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Clippers 98 - Charlotte 94 - Two in a Row

The Clippers' win tonight was notable for several things.  For one, the Clippers have won back-to-back games after losing six in a row - that in an of itself is big news.  For another, Theo Ratliff (10 points) outscored Stephen Jackson (7 points) for the Bobcats.  That's just bizarre.  For a third, the Clippers looked deep in this game - which is something that hasn't happened very often.

Player for player, you wouldn't really think that Gooden-Outlaw-Blake for Camby-Thornton-Telfair would make a significant difference for team depth.  Camby is the best player of the bunch, and theoretically Thornton and Telfair are legitimate NBA talents, so it doesn't seem like it should add much.  Maybe it's just the fact that this game comes on the heels of a few where we were seeing a lot of Steve Novak and Bobby Brown and Mardy Collins and Brian Skinner in the rotation.  Maybe it's the fact that Thornton and Rasual Butler never seemed to play well at the same time all season.  Maybe it's that Blake is the type of back up point guard that will steady the ship and make plays for teammates, while Telfair is more mercurial.  Whatever the reason, there wasn't ever a rotation tonight where I thought to myself, "uh oh, this could get ugly."

Indeed, looking at the plus/minus ratings for this game, my general impression is justified.  For the nine Clippers who played in this game, the highest rating was a +6 for Drew Gooden, the lowest rating was a -1 for Craig Smith, and no other Clipper was in negative territory.  That tells me that the nine guys who saw action all played reasonably well and at least held their own.

In fact, it strikes me as noteworthy that each of the nine had significant positive stats - every single one of them had at least 7 of something good.  Six scored in double figures.  Baron Davis and Chris Kaman had double doubles.  Even the guys who didn't reach double figure scoring had solid outings - Craig Smith had 7 points and 7 rebounds, DeAndre Jordan had 9 points and 5 rebounds, and Steve Blake had 3 points and 7 assists.  Basically, if you were playing fantasy basketball and you had any one of the nine Clippers who played, they gave you at least something.  And that doesn't happen very often in the NBA, that everyone contributes.

The team continues to struggle mightily with turnovers - tonight it was newcomer Gooden leading the way with 5 of the team's 18.  It's actually quite an accomplishment to overcome 18 turnovers against a decent team in the Bobcats.  They were able to overcome it mostly because of their total domination of the glass.  The Clippers outrebounded Charlotte 48-33, 15 to 10 in offensive rebounds. 

Baron Davis wasn't exactly spectacular in his return to action, but he was solid and his defense on Stephen Jackson was the best part of his game to me.  Baron, when motivated as he was against his old pal Jax, can be an outstanding defender.  Jackson clearly was having an off-night (he finished an abysmal 1 for 16, and he came into the game white hot), and part of that was just him, but part of it can be attributed to Baron, who drew the assignment against the much taller Jackson.  If Baron can provide solid defense and double figure assists for the Clippers next season as he did tonight, I'll definitely take that.

Gooden and Outlaw each scored 8 points in the first half, on terrific shooting.  They each finished with 10.  Gooden got most of his points on hard work - offensive rebounds and follows.  Outlaw, who had been struggling to make shots way back in November before getting hurt, came in and hit his first three jumpers, which had to feel good.  Don't be surprised to see Gooden in the starting lineup next to Kaman very soon - that's the team they went with down the stretch tonight.  (Of course, I have mixed feelings about that.  These last couple months should be all about developing DeAndre Jordan.  But assuming Jordan gets solid minutes off the bench, I can cope with Gooden in the starting lineup.)

And then there is the comeback.  I would not have thought this team capable, or perhaps interested, in mounting a comeback at this point in the season.  But after losing a 13 point first half lead, and falling behind by 6 with five and a half minutes to go in the game, the Clippers went on a 16-4 run to take control.  The offense was keyed by Rasual Butler hitting a couple of crucial three pointers, but the Clippers really won the game on the defensive end, which had to please coach Kim Hughes no end.

Hughes has a full team again, and will even get to put Gooden through a practice now.  They also have a struggling opponent coming into Staples on Wednesday night.  Can the Clippers put three wins in a row together?