baron Davis remains the engine that drives the Clippers. His impact was evident in pre-season, when the team looked pretty good with him on the floor, and mostly terrible without him. He has worked his way into shape during the pre-season, and it's a good thing, because he may have to play big minutes for the Clippers. He has a lot of weapons around him, and he seems poised to have a huge year passing the ball.
- Homesick Rudy. Rudy Fernandez of the Blazers made it clear before the season that he was homesick and he wanted to return to his native Spain. The Blazers made it clear that they didn't just walk away from assets, and they expected him to honor his contract. Fernandez sulked for awhile, and then turned around and had a monster pre-season, taking a ridiculous number of threes, and making most of them. With Outlaw in New Jersey, Webster in Minnesota and Jerryd Bayless in New Orleans, the role of bench scorer will fall to Rudy by default.
- Clippers bench. The Clippers starting unit looks great on paper, and has looked good in the pre-season. Unfortunately, the second unit has not looked good. It will be interesting to see how VDN handles substitutions. Will he try to keep one or two starters on the floor at all times? Or will he take his chances with a lineup of Randy Foye, Rasual Butler, Al-Farouq Aminu, Craig Smith and DeAndre Jordan? Smith is probably a key to the second string, since he is the only one with the ability to score with any efficiency. He's been struggling with a bad back, but is expected to play tonight. If the Clippers bench can manage to hold it's own tonight, then the team has a chance in this game.
- Superstar for one game. If you're new here, this is a feature I've done in the past where I predict what relatively nameless player on the opposition will kill the Clippers tonight. It's a double-reverse mojo tactic, where perhaps I can at least take one guy out of the game by predicting that he'll play great. Get it? Anyway, let's go with Wesley Matthews, the newest Blazer. He certainly killed the Clippers in pre-season.
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
- Get the Blazers perspective at Blazers Edge.