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Clippers at Atlanta - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Philips Arena
February 3rd, 2010, 4:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Mike Bibby
Eric Gordon SG Joe Johnson
Rasual Butler
SF Marvin Williams
Marcus Camby PF Josh Smith
Chris Kaman
C Al Horford


The Back Story:

First meeting of the season.  The teams split two game last season.

The Big Picture:

Assuming the five of them can make it from Chicago to Atlanta without getting sick or injured, the Clippers' 'magic bullet' lineup of Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Rasual Butler, Eric Gordon and Baron Davis figures to get a real challenge tonight.  That group has been pretty uncanny this season (the loss to New Jersey last week notwithstanding, but we'll use Marcus Camby's first quarter exit as an excuse there).  But the simple fact is, that group has conveniently missed some tough road games - on this trip alone they weren't together at Denver, or at Boston, or at Cleveland, nor for a whole slew of tough road games before that.  So while the gaudy 11-2 record is great, it has been fattening up on home cooking for the most part.  But after authoring the best road win in a while (perhaps all season) last night in Chicago, I'm ready to believe.  It's certainly true that the team is better with Chris Kaman in the lineup.  Without him, halfcourt baskets are pretty arduous work.  With him, he will score his 20, but more importantly he commands enough defensive attention that the rest of the Clippers find a little more space in the halfcourt.  Oh, and given that this game is in Atlanta, even if they start Butler, let's hope they can find a lot of minutes for Al Thornton.  Al's from Georgia and he has owned his home state Hawks in his two seasons in the league.

The Antagonist:

Apologies to Hawks fans, but I have trouble thinking of these guys as 'elite.'  Some of the numbers indicate that they are.  They're the fourth most efficient offense in the league, and their defense is still in the top half at 12th.  They're 19-5 at home.  They've already completed a four game season sweep of the Celtics (man, does Boston not want to see these guys in the playoffs).  But c'mon - it's the Hawks.  Part of my attitude is no doubt due to the fact that they don't tend to play well against the Clippers.  Last season LA beat them in Atlanta by 24 at a time when the Clippers couldn't beat ANYBODY.  Two seasons ago LA won in LA with a team that consisted of... well, go look at the box score if you need a good laugh.  So in my little myopic world, the Hawks remain far too inconsistent to be considered elite.  However, in the real world, this team is loaded.  They just had two players named to the All Star team (Joe Johnson and Al Horford), and Josh Smith who missed out may be their best player.  Add in a couple other solid starters and a sixth man of the year candidate in Jamal Crawford and yeah, these guys are talented.  Still, they seem beatable, because, well, it's the Hawks.

The Subplots

  • Back to backs.  Both teams played last night in the central time zone - the Clippers in Chicago, the Hawks in Oklahoma.  So neither team is going to be particularly fresh when they wake up this morning.  The Clippers won their game, the Hawks lost to the Thunder - their second straight defeat.
  • The long and winding road.  Get ready for those Google map graphics on Prime Ticket again tonight.  But yes, the Clippers have done a lot of traveling this trip.  This is the last game before they finally return to LA.  An improbable win tonight would salvage a 3-5 trip for them and get them back to LA with a little momentum.  A loss and a 2-6 trip is more likely.
  • Long tenured coaches.  Quick, name the two longest tenured-coaches in the NBA (seasons coaching the same team).  Easy right - Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich.  Now name the next two on the list.  Not so easy.  The answer is Mike Dunleavy Sr. of the Clippers and Mike Woodson of the Hawks.  Kind of hard to believe, really. 
  • Al Horford, All Star.  Al Horford is a nice player.  But an All Star?  He's averaging 13.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.  Meh.  Yes, the Hawks have lots of weapons on offense so they don't need him to score much, which is nice.  But it's not like his PER of 18.9 is that eye-popping.  I have it at 19th in the league for players 6'9" or taller.  So again I say, meh.  Horford follows in a long line of lackluster Eastern Conference All Star centers - Dale Davis, Jamaal Magloire, Brad Miller, and of course perennial selection Ben Wallace.  If Chris Kaman had been drafted by his home state Pistons (who picked Darko Milicic instead), he'd be a six time All Star.  (Yes, it's hyperbole.)
  • Al Thornton versus the Hawks.  Two seasons ago, the Clippers faced the Hawks in the throes of a 3-9 stretch without starters Chris Kaman and Corey Maggette who were both out with the flu (and of course without Elton Brand).  Then rookie Al Thornton scored a then career high 33 to lead them to victory.  Last season in Atlanta, Al scored 31 in an LA win.  In four career games versus the Hawks, he has averaged almost 28 points per game.  Al isn't getting a lot of minutes currently in his bench role - but hopefully MDsr will at least give him the chance to heat up a bit, given his history of lighting up the Hawks.  Besides, Al's parents will be in the crowd, so it would be nice to let them see their boy play a little more.
  • Baron Davis versus Mike Bibby.  Mike Bibby has been a pretty good point guard on the offensive end in his career, but he's experiencing a drop off in this, his 12th season.  The Hawks have so many weapons that he's down below 9 points per game, easily the lowest scoring average of his career.  Then again, his minutes are also down with the arrival of Jamal Crawford.  Bibby has never been known as a top defender at the one, and Baron needs to light him up when he's on the floor.  Basically, the Clippers need to win this matchup.
  • Josh Smith versus Marcus Camby.  Believe it or not, Josh Smith has matured.  Three seasons ago, he took 152 three pointers.  Last season he took 87. He's below 27% for his career - and an athletic freak when he's attacking the rim.  This season, he's taken 3 threes through 46 games.  Consequently, he's shooting a career-high 51% from the floor and helping his team every night.  He's also top three in the league in blocked shots.  Having said all that, he's the kind of guy that Marcus Camby can sometimes shut down.  He may get loose on the weak side as Marcus drifts away looking for blocked shots, but his perimeter game won't kill the Clippers, and Camby seems to enjoy the challenge of shutting down young whippersnappers like Smith.  It will be an interesting matchup to watch.
  • Movie Quote: 

    The moment you set foot on that casino floor, they'll be watching you like hawks. Hawks with video cameras.

    Livingston, Ocean's Eleven (2001). I must admit, I have a weakness for a fun caper movie.  And it doesn't get a lot funner or more caper-y than Danny Ocean.  Basically, George Clooney and Brad Pitt are old-school movie stars - great screen presence, dripping in style.  Fun stuff.
  • Get the Hawks perspective at Peachtree Hoops.