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Clippers vs. Utah - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
November 27th, 2010, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Willie Warren
PG Deron Williams
Eric Gordon SG Raja Bell
Al-Farouq Aminu
SF Andrei Kirilenko
Blake Griffin
PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan
C Al Jefferson

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers return home to Staples Center this afternoon after a tough trip to Phoenix Friday. They had won two straight before playing the Suns, but got ambushed in the first quarter and fell behind by 25 early. To their credit, they kept playing hard, and closed the gap to four in the third, and then climbed back within six in the fourth after the Suns had opened the lead back up to 18. In the end the deficit was too great to overcome, but the Clippers did play well for the third straight game. With the Jazz in town it will be a reprise of one of the most exciting games of the season so far, Utah's 109-107 double overtime win from three weeks ago. That game seemed to be a coming out party for Eric Gordon, who carried the team in the fourth quarter and single-handedly erased a 7 point deficit in the final minute. Since the Utah game, Gordon has scored at least 25 points in eight out of nine games. Unfortunately, he had to leave the last game during overtime with a bruised shoulder, and the Clippers were unable to pull off the upset. Of course, the Clippers also had a healthy Chris Kaman in that game (the last time they had him), and he scored a season-high of 23, easily his best game of the season. Kaman is close to returning, but probably won't be back until Wednesday night against San Antonio. Likely joining Kaman on the sidelines with a sprained ankle will be Eric Bledsoe, who has started 14 straight games at point guard since Baron Davis was sidelined with a sore knee in the fourth game of the season. With Davis and Bledsoe doubtful, and Randy Foye still limited by a sore hamstring, the Clippers are down to rookie second round pick Willie Warren and shooting guard Eric Gordon who are capable of playing the point. But as long as Gordon and Blake Griffin are 100%, the Clippers will be fun to watch and should at least have a chance.

The Antagonist:

The first Utah-LAC game didn't just get Eric Gordon going; it was also a breakthrough for the Jazz as a team. They've won nine of eleven games since, including some of the most improbable come from behind victories in recent memory. They've beaten the Heat, the Magic, and Friday night the Lakers, coming back from significant deficits in each case. Deron Williams and Paul Millsap (two l's one p) have been terrific all season, especially with the game on the line. Ironically, despite their stellar record, it's hard to say how their new acquisition Al Jefferson is fitting into the team. Jefferson's scoring and rebounding are both down compared to the last several years, and he's shooting a career low from the field, which is strange when you consider that the Utah offense tends to improve a player's efficiency. Utah has lost a lot of pieces since last season - Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, not to mention the injured Mehmet Okur - and so far, it's mostly fallen on Williams and Milsapp (two l's one p) to pick up the slack. No one else on the team could be said to be having a particularly good season to this point.

The Subplots

  • Point guard problems. After Eric Bledsoe suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half against the Suns, the top three point guards on the depth chart for the Clippers are currently hurt. Any one of them could conceivably play in this game, but at this point it seems unlikely that any of them will be at full strength. My best guess is that Randy Foye will get limited minutes, while neither Baron Davis nor Bledsoe will play at all. That leaves the lion's share of the minutes at the point to Willie Warren, a rookie second round draft pick, and Eric Gordon, a natural shooting guard. I expect that the Clippers will get a little creative with the solution to this problem. Don't be surprised to see some combination of Ryan Gomes, Al-Farouq Aminu and Rasual Butler on the floor together at the wings with Gordon at the point during key moments of this game. In fact, the Clippers have had some success in recent games with Gomes defending the point guard position (they've done it against Chris Paul, Tyreke Evans and Steve Nash), and Williams is another great candidate for that approach.
  • Millsap is this year's Kaman. Paul Millsap (two l's one p) became this year's Chris Kaman when he was left off the All Star Game ballot despite being an early season sensation. Millsap is 19 points and 9 rebounds while shooting 56% from the field, but couldn't be squeezed onto the ballot. It must be said that the West is loaded with quality forwards, but the real question is why in 2010 the NBA is tied to a paper ballot at all. After back to back years with terrible mistakes, you'd think they'd get a clue and revamp the process. The fix for Milsapp's omission would not have been simple, but moving teammate over to center on the ballot, and omitting either Okur or injured Laker Andrew Bynum (or both) would seem to be the best solution. Is it really that hard to justify omitting a player who's going to miss six weeks of the season from a voting process that covers the first two months? Having said that, Millsap seems to be letting the ballot makers off the hook a bit with his recent play, as he's come down to earth and averaged 13.6 point over his last five games.
  • Millsap and Landry, compare and contrast. Millsap (two l's one p) is one of those undersized fours that has traditionally given the Clippers trouble. He scored 25 in the first meeting, and has had games of 24 and 23 off the bench in the past. Of course, those games don't look that daunting compared to the 46 he hung on the Heat a couple weeks ago. Both Millsap and Landry (whom the Clippers faced Thursday night) have gone from hyper-productive sub to full time starter this season, but it seems to be working out better for Millsap. The Utah forward is averaging career highs across the board with his new role, while Landry is averaging career lows. Which proves that a guy who is really productive in a limited role will either flourish with additional minutes or he won't. Or maybe he'll stay about the same. It's definitely one of those options. Griffin will have the assignment of keeping Millsap (two l's one p) in check.
  • Two l's one p. I can never remember how to spell Millsap; it comes out Milsap and Millsapp and most frequently Milsapp. So I've taken to muttering "two l's one p" under my breath every time I say or write his name. So that's his new nickname, at least for me.
  • Confidence? One has to assume that Gordon's confidence will be through the roof, after what he did to this team late in the game in Salt Lake City. It had to kill him to leave a close game in overtime, so I assume he's anxious to get back out that and play against them again. I expect him to be aggressive from the opening tip.
  • Good start. Early in the season the team had trouble in the third quarter. Now, it seems to be the beginning of the game when they lack focus. The fell behind Phoenix by 25 in the first Friday, and they even fell behind the hapless Kings 11-4 early. They need to come out of the locker room ready to play, because we know that Utah is a great second half team.
  • Aminu and Hayward. The Clippers were desperate for a small forward in June's draft, and for many people the choice came down to Al-Farouq Aminu or Gordon Hayward. The Clippers went with Aminu with the 8th pick, and Hayward ended up going to the Jazz with the next selection. Hayward appeared to be the more finished product, and logged 21 minutes in his first NBA game. I myself feared that Hayward might turn out to be the better pro, and certainly felt that he was much closer to contributing right away. In fact, the two have gone in opposite directions this season. Hayward began the season firmly in the Jazz rotation, and has worked his way down to spot duty. Aminu began with spot duty, and is now the starter. Much more surprising is the shooting. Hayward seemed to be the much better shooter coming out of college, but his making just 39% of his shots as a pro, and is 1 for 7 on three pointers. AFA is shooting over 46% from the field, and has made 16 of 33 threes.
  • Rookies. Of the rookies that have played at least 50 minutes this season, Blake Griffin is ranked first in PER at 20.5, Aminu is 9th and Bledsoe is 11th. Hayward is dead last, with a PER of 3.5.
  • Three point shooting. It seems perhaps a tad futile to talk about the key to success for a 3-14 team, but if there is a way for the Clippers to avoid losing (short of not playing), it may be the three point line. In their three victories this season, they have given up 4, 4 and 6 threes. By contrast, when they've given up more than 6 threes, they've lost every time. Utah made 6 threes in the first meeting, which may explain why that game was so close. The good news is that Utah is not a team that shoots a lot of threes. They take a little over 14 a game, which is 27th in the league. This is probably not a team that is going to kill the Clippers from deep, which is a good thing.
  • Griffin. Blake Griffin has been playing especially well in the last few games, especially in Staples Center. A dominant performance from him would be a major boon to the Clippers chances in this game.
  • Superstar for one game: Ronnie Price.
  • Famous Quotation:

    Basketball is jazz: improvisatory, free, individualistic, corporate, sweaty, fast, exulting, screeching, torrid, explosive, exquisitely designed for letting first the trumpet, then the sax, then the drummer, then the trombonist soar away in virtuoso excellence.

    Michael Novak, Joy of Sports
  • Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.