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Clippers vs. Milwaukee - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
March 17th, 2010, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Brandon Jennings
Eric Gordon SG John Salmons
Rasual Butler
SF Carlos Delfino
Drew Gooden
PF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Chris Kaman
C Andrew Bogut

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season (really?)  The teams split their two meetings last season.

The Big Picture:

The trends are not good.  The Clippers have lost a season high eight straight games.  They are 4-15 in 19 games under Kim Hughes.  They have been, in a word, terrible.  Although it's never likely to change, there are many (myself included) who believe that the NBA regular season is too long, and really this is exhibit A.  There is a point at which teams face the fact that they have no chance to make the playoffs - and if there are still 30 or 40 games left in the season, those games can become tedious.  Sure, they're pros and they're getting paid to play a great game.  But the difference between going out there and playing to earn your salary, because you owe it to the fans (i.e. playing because it's your job) and playing to make the playoffs and/or to improve your chances in the playoffs is night and day.  You can call the team names and say that they're tanking, but the simple fact is that they're motivation level is going to be different than if they were still in the race.  It doesn't mean they'll never win again - it does mean that the overall winning percentage will plummet, as it has for the Clippers.  Just look at the month-by-month won-loss record for the Clippers: November 8-6, December 6-8, January 6-9, February 4-8, March 1-8 (so far).  They showed some life against New Orleans Monday night, but unfortunately ran into a team that couldn't miss.  Can they come out with energy at home again tonight, or was Monday's loss the final nail in the 'mail it in' coffin?

The Antagonist:

Holy FSM, did you guys know that the Bucks are going to make the playoffs?  I just looked up their record (because they're from Milwaukee, and honestly, who can keep up with all 30 teams), and it turns out they're 36-29.  Who knew.  Seriously, if you'd asked me to make a list before the season started of Eastern Conference teams that had NO CHANCE to make the playoffs, Milwaukee would have been first or second on the list - the Knicks would have been my other choice.  And then they lost their leading scorer for the season.  Of course, it's the East, so pretty much every one has a shot.  But Milwaukee?  Without Michael Redd?   I did not see that coming.  How are they doing it?  Well, contrary to the Brandon Jennings hype early in the season, it's not Mr. Jennings who has transformed this team.  It's Mr. Skiles.  The Bucks are the second best defensive team in the NBA this season by defensive efficiency.  They're only 23rd in offensive efficiency, so we pretty much know where they are winning games.  You would not pick this for a stellar defensive team, looking at the individual pieces.  Jennings, A hot shot rookie who went to Italy rather than play a year of college ball, Carlos Delfino is not exactly known as a defensive stopper, Andrew Bogut is a nice center, but hasn't made any all-defense teams.  LRMAM is the only great individual defender I see on that roster.  So they're doing it with team defense, and I think you have to give Skiles the credit there.  After all, they've gone from 15th in defensive efficiency to second.  Maybe coaches do matter?  (Of course, based on past experience Skiles' act will eventually wear thin, but it seems to be working now.)  The other way the Bucks are winning is with a team effort - six players are averaging between 10 and 18 points per game.

The Subplots

  • Summer league.  During the NBA summer league in Vegas, I saw a Bucks team of Jennings, rookie second round pick Jodie Meeks, Joe Alexander, LMAM and someone else I can't recall take the floor for the start of a game.  I quipped to Seth from BSotS that other than center, we could be looking at the Bucks starting lineup for the regular season (Redd was rumored to be on the block at the time).  My point was that Milwaukee was bound to be bad this year.  Turns out, only Jennings and LRMAM actually start, Bogut has been terrific, and Meeks and Alexander have both been shipped out.  The guys starting in place of Meeks and Alexander don't exactly scream playoff team (Charlie Bell for most of the season at the two, now Salmons, and Delfino at the three).  But clearly the Bucks have proven me wrong.
  • More on the surprising Bucks.  Back to why I thought the Bucks would be bad this year - although Jennings tore up the summer league, he was so obnoxious, such a showboat, I was pretty sure he was going to get popped by someone in Vegas.  It never happened, but the other thing I was sure of was that his showboating would never work for Scott Skiles.  I imagined Jennings going into Skiles' doghouse and never coming out.  Chalk it up to another thing I was totally and completely wrong about.
  • Stackhouse and Thomas.  There are five active NBA players drafted before 1995.  There are eight more who were drafted in 1995, and two of them are Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas.  Usually 15 year vets sign with playoff teams for one last run at glory.  Oh wait, the Bucks are a playoff team.  I keep forgetting.
  • Long season, part deux.  I find the quirks of the NBA schedule to be fascinating.  The Clippers only have 14 games left, the Bucks 17, and this is the first time they're meeting this year (they play in Milwwaukee in two weeks).  Had the Bucks played the Clippers earlier in the season when they had something to play for, I would have expected the Clippers to win.  Now, I don't.  (We'll see what happens.)  But even though the schedule is almost completely balanced, these little quirks (catching a team on a back to back, catching a team with their best player injured, catching a team when they are in the process of shutting down) could easily account for four or five or more wins over the course of a season. 
  • Sessions.  It's funny that I'm talking about knowing nothing about the Bucks now, because I knew a lot about them during the off-season.  There was a time when nothing else was happening that we talked about Milwaukee free agent Ramon Session every day.  The Bucks of course drafted Jennings, and also hung onto Luke Ridnour.  I think most people probably thought Sessions was better than either of those guys, but Sessions is having a very mediocre season for a terrible Timberwolves team, while Jennings and Ridnour have combined to average 26 points and 10 assists between them (that's in 54 minutes, not 48 minutes, but still).  We even read into the off-season trade for Delfino and Roko Ukic, that it meant that Sessions was gone.  Well, Sessions is gone - and so is Ukic, since waived.
  • Jennings is unique.  There are three players in the league who have made a higher percentage of their three point shots than two point shots while taking more than 100 3's.  Anthony Parker (.442 on threes, .438 on threes) and Daniel Gibson (.479 to .469) are two of them (no wonder Cleveland is winning games, sheesh).  The third is Jennings, but unfortunately his percentages are quite so good.  He's making .385 of his threes, but only .369 overall.  We're used to Baron Davis having the worst shooting percentage among NBA guards, but this year he's not even in the bottom 10. 
  • While we're on the subject.  Baron's recent improved shooting has got him up to 40% on the season.  He has had three straight nights of shooting above 50% for the second time this season.  If he can make it four in a row, it will be a high water mark for his Clippers career.  
  • Hairstyles.  Back to Jennings for a moment, he has really had some interesting hairstyles this season.  He had the full Kidd n' Play for a while, and before that some short dreds.  Then he went with the fauxhawk, and now he's got what can only be described as a redhawk.  The dude certainly has an NBA personality.
  • Double Reverse Mojo.  Did ClipperSteve put the double reverse mojo on Chris Kaman?  When I went to the trouble to define the 30wo20 stat and point out that Kaman held the NBA career record, I figured he'd immediately go for 30 and make the post obsolete.  Instead, Kaman has gone the other way.  In the seven games since I wrote about it, Kaman has yet to score 20 - his longest such streak this season.  Of course, it goes beyond just not hitting the 20 point mark - Kaman has been in a profound slump, including games of 5 for 17, 3 for 9, and Monday's 3 for 15, his worst game of the season.  Come on Chris, snap out of it.  I'm sorry I wrote about you.  I won't do it again.  Oops, I just did.
  • Movie Quote: 

    No, I'm saying, if he knows I'm a f-up, why does he leave me in charge of getting his wife back? Because he doesn't f-ing want her back! He no longer digs her, it's all a show! Ok, so then why doesn't he give a sh!t about his million bucks? I mean, he knows we never handed off the briefcase, but he never asked for it back. The million bucks was never in the briefcase! The a-hole was hoping that they would kill her! You threw out a ringer for a ringer!

    The Dude, The Big Lebowski (1988).  Have I really gone this long with this whole movie quote thing without anything from the Dude?  They had a Lebowskifest at the Art Theater in Long Beach a month ago - I wanted to go, but it was at midnite and I can't really stay out that late.  Anyway, I love me some Coen Brothers.  
  • Get the Bucks perspective at Brew Hoop.