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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Atlanta Hawks - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
January 2nd, 2011, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket , KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Mike Bibby
 Eric Gordon SG

Joe Johnson

Ryan Gomes SF Josh Smith
Blake Griffin PF Al Horford
DeAndre Jordan C Jason Collins


The Back Story:

  • First meeting of the season. The Hawks swept the two games series last year.

The Big Picture:

Despite a tough loss to the Jazz in the final game of 2010, the Clippers enter 2011 with some momentum, having won five of their last seven games. More importantly, the team can clearly see a bright future ahead with their young stars Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. So good riddance to 2010, and hello 2011. Griffin has produced double doubles in scoring and rebounding in his last 20 games. He's second in the league in double doubles behind Kevin Love, and in many games he seems to accomplish the feat by halftime. What people may be missing in all of this is that he's been getting better and better. In addition to his 20 straight double doubles, he's working on an active string of nine 20-10s. He's averaging 25 points per game in those nine games. Gordon on the other hand has been Mr. Consistency for the team. He has been hovering around 24 points per game and in the top ten in the league in scoring since mid November. He's also found his long distance stroke after struggling early in the season; he missed six of seven against Utah, but before that he had made 19 of 32 threes. He's shooting 43% from deep in December, after making just 23% in October and November. But the other player to note for the Clippers right now is Baron Davis. Davis is up to 6.6 assists per game, despite limited minutes. On a per minute basis, he is sixth in the league in assists, behind only the likes of Rondo, Paul, Nash, Kidd and Calderon. That means that Baron is distributing more assists on a per minute basis than Deron Williams or Derrick Rose. And it's no coincidence that the Clippers finished December 7-8 after Baron returned to the lineup.

The Antagonist:

The Clippers were 7-8 in December - the Hawks were 10-7. After a red-hot 6-0 start to the season, the Hawks have been around .500. They're pretty good... but they certainly haven't taken the next step that they need to in order to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. While they were hoping to move up to join Boston and Orlando and now Miami in the top tier of East teams, instead they appear to be falling behind the Bulls, and maybe even the Knicks. This is essentially the same Hawks team that won 53 games last season. But after getting swept in the second round by the Magic, it was pretty clear that they needed to get better, and they just don't appear to have done so. The front court is young, athletic and should be improving, but the backcourt is past it's prime by quite a bit. That's not a good thing. Al Horford is one undeniably bright spot for the Hawks. In this his fourth season, his scoring is up to to almost 17 points per game, while his shooting percentage is also at a career high level (almost 57%). Usually, as guys get more shots their percentage goes down. The big question for the Hawks then is why is Horford getting fewer shots per minute than Joe Johnson (40%), Josh Smith (48%) or Jamal Crawford (43%)? The really, really bad news for the Hawks is that it's entirely possible that they gave Johnson a $120M contract this summer just in time to watch his productivity fall off a table. Johnson is 29, so it was painfully obvious that the Hawks would regret giving him a six year max deal sooner or later. But with JJ at or near career lows in shooting percentage (40.1%) and three point percentage (26.6%), it seems like it's happening sooner.

The Subplots

  • Griffin and the rookie wall. I've never much believed in the rookie wall. Yes, the NBA season is longer than the college or high school season, but why should a 21 year old run out of steam? If anything, they should have an advantage over their older opponents as the season wears on. What does happen is that defenses start figuring new players out the second time through the league. The first time a rookie plays a team, maybe he catches them by surprise, maybe their scouting report on him isn't complete. By the second time they see that player, they usually have made the adjustments to control him. The opposite seems to be true of Griffin - he's making the adjustments to his opponents, not the other way around. From the Spurs to the Jazz to the Suns, Griffin has gotten STRONGER in subsequent meetings with teams. That's impressive. Even knowing they need to stop him, and having seen him at least once, the rookie has been able to beat opposing defenses.
  • Sunday matinees. The Clippers have Sunday matinees every year, but it seems to be reaching a saturation point this month. Beginning with last Sunday's day game versus the Suns, the Clippers are playing four consecutive Sunday matinees, followed by a Monday matinee on Martin Luther King Day. All told, it's five out of ten games tipping off in broad daylight. They lost their first three day games this year, before finally beating the Suns last week. I can't imagine the players like these games - there's not much home court advantage when the crowd comes to the arena a few minutes after rolling out of bed. That is if they come out at all - a lot of season ticket holders will no doubt be watching the final week of the NFL regular season today. Staples can be pretty dead and empty on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Hawks-Clippers connections. New Atlanta coach Larry Drew played two seasons for the Clippers in the late 80s. He replaced another former Clipper, Mike Woodson. Former Clipper Josh Powell, he of the two championship rings, is now in Atlanta. Al-Farouq Aminu was born in Atlanta. Incidentally, another Clipper small forward from Georgia, Al Thornton, used to have some big games against his home town team. Maybe AFA will do the same.
  • Hawks road woes. The Hawks have lost seven of their last nine road games, after winning seven of their first nine. They are in LA on the second stop of a four game west conference trip. They lost the first game Friday night in Oklahoma. The Hawks are only 5-6 against Western Conference foes, with four of the wins coming in early season sweeps of the Wolves and Grizzlies.
  • Williams out. Atlanta's starting small forward Marvin Williams is missing the team's current road trip with a sore back after a fall against the Warriors last week. In Williams absence, it appears the Hawks will go big at least in the starting lineup. They started Jason Collins at center in their loss to the Thunder, sliding Horford to the four and Smith to the three. Atlanta doesn't have great depth, so losing Williams, their fifth leading scorer, doesn't help.
  • Collins versus Collins. With Williams out, Jason Collins will get the start in a game against his twin brother, Jarron of the Clippers. The Collins twins have faced each other 10 times in their NBA careers, with each brother winning 5 times. Some times even when their teams play, one or the other fails to get into the game, but they figure to each see action today, with Jason starting, and the Clippers still severely depleted in the front court. For those of you who like that sort of thing, he is the link of their head to head meetings.
  • Guarding Griffin. Having Jason Collins in the starting lineup gives the Hawks the luxury of a choice of big bodies to put on Griffin at the start of the game. I assume they'll go with Horford, who will be starting at power forward opposite Blake in this game. But no doubt Jason Collins will burn some fouls on Blake, and Josh Smith will take his turn as well.
  • Clippers rotation. The Clippers backcourt has gotten completely healthy just as the front court has suffered multiple injuries. With Baron looking stronger than he has all season, and Randy Foye seemingly fully recovered from the hamstring injury that had plagued him (his block on Ronnie Price Wednesday did not appear to be the work of a guy nursing a hammie), LA has a four man guard rotation that seems pretty solid. They also have the luxury of playing four guards who can all run the team if need be. They've even ran a three guard offense for an extended time against the small ball Suns. This is all bad news for Rasual Butler, who has played only three minutes in the last three games, as Foye has taken the backup minutes at the shooting guard, while Al-Farouq Aminu has gotten more burn at the small forward. In general, you have to like the decision, with Davis/Bledsoe, Gordon/Foye and Gomes/Aminu splitting up all the minutes at the 1, 2 and 3. Meanwhile, Ike Diogu, who hadn't played an NBA game in over 20 months, has filled in admirably in the front court these last four games in the absences of Chris Kaman, Craig Smith and Brian Cook. Diogu has even been on the floor in crunch time in a couple of games.
  • Too much rest? The Clippers are in a strangely quiet portion of their schedule. They've had three days off since the Utah loss. They get two days off after this one, then three days off after the next one, and then two days off again. Sometimes a team will go weeks without getting two days off, or months without three days rest. The bottom line is that for the next two weeks, the Clippers play only two games per week. After missing a week of action, I return for the slowest two weeks of the season.
  • Johnson and Gordon. After Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili, it's hard to know who the next best shooting guard in the NBA is. Until this season, you would have had to consider Joe Johnson a strong candidate for the honor. But with the 29 year old Johnson perhaps in decline and the just turned 22 Gordon on the rise, it's EJ who is now a candidate.
  • Back early from surgery. As Clipper fans, it's not often we see a player return EARLIER than expected. Johnson had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Dec. 1. At the time they said he'd be out 4 to 6 weeks. Instead, he returned after just two. Speaking of this subject, on December 10th the Clippers said that Chris Kaman would likely be out a minimum of three weeks. According to that time frame, he could conceivably be back for this game. But obviously that's not happening.
  • Baron and Bibby. Baron Davis and Mike Bibby have run into each other a few times in their careers. When Bibby was winning a national title as a sophomore at Arizona, Baron was a freshman at Pac-10 rival UCLA. Bibby was the second pick in the 1999 draft; Baron was the third pick in the 2000 draft. As pros Baron has gotten the better of Bibby, beating him in 12 of 19 head to head meetings.
  • Hawks bench. The Hawks starters are impressive, and defending sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford can really score the ball, but after that it gets a little dicey for the Hawks. Mo Evans, Jeff Teague, Damien Wilkins and Zaza Pachulia are not going to strike fear into a lot of teams. If the Clippers are going to win this game, they'll need to dominate Atlanta's second unit.
  • Superstar for one game: Zaza Pachulia. Zaza has always played well against the Clippers for some reason.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    We love to think in winter, as we walk over the snowy pastures, of those happy dreamers that lie under the sod, of dormice and all that race of dormant creatures, which have such a superfluity of life enveloped in thick folds of fur, impervious to cold. Alas, the poet too is in one sense a sort of dormouse gone into winter quarters of deep and serene thoughts, insensible to surrounding circumstances; his words are the relation of his oldest and finest memory, a wisdom drawn from the remotest experience. Other men lead a starved existence, meanwhile, like hawks, that would fain keep on the wing, and trust to pick up a sparrow now and then.
    Henry David Thoreau
  • Get the Hawks perspective at Peachtree Hoops.