The Back Story:
- First meeting of the season. The teams split the season series last year, each winning at home. The loss in New Jersey was probably the lowest point of a Clippers season that had a lot of low points.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers played a brutal slate of Western Conference powers in their first nine games, losing eight of them. Then they played the struggling Pistons in LA on Friday night, and still lost in overtime. Tonight brings in the New Jersey Nets, who had the worst record in the NBA last season. Although the Nets are much better at this point of the season than they were last year, when they opened with an NBA record 18 straight losses (breaking a record previously held by the Clippers, thanks for that Nets), they're still pretty bad. The Clippers will once again be without Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, as they were against the Pistons. But there's little doubt at this point as to the status of Eric Gordon, who returned from a bone bruise in his shoulder that kept him out for two games to score 28 against the Pistons, including a 15 point fourth quarter. Gordon reported no ill effects of his 42 minutes, and has had two days off since then as well, so he'll be ready for the Nets. Vinny Del Negro started Blake Griffin at the five, Ryan Gomes at the four and Al-Farouq Aminu at the three against donut Detroit (no center), but don't expect that with Brook Lopez coming to town. Might he leave Aminu in the starting five after the kid got the first start of his career Friday, creating an actual U23 starting lineup? Probably not. If Cat Mobley was MDsr's security blanket, Gomes is VDN's. Aminu was part of a huge third quarter against Detroit, but was nowhere to be seen in the fourth and OT, as VDN stuck with Gomes. If you think this game is 'winnable', just remember that the Nets may have had a league record losing streak to start the season last year, but this season it's the Clippers with the worst record through 10 games.
If the Nets were the worst team in the league last season, are they that much better this season? Their top two players remain the same from last year's club, Devin Harris at point guard and Brook Lopez at center. Yes, there was a lot of turnover on the rest of the roster, but it's not clear that there was much of an upgrade. Are Travis Outlaw, Troy Murphy, Anthony Morrow and Jordan Farmar significantly better than Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas Roberts and Keyon Dooling? Better yes, but significantly? Like the Clippers, the Nets did their due diligence to have the cap space to pursue LeBron James this summer, and like the Clippers they had to turn their attention elsewhere when LeBron inevitably chose not to join their team. But Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow feels a lot like Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye when compared to LeBron and Dwyane Wade. The Nets did make the most high profile bench hire of the summer, landing former Mavs head coach Avery Johnson. Johnson has them playing at a snail's pace (28th in the league), and their offensive efficiency is 26th (one spot above the Clippers). Avery does have them playing respectable defense, near the league average in efficiency, which is a major improvement over last season. And they have those three wins. They may have come against weak competition (Detroit, Sacramento and Cleveland), but they didn't get their third win until Dec. 30th last season. Besides, the Clippers couldn't beat Detroit.
- Brook Lopez' struggles. Brook Lopez has had a start to the season that may remind Clippers fans of Chris Kaman's struggles. In six games in November, Lopez has made 30 of 90 field goal attempts. He's averaging fewer than 6 rebounds per game. His PER, over 20 last season, is 14.4 right now - the league average is 15. He did show signs of breaking out his slump in their last game versus Orlando, when he was 8 for 17 with 23 points.
- Stanford Twins. What is it about seven foot twins and Stanford? Brook and Robin (I'm going to kill Bart Simpson) Lopez went there about a decade after Clippers backup center Jarron Collins and his brother Jason. How many twin seven footers are there? How many are good enough to play in the NBA? How many have the grades to get into Stanford (even on a basketball scholarship)? I ask you, what are the odds?
- Travis Outlaw. Outlaw spent the last few months of last season as a Clipper, after arriving in LA with Steve Blake when Marcus Camby was traded to Portland. Travis was a clutch scorer in Portland, but missed most of last season due to injury, and never much found his groove with the Clippers, shooting a career low 40% from the floor. He's hitting 47.5% of his shots as New Jersey's starting forward, and almost 55% of his threes.
- The Carmelo Situation. Before training camp started, Carmelo Anthony was rumored to be headed to New Jersey. The Nets would supposedly have to part with Devin Harris, rookie Derrick Favors and two first round picks, in a complicated four team deal, in order to get it done. As the story goes, the Nuggets pulled back, and the deal didn't happen. If indeed it was the Nuggets who balked, it was not smart, as it seems unlikely they'll be able to get the same haul before the trade deadline (cap relief, Favors and the two picks, both likely in the lottery, were headed to Denver in the trade). Favors has been much better than expected in the early going, making Denver's reluctance look even worse. The Nets would dearly love Carmelo's star power, and will no doubt continue to pursue him.
- New owner. The Nets and Clippers have much in common. Both are the second, less famous franchise in a major metropolitain area. Both labor in the shadow of the other team (though in the case of the Nets, it's hard to say why the Knicks are considered the marquee franchie - I mean, at least the Lakers win). The Nets got something this summer the Clippers can only dream of for now - a new owner. Russian gajillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets and he's made it clear that he intends to spend a lot of money to make them contenders. They'll be moving to a new arena in Brooklyn in a couple of years, and Prokhorov seems intent on having Carmelo or some other major star around for the move.
- Eric Gordon. Gordon is averagng 22 points per game. He's making 61.5% of his two point shots. Unfortunately, he's 6 for 40 from three. That's 15%. If he were making anywhere close to his 38% coming into the season, he'd be averaging 25 points per game. He's been driving to the basket relentlessly and finishing with authority. When he regains his outside stroke, watch out. He showed some signs on Friday - he didn't make any threes, but he did make three long jumpers in the fourth quarter. Fingers crossed his jump shot starts to fall consistently.
- Anthony Morrow. Opposite Gordon at shooting guard for the Nets is Anthony Morrow. Morrow is a notorious Clipper killer, having scored 37 points against LAC in the fourth game (and first start) of his career. It still stands as his career high. Morrow signed an offer sheet with New Jersey this summer and eventually left Oakland in a sign and trade. He's the starter at the two, but is shooting career low percentages so far. He's not shooting badly - 38.6% from three - but not nearly as well as he did for the Warriors (46% over two seasons). Morrow is pretty one dimensional - 44 of his 83 field goal attempts this season have been three pointers - so the Clippers need to stay close to him. Don't be surprised if the Clippers cross match and put Gordon on the more versatile Devin Harris, and tell Eric Bledsoe to stay glued to Morrow on the three point line.
- Three point shooting. The Clippers have been getting killed from deep this season, and Friday's loss to Detroit was no exception. Morrow, Outlaw and Troy Murphy can all stroke it from deep, so hopefully the Clippers can defend the three point line tonight.
- Murphy and Humphries. Murphy has been nursing a sore right foot, and and Kris Humphries started in his place on Saturday. That may not be such good news for the Clippers. Humphries averaged 23 points against the Clippers last year, making 19 of his 28 shots. He has two games scoring greater than 20 points in his seven year NBA career, and both came against the Clippers last year. Sheesh. I'm telling you, these guys circle the Clippers games on their calendars and say "That's the night I'm gong to get my career high."
- Superstar for one game: Humphries and Morrow are the obvious choices. But maybe it will be former Laker Jordan Farmar, back in Staples for the first time since signing with the Nets over the summer.
Don't stand by the water and long for fish; go home and weave a net.
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