The Back Story:
- The Big Picture:
The Kim Hughes era began with a very tough assignment - the San Antonio Spurs, who are undefeated against the Clippers for the last four seasons. It continues tonight with an equally difficult, possibly even more difficult challenge - the Utah Jazz. The Spurs, for all their traditional dominance of the Clippers, at least looked beatable against recent competition. The Jazz on the other hand come into this game as the hottest team in the Western Conference, having won 8 in a row and 12 out of 13. Welcome to the NBA Kim. With the Clippers playing so poorly and the Jazz playing so well, the only non-disastrous trend I can come up with for this one is that the Clippers have actually fared better than one might have expected in LA versus the Jazz in recent seasons. Utah's always been a dominant home team, but mediocre on the road, and this season is no exception, as they are only 9-12 on the road despite having the third best record in the Western Conference. So while the Jazz have a home winning streak against LA I don't even want to mention, the fact is that the series has been competitive in LA, even as the Clippers have struggled the last several seasons. The teams have alternated wins in the last six meetings in LA - the last one, the only LA meeting last season, went to the Jazz, so it's the Clippers turn. So we've got that going for us. Of course it can't possible happen if the Clippers play as poorly as the did against the Spurs. They can't have 15 first half turnovers (that's a little high for the game, in fact). They have to make some perimeter shots. And Baron Davis has to play well. No one expected the Clippers to beat the Spurs, and few will expect them to beat the Jazz - but we should at least expect them to play competitive, competent basketball.
The Jazz have always looked like a real contender on paper.
Two Three seasons ago, they advanced to the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers Spurs and appeared to be the up and coming team in the West. Then last season they closed out the season in a terrible funk, slid down to the eighth playoff spot and a first round meeting with the Lakers, and inevitably were bounced in the first round. They had reached such a state that it was actually considered bad news when Carlos Boozer opted IN to the final year on his contract - they were convinced that the team was not going to get over the hump as constituted and that they needed some changes. When Boozer opted to stay around, it put them well into into tax territory in small market Utah. When they were barely over .500 at 19-17 a month ago, it looked like a complete disaster - an expensive, inflexible and underachieving payroll that would doom them to many seasons to come. But then again, look at all that talent! For the past month, they've been living up to their potential. Deron Williams is finally an All Star for the first time in his career, Carlos Boozer probably should have been an All Star over Chris Kaman, Andrei Kirilenko is thriving as a starter again, Paul Millsap comes off the bench to shoot .565 for them, and everyone on the team knows their role. They move without the ball, set screens and pass on offense, and if the Clippers aren't sharp defensively tonight you can expect a layup drill. I hope I'm wrong, but I have a feeling that this one will be over early, just like the Spurs game.
- Learning as he gets destroyed. When he spoke to the media after his first day of practice, Kim Hughes singled out Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan as coaches he admires and would like emulate. He gets his would-be mentors back to back start his coaching career. A terrific learning opportunity - a less than terrific winning opportunity.
- Chris Kaman, All Star. Chris Kaman became the 14th name on the 12 man Western Conference All Star team today. He was named by Commissioner David Stern to replace Brandon Roy on the team (Chauncey Billups was earlier named to replace Chris Paul). A few seasons from now, no one will remember or care that he was a repacement - he's an All Star, and no one can take that away from him. Paradoxically, while I wouldn't have been surprised if Kaman had been named to the team by the coaches originally, I was somewhat surprised that he was chosen as a replacement. Frankly, he doesn't really deserve to be there - Boozer rebounds more and scores almost as much while shooting a much higher percentage - but if you adhere to positional rules, he is arguably the best pure center. So having him replace a guard in the lineup makes less sense to me than if he'd been chosen ten days ago. But congratulations to Chris nonetheless.
- 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.
- Baron vs. Deron. A few seasons ago, Baron Davis was one of the top point guards in the league and Deron Williams was a young up and coming player. Last season, there was no comparison. This season, Baron has played a little better - and Williams has become an All Star. Baron has shown some capability to take over games recently, notably in Minnesota. It would be huge if he could not only hold his own, but perhaps even come out ahead in the battle at the point guard tonight.
- Rebounding. The Clippers were outrebounded by a margin of 48-35 in the first meeting of the season. More specifically, Utah had 12 offensive rebounds to the Clippers 3. In a game in which Baron, Eric Gordon and Kaman were all over 20, those extra possessions were huge for the Jazz.
- Millsap. Millsap, Landry, Morrow. There are others I'm forgetting no doubt. But there are just certain players that destroy the Clippers. It doesn't matter how they play against the rest of the league. Millsap for instance only averages a little more than 11 this season, despite shooting over 56%. But against the Clippers he's scored 24, 19 and 23 in the last three meetings, while making everything he puts up. I honestly dread when he first checks into the game.
- Movie Quote:
Nobody plays jazz at the Pit Stop!
- Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.