|2009/2010 NBA Regular Season|
|February 22nd, 2010, 7:30 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The Bobcats swept the season series last year.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers got their first win under interim coach Kim Hughes Saturday night against the Kings. In addition to the good news of getting a win and maybe having a little momentum for this game, they'll also have the good news of having as many as three additional players in the rotation tonight, as Baron Davis is expected to return from a back injury and recent acquisitions Travis Outlaw and Drew Gooden are each likely to make their Clipper debuts. So it may be the first chance to see the re-constituted lineup. If they play, Baron will be back starting at the point, while Outlaw and Gooden will be the primary backups at small and power forwards. But don't be surprised if Outlaw and Gooden eventually contend for starting positions. The tricky thing about the Clippers situation down the stretch is that with only four active players more or less guaranteed to be on the roster next season (guaranteed contracts for Baron, Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman along with a very affordable unguaranteed season for DeAndre Jordan), the rest of the team represents potential heartbreak. What happens if we really love this Outlaw guy? He's an unrestricted free agent this summer, and even if the team misses on LeBron James or decides they'd prefer to retool with their own free agents rather than rebuild with external signings, there's certainly no guarantee that Outlaw will want to re-sign here. Bird rights, especially for a player who is unlikely to command more than the mid-level exception, are not all that valuable when you get right down to it. So while there are several players that might be very useful for the team long term, either as starters or as key reserves (Outlaw, Butler, Blake Inferior, Craig Smith, Gooden), they're all free agents so there's no assurance that any of them will be Clippers next season, even if the team wants them AND there's room to sign them. That's one reason that it was so nice to see Kaman and Gordon play well on Saturday - we can be pretty certain those guys will be around when the games start to matter again.
Saturday's game against the Kings was the first time the Clippers have seen Sacramento this season. Tonight it's the first meeting with Charlotte. There's only one more team that LA hasn't faced yet (Milwaukee). All of that is to say, I haven't seen much of the Bobcats this season. I mean, they haven't played the Clippers, it's not like they're on ESPN on TNT ever, and frankly I don't go out of my way on League Pass to watch defensive battles. Most of the teams in the playoff picture this season are at least competent on both sides of the ball. The primary exceptions are the Suns who are atrocious on defense, but make up for it with a league-best offensive efficiency, and the Bulls and Bobcats, who are terrible offensive teams, but top five on defense. After acquiring Stephen Jackson and assimilating him into the team, the Bobcats started to look like they could be a pretty good team, even winning 9 out of 10 at the beginning of January. But since that run they've come back to earth, losing 8 of their last 14. The team is a matchup nightmare. Jackson is a 6'-8" multi-skilled shooting guard, Gerald Wallace is an extraordinarily athletic and active combo forward, and Boris Diaw is a point forward who passes better than anyone his size in the entire league. At the trade deadline, they added another athletic freak in Tyrus Thomas. It's no wonder they're tough on defense, and Thomas makes them even tougher - it'll be a maze of long arms and legs with Jackson, Wallace, Thomas and Diaw out there. On offense, they don't really have an elite scorer. Jackson is averaging 22, and has been on a tear lately, but he's never been particularly efficient. Wallace gets his points slashing and hustling, and doesn't have what you would call a sophisticated offensive arsenal. But they use their defense to generate scoring opportunities, and they've beaten some really good teams that way - most recently defeating Cleveland last week.
- Tough assignment for EJ. One of Eric Gordon's challenges in the league is defending the big threes he comes up against. Gordon is a bit undersized for a shooting guard at 6'-3", though his strength helps make up for that. But when he comes up against a Kobe Bryant at 6'-6" it is tough on him. Jackson is one of those cases. We know Eric will play him tough and can stay in front of him. But he's giving away quite a bit of size to Jackson, so it could be a problem. On the other end, it will be interesting to see if EJ can attack Jax. He should have a quickness advantage.
- Of Steves and Stephens. When the Clippers acquired Steve Blake, it occurred to me that they had two of the three Steves in the league (the third being Nash). Then there's Stephen Jackson and Stephen Curry, but of course they both spell their name wrong, and Curry actually goes a step further and PRONOUNCES it wrong. The name would not appear to be quite as in vogue as it was, say, 47 years ago. There are literally four Steves my age living on my block in Long Beach - but my kids don't know a single Steve at their schools.
- Losing streak. Believe it or not, the Bobcats have swept the season series with the Clippers two years in a row and have a four game winning streak against LA. They've had some unlikely success against the Lakers as well, winning three straight before losing by two points earlier this month. Four is as long as a losing streak to the Bobcats needs to get, if you ask me.
- Home/road. The good news for the Clippers is that the Bobcats appear to be a different team on the road than they are at home. In fact, they are currently an even 27-27 overall, but that includes 20-7 in Charlotte, and 7-20 away.
Larry Brown. I have no idea if there's any truth to the rumor, but at least one basketball writer has said that Bobcats coach and NBA vagabond Larry Brown might be interested in the Clippers job this summer. Brown of course coached the Clippers once before, almost 20 years ago, leading them to back-to-back playoff appearances in his two seasons in LA, which pretty much ranks as his greatest accomplishment, ahead of winning NBA and NCAA titles. It remains to be seen how the Clippers approach their coaching vacancy in the offseason, and it's an additional layer of complexity (and potential opportunity) in the free agent chase. Would LeBron James be more inclined to play in LA if Larry Brown were the coach? It's safe to assume that Brown would be more interested if LeBron were on board.
- Chandler may be out? Tyson Chandler has missed the Bobcats' last two games with a sore foot, so it remains to be seen if he's feeling healthy enough to play in this one.
- What to watch for with Outlaw. If Travis Outlaw plays tonight, you will have to remember that it is his first game action in over three months, so he's going to be rusty. Trout was struggling shooting the ball at the beginning of the season in Portland, mired well below 40%, so hopefully he can find his range (he's a career 44% shooter). Kim Hughes has said that he'll giving Outlaw as many minutes as he can handle.
- Kaman. Kaman will be effective against single coverage tonight if the Cats leave Chandler or Nazr Mohammed to deal with him. But I expect they send quick doubles, with some of the long, lanky wings they have. Chris' ability to recognize the doubles and deal with them may be the difference in the game.
- Turnovers. The Kim Hughes Clippers have been a turnover waiting to happen. The Bobcats defense forces the seventh most turnovers in the league, and that's playing at a pretty slow pace. So it could get ugly tonight. The turnover situation is reaching absurd proportions. In six games under Hughes, the Clippers have turned the ball over an average of 19 times per game, have committed 21 or more turnovers 4 times, and have set a season high in turnovers three times, in games 1, 5 and 6 under Hughes. We felt like turnovers were a problem under Dunleavy, but in fact the Clippers only committed as many as 20 turnovers twice under CMDsr this season, and never as many as 21. New players in unfamiliar roles, running new plays with new teammates is no doubt a contributing factor - but simple lack of concentration is part of it also. This situation needs to improve quickly.
Now remember, boys, if you see the bobcat, don't be a hero. Stand on a chair and use your whistle.
- Get the Bobcats perspective at Rufus on Fire.