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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
January 12th, 2011, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Some Guy
Eric Gordon SG Dwyane Wade
Ryan Gomes SF LeBron James
Blake Griffin PF Chris Bosh
DeAndre Jordan C Who Cares?

The Back Story:

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

The Big Picture:

Believe it or not, this game is a matchup between the hottest team in the Eastern Conference and the hottest team in the Western Conference over the last 10 games. The Clippers have won 7 of their last 10 games, tied with the Spurs and Lakers for the best record over that span. And to think they blew big leads in two of the losses! The bottom line is that the Clippers can play with any team right now, but the Heat are not just any team. If the Clippers are to have a chance in this game, they'll have to get huge games from their big two to counter Miami's big three. Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin will both have to excel tonight. Then, the Clippers' supporting cast will have to dominate their counterpart's on the Heat. The crowd will be huge, and they'll be buzzing. Also, unlike many games, I think the crowd will be loudly pro-Clippers. (It seems strange to write that for a home game, but it's not always the case.) There will be lots of Wade and James jerseys to be sure, and there may be enough of those people to have bought up a significant number of tickets. But I think the anti-Heat sentiment is big enough that the cheers for Wade and James will be more than drowned out by boos. We'll see. With their young, exciting team, if the Clippers can get a lead on the Heat and get the crowd really into the game, they may be able to ride their emotions to a win.

The Antagonist:

We get a little excited here that the Clippers half actually won half of their last 22 games, going 11-11 over that span. The Heat are 21-1 in their last 22! They've won 13 consecutive road games, which is one shy of the franchise record, and only 3 fewer than the NBA record set by the 71-72 Lakers. So yeah, the team is playing pretty well. This summer I said that LeBron James would not end up on the same team as Dwyane Wade because they both would want to be the man. So yeah, I was wrong about that, and somehow, they're both the man. (By the way, Chris Bosh is obviously a distant third in this big three, as most people assumed he'd be, but he's still pretty good himself.) The Heat are doing it on both ends this season - they rank third in the NBA in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, the only team in the league to be top five in both measures. Wade and James are demons on the wings, and almost anyone else they trot out there can afford to concentrate 100% of the time on defense.

The Subplots

  • Greed is good. Gordon Gekko gave a famous "Greed is good" speech in the movie Wall Street (the first one; haven't seen the sequel, but not a big fan of Shia LeBouef, so that may not happen). In the NBA, simple greed might have dictated that James and Wade would end up on different teams - they took pay cuts to play together after all. If not greed, then maybe ego would have kept them apart, since they could be the undisputed leader of their own teams. But Pat Riley's genius in this free agency coup was to convince them that their greed and their egos would be best served by teaming up. And it turns out he's probably right. (Gekko and Riley - same hair! Coincidence?) There's little or no way to calculate the worth of these players when you consider endorsements and other non-basketball monies, but it's safe to say that while they were already at an elite level, they're even higher now, and a championship will move them higher still. And if ego is the driver, well let's face it, this is the most hyped team in the history of the NBA, probably of American Sports. LeBron's ego doesn't seem to be suffering any from sharing the spotlight with Wade, or he probably wouldn't have compared the team to the Beatles.
  • PER 25. There are currently three players in the NBA this season with a PER over 25 - James and Wade are two of them (Chris Paul is the third). I decided to check some rather famous duos to see how many teammates had put up 25s in the same season. Shaq and Kobe didn't do it. Jordan and Pippen didn't do it. Stockton and Malone didn't do it. In fact, I could only find one pair that has accomplished the feat in over 30 years: Kareem and Magic, in 80-81, Magic's second season in the league.
  • Miller and Haslem. As if to illustrate how little the supporting cast actually matters in Miami, their two biggest signings after the big three, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, haven't been contributing at all. Haslem was injured in November, while the team was still struggling a bit, and won't be back until the end of the regular season or possibly the playoffs. Miller on the other hand missed the first 29 games of the season with a thumb injury, and has been useless since he returned three weeks ago. He's only made one field goal in 13 attempts this season, which is not good when you're main skill is shooting the ball. He's been so bad that he's received four DNPs in the Heat's last seven games.
  • Youth basketball. It comes up frequently that I coach my kids at youth soccer. I also coached ClipperMax in basketball one season, when he was nine I think. It was very frustrating - I don't really know enough about soccer to know better, but it was very difficult coaching hoops, since I knew exactly what I wanted the kids to do, but couldn't get them to do it. In the end, the best strategy was to do something I hate - "Hey, everybody, get the ball to Billy." We had one really good player on our team, and if the other guys got the ball to him and got out of his way, that was our best offense. Why do I bring this up? Oh, no reason. BTW, did you happen to see the MIA-POR box score from Sunday? James 44, Wade 34, Bosh 18, team 107. That's 73% of their points from two players, 90% from three. Obviously it's not that bad on most nights, but they also don't go to overtime on most nights. When the game is close, this is what they do. And you would too if you wanted to win. Get the ball to Billy.
  • Three maxes and nine mins. It's not literally true, since in fact Wade, James and Bosh all took a little less than the max, and Joel Anthony actually makes more than the min (though I'm not sure why he does). The point is, with Miller and Haslem non-factors, the Heat have won 21 of 22 games with their big three, eight guys making the league minimum, and Anthony. This is a bad trend for the middle class in the NBA.
  • Matchups. So how do the Clippers stop these guys? Well, it starts with defending Wade and James. Gordon will draw Wade, and EJ played him well last season. Ryan Gomes will be on James, and that's not likely to end well. Of course, no one in the league matches up well with James. The Clippers will also try Al-Farouq Aminu on LeBron (yikes!). DeAndre Jordan's ability to protect the rim and alter shots, without getting into foul trouble, will be a key to the Clippers defense. Wade and James attack the rim relentlessly, and a strong presence in the middle will be crucial. Of course, Zydrunas Ilgauskas will be spotting up at 17 feet while Jordan roams the paint.
  • Griffin versus Bosh. The good news is that Blake Griffin should be able to overpower the pillow soft Bosh in the paint. In fact, don't be surprised if Eric Spoelstra assigns LeBron to defend Griffin at some point in the game.
  • Letting teams hang around. While the Heat have won 21 of 22, in their last five they've been less than dominating. They've had to go to overtime in the first two games of the current road trip, and they also trailed Golden State in the fourth quarter on New Year's Day. So they're not blowing people out right now - they're letting teams hang around, and then winning the game in the fourth quarter. That formula should be good against the Clippers, who still struggle to hold leads, but there's no time like the present to learn.
  • Another big upset? The Clippers do have some shocking wins this season. Back in mid November, they had the worst record in the NBA, and he Hornets were the hottest team in the league at 12-1. Then on December 1st, they beat the Spurs, who had the best record in the NBA both then and now, and also owned at 15 game winning streak against LA. Beating the Heat in this one would be no more surprising than that Spurs win. Of course, the Clippers may have lost the element of surprise by winning seven of their last ten - I don't think anyone's going to take them lightly for awhile.
  • Three point shooting. As much helping as the Clippers are going to have to do with James and Wade, there are going to be open threes for the likes of Carlos Arroyo (47% from three), James Joyce Jones (43%), Eddie House (41%) and Mario Chalmers (36%). How hot or cold those guys are may determine the outcome.
  • Speaking of which. After being among the league leaders in three point field goal percentage all season, suddenly Al-Farouq Aminu can't buy one from deep. He has missed 13 straight stretching back to midway through the second quarter of the Utah game. Hopefully he'll snap out of it soon. His ability to stretch the floor was one of the things that made Rasual Butler superfluous in the rotation. If AFA remains cold, it may be necessary to play Butler just to have a deep threat out there.
  • The end of the slow pace of games. The Clippers have been in a strange little lull in their schedule since before Christmas. In the last three weeks, they've played 7 games - a period during which they normally might have played 11 or 12. But that changes starting now. After two straight weeks with only two games per week, they play six games over the next nine days.
  • Superstar for one game. Yeah, I don't even think there's any point to this feature with this team.
  • Famous Quotation:

    Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
    To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
    A dagger of the mind, a false creation
    Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
    William Shakespeare. Macbeth, Act II, Scene I.
  • Get the Heat perspective at Peninsula is Mightier.