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Clippers vs. New York - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
April 4th, 2010, 6:30 PM
Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Steve Blake
PG Toney Douglas
Eric Gordon
SG Tracy McGrady
Rasual Butler
SF Bill Walker
Drew Gooden
PF Danilo Gallinari
Chris Kaman
C David Lee

The Back Story:

December 18th, 2009 in New York, New York 95 - Clippers 91 - Recap  Box Score

The Big Picture:

With six games left in the season, one more loss will give the Clippers their 50th loss of the season.  That would be the third straight year of 50 or more losses, and their 18th in 26 seasons in LA.  For a franchise that has never actually WON 50 games in a season, that's pretty sad.  The Clippers are no doubt happy to be home once again, given how badly they've played on the road.  Then again, they've had some pretty ugly performances at home recently as well.  Five of the six games remaining are at home, and the Clippers currently still having a winning record of 19-17 at home - so why do I not have more confidence that they'll win a few (or, say any)?  If they can manage to win two of their remaining home games, they can salvage a winning home record for the season.  If they can win three more games of any sort, they can get to 30 wins on the season, which, for what it's worth, would equal my pre-season prediction for the team.  But they're going to have to play with some sort of purpose, which we haven't seen at all in a long time, for any of that to happen.  I'm in Seattle, and don't really know any status on Baron Davis.  For now, I'm listing Blake as the starting point guard, but that's based strictly on last night's lineup.  Should the Clippers be able to beat the Knicks at home?  Sure, they should.  That's what scares me.  At least the Knicks aren't missing their leading scorer - if Lee were a late minute scratch, then I'd be really worried.  But the Clippers have lost on consecutive Sundays in Staples to the Kings (without Tyreke Evans) and the Warriors (without Monta Ellis) - so a Sunday game against an opponent at the bottom of the league is a bit worrisome right now.  Nonetheless, the Clippers have yet to lose at home to an Eastern Conference opponent with a losing record, and they have a chance to close out that group tonight.


The Antagonist:

The Knicks record is almost identical to the Clippers, but their situation is different in one specific regard:  the Knicks don't own their lottery pick next season, having traded it away many seasons ago in a deal that involved Tom Gugliotta, Stephon Marbury, and possibly some Chuck Taylor All Stars for all I know.  So if you subscribe to the 'disincentive' school of thought, then you might expect the Knicks to win this game, since the Clippers have the lottery disincentive to win, while the Knicks do not.  We'll see.  To me, the lottery is nothing compared to the simple fact that the team is out of contention.  It's just hard to get motivated to play at the highest level when you know the games don't count - I don't think lottery balls enter the calculus for the players.  (It might a factor for coaches in distributing playing time.)  The Knicks actually managed to win six games in a twelve game stretch in March, which qualifies as scorching for a lottery team, and is better than anything the Clippers have done in a while.  But they've lost four straight since then.  This Knicks team was even more changed at the trade deadline than the Clippers were.  Of course, I can barely remember who was on the team before, and I didn't much care at the time.  One thing I know is that they now have three guys starting who either weren't on the team in December, or weren't really in the rotation.  One guy who is still there is David Lee, who had a massive triple double in his last game.  He went for 37 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists against the Warriors - the first 30-20-10 game in 34 years.  That's David Lee, folks.  He just did something that two generations of NBA players couldn't do.

The Subplots:

  • Greetings from Rainy Seattle.  I'm up here at the brother-in-law's place, hanging out with baby Dunston.  Citizen Vaught from his spot (a great, old school Clippers handle, btw) will be bringing you the recap after tonight's game.  Thanks to citizen Regulan for his great recap from the Denver game, and thanks in advance to VfhS. 
  • Similarities.  I'm going to focus this preview completely on comparing and contrasting the Knicks and the Clippers, since they are in many ways so similar right now.  (I should say something about the first meeting, in which the Clippers gave up a 20 point first half lead, but it's a little too painful.  Especially since they just did it again last night in Denver, for the third time this season.  It's pretty unusual to lose games in which you've led by 20, and the Clippers have done it three times this year.  Wow.)
  • LeBron James/Free Agency.  Both of these teams have been focused on 2010 free agency since the trade deadline.  Of course, the Knicks have been focused on that plan a lot longer - like two full seasons, which is pretty crazy if you think about it.  Do either of them have a chance at LeBron?  I would characterize the odds as pretty slim in each case.  The Knicks have the bigger city and the better tradition to offer, as well as the cap space to add a second free marquee agent alongside James.  The Clippers have better weather, an almost equally large market, and a much better existing cast to offer.
  • Plan Bs.  The Clippers could conceivably stand relatively pat if they don't get a huge free agent to sign with them.  They could keep the Bird rights on their existing free agents, pursue a sign and trade for an upgrade at small forward, maybe sign a player with their mid-level exception, re-sign a Rasual Butler, they'll have a lottery pick, etc.  The Knicks on the other hand are kind of all in on free agency.  They have to spend a TON of money this summer just to get to the NBA minimum.  Of course, it's New York, and they'll spend their money on at least two relatively big names.  Joe Johnson has been rumored to be headed to Gotham, possibly with Chris Bosh.  Or maybe David Lee is the superstar big they end up paying superstar money.  I doubt he'll give them any discount.
  • Short timers on the roster.  The Clippers only have four active players (only three if Baron doesn't play) who have contracts for next season - they have five contracts total, counting Blake Griffin.  The Knicks have only four guaranteed contracts, counting the player option that Eddy Curry is sure to exercise.  They also have team options on low priced players like Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens.  There will be some point in tonight's game at which all 10 players on the court will be free agents.
  • The coaches.  One thing that the Knicks have worked out going into the summer of LeBron is the coaching situation.  Mike D'Antoni has been coaching in New York for two seasons now, but he got an absolute free pass during those two seasons, since the plan was always to get as far as possible under the 2010 cap, no matter what it meant to the team these two seasons.  D'Antoni will be expected to begin producing results next season, but much will ride on who actually signs.  The Clippers' coaching situation on the other hand is completely up in the air.  Kim Hughes was happy to take the interim job, and is making the most of it, and trying to learn from the experience.  But he was never likely to be the coach long term, and his record since taking over guarantees that he won't be.
  • The supporting casts.  The perceived advantage the Clippers have in trying to lure LeBron is the supporting cast they can put around him.  They have two 'all stars' on the roster (I know, it's a dubious distinction, but also a fact) in Baron Davis and Chris Kaman.  And they have three 21 year old potential stars - the first pick in the 2009 draft in Blake Griffin, the 7th pick in the 2008 draft in promising guard Eric Gordon, and a young center full of potential in DeAndre Jordan.  The Knicks, by contrast have Danilo Gallinari, the 8th pick in the 2008 draft, full of potential, Wilson Chandler, a middling prospect from the 2007 draft, and Toney Douglas, the 30th pick from this year's draft.  Oh, and they have Eddy Curry, or should I say Eddy Curry's expiring contract.  That could certainly come in handy.
  • Lottery odds.  The Clippers appear to have more winnable games down the stretch, and obviously have a very home-friendly schedule with five of six in LA.  The Knicks have less disincentive to win.  Remember that there are no tie-breakers in the lottery - or rather, the tie-breaker is a coin toss.  If you have the same record as another team, you split the lottery balls for the two lottery positions equally, and a coin toss determines who gets the extra ball if the total is odd, as well as who picks first if neither team makes it into the lottery.
  • The sad truth.  The Clippers and the Knicks are going to finish with very similar records, and each has designs on a big time free agent this summer.  But the sad fact is the Knicks started the season thinking about 2010 free agency, and had done little or nothing to help this year's team.  The Clippers started this season thinking maybe they had a chance at the playoffs.  So the Knicks are right where they wanted to be and planned to be.  The fact that the Clippers are right there with them is sad.
  • Cartoon Quote: 

    Hmm, I knew I should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque. Oh well, I'll just ask this gent in the fancy knickerbockers. Eh, I beg your par...

    Bugs Bunny - Bully for Bugs (1953).  As I've mentioned before, I'm a HUGE fan of Chuck Jones directed cartoons, and this one is a classic.  Jones has a technique for creating rapid movement that is completely brilliant, and he uses it to great effect in this one.  Whenever the bull takes off running, in his wake is a cloud of dust, and also some random hoof marks in the air... it all happens very quickly, but if you get the DVD and watch it in slow motion, you'll see what I'm talking about.  Jones does the same thing with Witch Hazel's bobby pins in Bewitched Bunny. 
  • Get the Knicks perspective at Posting and Toasting.