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Clippers vs. Utah - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Energy Solutions Arena
March 6th, 2010, 6:00 PM
Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Deron Williams
Eric Gordon?
SG Wes Matthews
Rasual Butler
SF Andrei Kirilenko
Drew Gooden
PF Carlos Boozer
Chris Kaman
C Mehmet Okur

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Believe it or not, this is Kim Hughes' third game against Utah, in only his 14th game as a head coach.  The good news for Hughes is that he actually has a win against the Jazz, easily his best win so far.  The other good news is that he is a big fan of Jerry Sloan, so he's getting a lot of first hand experience facing off against a coach he greatly admires and wishes to emulate.  And that's where the good news ends - it's all downhill from there.  I guess they will go ahead and play the game, but there seems to be little point.  The Clippers NEVER win in Utah.  They're one the second night of a back to back with travel, and they lost an hour in the process.  And they may be without second leading scorer Eric Gordon, who has a sore right leg.  And the fact that the Clippers beat Utah five days ago pretty much assures that the Jazz will not be caught off guard, and will be hyper-motivated for this one.  So yeah, it's a loss, write it down.  If they go ahead and play it anyway, the Clippers will have to get SOMETHING from their backcourt, which certainly didn't happen last night against the Thunder.  That task gets a lot tougher without Gordon if he doesn't play, as they don't have another true shooting guard on the roster.  If Gordon sits, expect Steve Blake to start at the one and Baron Davis to slide over to the two.  Oh, and as long as we're going forward with pretending this could be a game, the key to Monday's win was the defensive job Baron Davis and Drew Gooden did on Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.

The Antagonist:

The Jazz were behind by 17 against the Clippers in the fourth quarter on Monday and then closed to withing two, with Deron Williams at the line with a chance to tie it.  Williams missed them both and the Jazz lost the game.  Thursday night, the Jazz were behind by 11 entering the fourth quarter against the Suns, but outscored Phoenix 41-22 in the period to win the game.  So one suspects that Jerry Sloan will gently suggest to the team that they stop digging themselves a big hole, and play the game right from the start.  We'll see.  Utah could pretty much end up anywhere from the second seed to the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, depending on how strongly they close out the season.  I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that they finish poorly and drop down to five or so.  Twelve of their remaining 21 games are on the road where they are barely over .500 this season, plus I think they're going to miss Ronnie Brewer.  I love Williams and Boozer and Kirilenko, but I'm not sold on either Wes Matthews or C.J. Miles as rotation players, let alone a fifth starter.  I think either one is a pretty signifcant downgrade from Brewer.

The Subplots:

  • The Roadtrip from Hell.  It doesn't get much worse for the Clippers than a road trip that starts in Utah and ends in San Antonio. In between, they play in Orlando, Miami and Charlotte, all of whom are in the playoff race in the East.  They also, for good measure, have three games that fall on the second night of back to backs on this trip.  This one has ohfer written all over it.
  • Some Utah History.  The last time the Clippers won in Utah, it was during President Bush's first term.  The last Utah win before that one was also under President Bush's - President George H.W. Bush - Bush 41.  It was 1989.  Since that win in April 1989, over the course of 21 seasons and counting, the Clippers are 1-39 in the state of Utah. 
  • Baron on Deron.  It must be stated that Baron Davis did a great job defending his Boom's Beard buddy Deron Williams on Monday.  Williams finished 5 for 15 from the field, and a couple of those were blocked by Baron.  Slowing down Williams goes a long way towards slowing down the Jazz, as we saw on Monday.
  • Millsap.  Paul Millsap had just 4 points and 3 rebounds against Phoenix Thursday night.  How is that possible?  To a Clippers fan, he looks like an all star.  But his overall numbers aren't that impressive, so he must have some of these 4/3 games from time to time.  Never against the Clippers, though.
  • Craig Smith.  Smith sat out Monday's meeting with Utah as well as Wednesday Phoenix game.  He  came back for last night's game against the Thunder, and helped keep it close for awhile.  The Clippers definitely need him. 
  • Kirilenko the stopper.  When Eric Gordon began the fourth quarter red hot on Monday and led the Clippers to that 17 point lead, the Jazz switched Kirilenko onto him and took him out of the game.  AK47 is an incredible weapon, and essentially allows Jerry Sloan to play almost any way he wants.  With Williams doing all the ball-handling and Kirilenko able to guard essentially any position on the floor, it gives the Jazz an incredibly flexible lineup.  The group on the floor during Utah's fourth quarter comeback against the Clippers on Monday was Williams, Kirilenko, Kyle Korver, Boozer and Millsap - essentially Deron Willams and four forwards. 
  • Home court advantage.  On Monday I surmised that the Clippers home court advantage meant they should win, especially since Utah is not a great road team.  Well, the tables are turned here.  The Clippers have only beaten two teams with winning records on the road all season, and Utah is one of the absolute best home teams in the league at 24-8.  Did I mention that I'm not optimistic about this game?
  • 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.
  • Movie Quote: 

    My jazz rule is: If you can't dance to it, you don't want to know about it.

    Fred, Barcelona (1994).  Whatever happened to Whit Stillman?  He wrote and directed Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco in he 90s, all of them interesting and well-made movies, if a tad quirky, and he's not made a single film since.  Apparently he's living somewhere in France. 
  • Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.