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Clippers vs. Utah - Game Preview

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2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Clippers_medium
vs.
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24-35
38-21
Staples Center
March 1st, 2010, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Deron Williams
Eric Gordon
SG Wes Matthews
Rasual Butler
SF C.J. Miles
Drew Gooden
PF Carlos Boozer
Chris Kaman
C Mehmet Okur

 

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

It was only three weeks ago, though it seems like much longer, that the Clippers played the Jazz in Kim Hughes' second game as a head coach.  That one went a little better than most of his early games - at least the team didn't fall behind by 30 in the first half - but it still ended with a loss.  It feels like longer than three weeks because so much has happened.  Not only did the All Star break intervene, but the Clippers have also made two significant trades, and come into this meeting against the Jazz with three new faces in their rotation.  But it's the old faces who need to step up.  Eric Gordon has been wildly inconsistent lately, veering between big games and disappearing acts.  Baron Davis has been ice cold shooting the ball, even by his standards.  Chris Kaman has continued to put up solid offensive numbers, but has allowed the likes of Robin Lopez (30 points) and Spencer Hawes (16 points) to score at will, and has let his team down with unfocused play and an ejection in Phoenix.  The Clippers have won three consecutive at Staples Center, pushing their respectable home record out to 17-12.  But they've done most of that home damage against teams at or below .500 - they haven't beaten a top team since the win over the Lakers, almost 2 months ago.  Interestingly, I kind of like the new look Clippers against the Jazz.  Drew Gooden is probably better equipped to defend against Carlos Boozer than Marcus Camby, and Baron Davis has been seeming to take on defensive challenges with zeal lately, so maybe he'll do that against Deron Williams.  But it will probably take the most complete game of the Kim Hughes era to win this game.

The Antagonist:

The Jazz are 20-5 since January 6th.  That's a winning percentage of .800 over almost two full months.  That's impressive.  Still, they're only 14-13 on the road, and they lost in Sacramento Friday, so they are certainly beatable.  The last time these teams met, Boozer scored 34 points on 13 for 17 shooting, apparently feeling a bit pissed off that Chris Kaman had been chosen to the West all star team and he had not.  Deron Williams did make that team, and has been terrific all season.  He went for 35 points and 13 assists in Utah's win over Houston Saturday.  There's a bit of a drop off for Utah after Boozer and Williams, but whoever goes out there for Jerry Sloan will play hard, or they won't be in the game long.  The Jazz could be without two starters from the last time these teams met.  They'll definitely be without Ronnie Brewer, who was traded to Memphis in a salary dump (where he then tore his ACL), and they may also be missing Andrei Kirilenko, who like me is currently suffering back spasms.  Then again, it was Ronnie Price and Wes Matthews who killed the Clippers in the fourth quarter of the last meeting, so it may not matter if Brewer is gone and Kirilenko is hurting.

The Subplots:

  • Last meeting.  The last time these two teams met, the Clippers were improbably ahead by four going into the fourth quarter.  Unfortunately, they completely stopped rebounding at that point, getting beaten by 11 boards in the final period alone.  They were outscored 29-15 as Price and Matthews went for 8 points apiece. 
  • No Craig Smith.  Craig Smith was already hurting going into the Sacramento game.  He left that one with a sore bicep tendon and will have to get an MRI on it.  I'm guessing that even if the MRI comes back negative, that we won't be seeing Rhino for a few games.  Which means Brian Skinner suits up tonight.
  • Matching up with the bigs.  The Utah bigs have usually been murder on the Clippers.  Neither Kaman nor Camby really wants to stay home with Mehmut Okur on the three point line where he shoots almost 40%.  And Boozer's combination of strength and quickness is a tough cover for a lot of players.  Then there's Millsap, who single-handedly beat the Clippers in an early game last season and destroyed them in the first meeting this season.  Since neither Boozer nor Millsap are particularly big, this might be a good game to see some more of Craig Smith, who appeared to be the odd big out in Hughes' rotation Saturday night.  Hopefully Kaman can at least dish out some punishment to Okur on offense, even if Okur lights up Kaman on the other end.
  • Home court advantage.  The Clippers are 17-12 at home.  The Jazz are 14-13 on the road.  Does that mean the Clippers should be favored?  At some level it does - without looking at the specific schedules, we can assume that they've played more or less the same competition in those games, so if the Clippers record is better, it should be more likely that they win.  So why do I not believe that?
  • Gordon.  With Brewer banished to Memphis, it would be really nice for Eric Gordon to dominate the shooting guard matchup tonight.  The games where EJ has really asserted himself in the offense have been few and far between this season.  C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews are probably pretty decent defenders or they wouldn't be getting minutes for Jerry Sloan, but the simple fact is that these are the kinds of guys that EJ needs to destroy if he's going to be the player we hope he is.
  • Millsap.  After giving up 18 points and 8 rebounds to Carl Landry in Sacramento last night, the Clippers now face Paul Millsap, another one of those undersized power forwards that tends to kill the team.  The Jazz matched Portland's offer to Millsap this summer, believing that Boozer would be gone either as a free agent or in trade.  But with Boozer still playing great, Utah now finds itself with a reserve making $8M per (along with huge contracts for AK4 and Boozer and Williams and Okur), which is one reason they had to dump Brewer at the trade deadline.  The situation will work itself out soon enough, as Boozer will be a free agent this summer.
  • TV Quote: 

    But the jazz, you know if we had to dep... if we had to depend upon black people to eat, we would starve to death. I mean, you've been out there, you're on the bandstand, you look out into the audience, what do you see? You see Japanese, you see, you see West Germans, you see, you know, Slabobic, anything except our people - it makes no sense. It incenses me that our own people don't realize our own heritage, our own culture, this is our music, man.

    Bleek Gilliam, Mo' Better Blues (1990).  Not Spike Lee's best movie, but a very good movie.  And a great cast.  This was the first movie I remember seeing Samuel L. Jackson in.  Just a cameo really, but a mesmerizing performance.
  • Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.