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Clippers vs. Orlando - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
December 12th, 2010, 6:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Eric Bledsoe PG Jameer Nelson
Eric Gordon SG Vince Carter
Al-Farouq Aminu SF Rashard Lewis
Blake Griffin PF Brandon Bass
DeAndre Jordan C Dwight Howard

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Magic swept the two games last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have faced struggling teams in their last three losses. The Trailblazers had lost six in a row. The Lakers had lost four of six. The Grizzlies had lost four of five. In each case, the Clippers had a chance to win, one might even say they should have won, but they didn't. Missed free throws in Portland, and ridiculous turnovers against the Lakers and Grizz snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The Clippers have been in every game they've played for the last three weeks (the last time they were blown out was November 18 at Indiana). Their four wins in those eleven games is infinitely better than the one win in their first dozen; but they still have no clue how to win a close one. Tonight in Staples Center they face another team on a losing streak, albeit one that is supposed to be among the league's elite. One wonders, watching Blake Griffin's body slump at the end of the last two heartwrenching defeats, if all the losing is starting to wear away at the team's confidence. I guess the good news is that the problems are fairly obvious - protect the ball, make your free throws, defend the three point line. The Clippers are at or near the bottom of the league in all of those categories, and one or the other has been their downfall all season. In order to win against the Magic, Griffin and Eric Gordon will have to have big games. But the key to this one may be DeAndre Jordan on Dwight Howard. If DJ can make Howard work without getting into foul trouble, and the Clippers can avoid doubling Howard, it will increase their chances dramatically.

The Antagonist:

The Magic began the season 15-4 and appeared to be a legitimate contender for best team in the Eastern Conference. They've since lost four straight, and are looking like a team with some glaring weaknesses. When Dwight Howard is dominating the middle and their three point shooters are knocking down open looks, they are hard to beat. But if that's not working for whatever reason (if Howard is ineffective, or if the perimeter shots aren't dropping), they can stagnate on offense, because they don't really have enough players who can create shots on their own. During the losing streak, it hasn't been any one thing hurting the Magic. Against Milwaukee, Howard and Jameer Nelson and others were out with a stomach virus. Against Atlanta, Nelson was still out and none of the starters played particularly well. Against Portland, Howard was dominant with a season-high 39, but the rest of the team was terrible, with the next highest scorer registering only 11. Friday night in Utah, the offense was balanced, but the defense allowed a season-high 117 points. The Magic will be OK, this losing streak notwithstanding- after all, no team better to play than the Clippers if you're looking to end a losing streak. Their system is pretty simple, but it works - play good defense, and use Howard and perimeter shooting on offense. That may not be enough to win the Eastern Conference this season, but it's enough to win a lot of games.

The Subplots

  • Three point shooting. The Magic led the NBA in three point attempts last season at almost 28 a game. They are among the leaders again this season, although the volume is down a bit to 24 a game. Their success rare is down a little also. But make no mistake - this team still likes to take a ton of threes, and the Clippers have been very susceptible to the three this season. The Magic have six rotation players who have taken at least 50 three this season, and three more who have taken at least 15.
  • Brandon Bass. The Magic inserted Brandon Bass into the starting lineup before the Utah game. He'll start again tonight, partly to matchup with Blake Griffin. Former Clipper Quentin Richardson had been starting at small forward with Rashard Lewis at power forward, which gave Orlando four shooters surrounding Howard, but Richardson has been pretty terrible this season (38% shooting overall). Putting Bass at the four and sliding Lewis over to the three gives them more all around talent on the floor, but it also gives defenses at least one player they can help off of on the perimeter. Whether Bass can actually handle Griffin on the defensive end remains to be seen of course. If Griffin gets off to a great start, don't be surprised if Orlando puts Howard on him to slow him down.
  • 20-11. That's not just the calendar year looming in a couple of weeks. It's also the club that Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard belong to, averaging over 20 points per game and 11 rebounds per game. Pau Gasol has recently dropped below 20, so he's out of the club, but Kevin Love has joined.
  • Consecutive double doubles. Griffin has recorded a double double in point and rebounds in eleven consecutive games. He is tied with Pau Gasol for second in the NBA in double doubles this season with 17, which is one more than Howard.
  • Seven straight. The Magic have beaten the Clippers seven straight times, and several of those wins were major blowouts. For any other team, a seven game losing streak against an opponent might be news. But for the Clippers, it seems like no big deal. Still, with major losing streaks against the Spurs and Hornets ending earlier this season, the seven straight to the Magic is the third longest active losing streak for the Clippers, after nine straight to Phoenix and eight straight to Dallas.
  • DJo on DHo. DeAndre Jordan has quietly been playing great basketball the last two games. Youngsters Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu, also surprise starters most of the season, have gotten more attention because they are rookies and weren't expected to contribute. But DeAndre is still only 22, and may be showing signs of developing into a legitimate NBA center in this his third season. Against the Lakers and Grizzlies, he averaged 12.5 rebounds, 9.5 points and 2.5 blocks. Perhaps more importantly, he played good defense without fouling, picking up only two fouls total in 67 minutes of court time. Against the Magic, if DJ can keep Howard from completely dominating, and do so without fouling, he will give the Clippers a chance to win. It's certainly not an easy task, but DJ is one of the few centers in the league who even comes close to Howard physically.
  • Turnovers. The Clippers simply must do a better job of valuing the basketball. Until they solve their turnover problems, they just aren't going to win games. It starts with Bledsoe, Davis and Gordon, the guys with the ball in their hands. Those three combined to turn the ball over 13 times all by themselves against Memphis. That's a decent amount of turnovers for an entire team, let alone for you three ballhandlers.
  • Gordon. Gordon seems to be hitting his threes now, and scored 20 or more points in eleven consecutive game. I'd like to see him attack the 33 year old Carter from the opening tip in this one. That's definitely a good matchup for the Clippers.
  • Rashard Lewis. Quick, who's the highest paid player in the NBA? OK, that was too easy, it's Kobe Bryant. Who's the second highest paid player? It's not LeBron James or Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki - it's Rashard Lewis. Lewis still has two more seasons on the massive deal he signed with the Magic, and he's already making over $20M this season. Interestingly, Lewis has played well enough and is such a good fit in Orlando, so that his signing has not really become a major regret for the team. Not yet that is. In his 13th season in the league, at the age of 31, Lewis is averaging just 12.4 points per game, his lowest output in a decade. His shooting percentage and per minute scoring are both at their lowest levels since he was an 18 year old rookie.
  • Superstar for one game: Brandon Bass. Bass is one of those Paul Millsap type power forwards, a bit undersized, very active, with a good midrange game. Bass has been a real bright spot for the Magic this season.
  • Famous Quotation:

    How else can I explain those rainbows when there is no rain, it's magic.
    Sammy Cahn - It's Magic
  • Get the Magic perspective at Orlando Pinstriped Post.