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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Charlotte Bobcats - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
January 29th, 2011, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG D.J. Augustin
 Randy Foye SG Stephen Jackson
Ryan Gomes
SF Gerald Wallace
Blake Griffin
PF Boris Diaw
DeAndre Jordan
C Kwame Brown


The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The teams split two games last year, each winning at home.

The Big Picture:

Two recent Clipper trends meet in tonight's game, and one of them has to give. The Clippers are undefeated at home in 2011 (7-0); and they are winless in games they've played without Eric Gordon this season (0-4). Well, it's still 2011, and they'll be at home, without Gordon, so one of those streaks is going to end. The team looked tired in their loss to the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday, so two days off and a return to their own beds might help there. The fact that Charlotte is on a road back-to-back after playing into overtime against the Warriors in Oakland last night helps too. The real question is how will Blake Griffin play. More than anyone else, and for maybe the first time this season, he just looked tired in Houston. It might have been that the elbow he injured the night before in Dallas had him out of sorts (though he told Lisa Dillman the elbow wasn't a factor), or it might have just been one of those nights. Whatever the reason, don't expect this to be a trend. Whenever Griffin has had a 'bad' game this season, he's followed up with a monster. In fact, two of the last three times he's scored less than 20 (@IND and LAL) he's followed up with career highs in the 40s (NYK and IND). So watch out, Bobcats. It would be great if he could get some help of course. Baron Davis played very poorly in Houston as well, as did pretty much everybody else. As for Gordon's absence, Randy Foye has scored well (17.5 average in the two games) and shot much better than he has the rest of the season (46%, 40% from deep). But Rasual Butler has been dreadful in his return to the rotation as the backup shooting guard - 2 for 9 and no help anywhere else either. Maybe it's time to take a look at Willie Warren, at least for a few minutes.

The Antagonist:

Sweet FSM, how bad is the bottom two thirds of the Eastern Conference? The Bobcats actually made the playoffs last season, and would make it again this season if the playoffs ended today, and they suck. I mean, seriously. Of course, they don't suck significantly more or less than the Bucks or the Sixers or the Pacers - none of them should make the playoffs, but two of them will. If the Clippers win this game tonight (and playing at home they should, even without Eric Gordon), they'll be a game behind the Bobcats in the loss column - but the Clippers will be in 13th place in the West, while the Bobcats will still be eighth in the East. Sheesh. Charlotte has played better under Paul Silas since Larry Brown was fired - they're 11-6 since Silas took over and have won five of the last six. Silas is allowing them to play faster and looser (though of course pretty much no one plays as slow and tight as Larry Brown, s it's all relative). But on closer inspection, the winning trend looks a little like fool's gold. Other than two difficult to explain wins over the Chicago Bulls, the other nine wins have come against teams with losing records, many of them the real dregs of the league (six of the seven worst records in the NBA make an appearance on Charlotte's recent list of victims). Of course, the Clippers are eighth on that particular list, so maybe they can keep beating the teams with losing records. The Bobcats rely on a core group of players as much as any team in the league: four guys play at least 34 minutes per game, and only one other team (the Knicks) can say that. No one else on the team plays as many as 24 minutes, only two play more than 20, and one of those two (Tyrus Thomas) is hurt. So get ready to see a lot of Augustin, Jackson, Wallace and Diaw tonight.

The Subplots

  • Comeback in Oakland. The Bobcats had one of those comebacks last night, that you know in theory is possible, but almost never happens. Down five with 24 seconds left, all they needed was a three, a foul, one miss at the line, and another three. That's all, right? Well, guess what? Stephen Jackson was fouled shooting a three and made all three free throws, then Monta Ellis missed one of two, then Jackson made a three at the buzzer. Overtime, and the Bobcats won, breaking Lawler's Law in the process. Of course, that result helps the Clippers, since the Bobcats figure to be pretty well spent by the time they get to LA, their fourth stop on a season high six game trip. (Season high six game trip? Did I really just type that? Must be nice. Clippers have an 11 game trip coming up, followed a week later by a five gamer.) The trip started off great with wins in Sacramento and Phoenix. Charlotte's overall road record is 8-14.
  • More East bashing. OK, we've already established that Charlotte is eighth in the East, while the Clippers are 13th in the West. Even so, the Clippers have a better point differential (-2.5) than the Bobcats (-3.0), and point differential is considered by many a better measure of overall team strength.
  • All time series record. I didn't bother to look up their all time record against all 29 opponents in the league, but you have to figure that Charlotte, an expansion team in 2004, probably doesn't have a winning record against too many of them, if any. Against the Clippers, they are 5-7 in 12 meetings all time - but all five of those wins have come in the the last three seasons, during which time they're 5-1.
  • Augustin. D.J. Augustin is a leading candidate for Most Improved Player this season. The Bobcats allowed Raymond Felton to leave via free agency this summer, and in his third season Augustin became the starter by default at the point guard. As a consequence, his minutes have almost doubled from 18.4 last year to 34.6 this year. His shooting (career high 44% overall, 38% from deep) and playmaking (his assist to turnover ratio of almost 4 is third best in the league) have improved significantly now that he's the starter. He's been especially good since Silas took over, averaging 18.5 points per game under the new coach.
  • Baron in the post. The downside of Augustin is that he's small - he's listed at 6'0", and he's not really that big. Baron Davis just loves to post up smaller point guards. It doesn't always work - sometimes the Clippers get too fixated on the idea of Baron in the post, and the team stops moving. But it can also be very effective when Baron is on. Don't be surprised if the Bobcats switch Stephen Jackson onto his old buddy Baron if the strategy is working for the Clippers. Or maybe the Hornets Bobcats will just start with Jackson on Baron, since Randy Foye is not much of a post up threat.
  • Captain Jack. Jackson will present similar issues for the Clippers on the other end. Foye and Davis both give away at least four inches to him. Of course, Jackson is shooting just under 40% on the season, so if he decides to try to carry Charlotte, that might not be a bad thing for the Clippers. And unlike Augustin, Jackson has been significantly WORSE since Larry Brown left town: he's shooting 36% in January, but that has not dissuaded him from taking 17 shots a game this month.
  • Clippers at home. We've already mentioned that the Clippers have won 7 straight at home, and are undefeated in 2011. They have really been a different team at home versus on the road, especially lately. They are a young and athletic team, and they tend to feed off the energy of the home crowd. The growth of the team will be in finding a way to play well without that support. The team is now 14-13 overall at home, after beginning the season 1-6 in Staples Center. These next three home games loom large as an opportunity to hopefully establish that they can at least compete without Gordon in advance of the Odyssey.
  • Tyrus Thomas. Thomas tore the meniscus in his knee last week and underwent surgery a couple days later. He'll be out about eight weeks. If you're a believer in PER, then Thomas' loss is a big blow to the Bobcats; another thing for believers in PER is that the Bobcats are not very good. Thomas sports a team high 19.8 PER - the next best is Augustin at 17.4, and on the rest of the roster only Nazr Mohammed is above the mythical average of 15.
  • Kwame Brown. Just before Paul Silas took over as head coach, former Laker, former first overall pick, Kwame Brown became the Bobcats' starting center, and he's remained there since. He's averaging 9 and 9 as the starter, while shooting almost 60% from the field. Maybe not numbers to write home about, but if you're Kwame Brown you might want to consider overnighting them. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan might feel a little vindication for having chosen Brown with the first pick when he was the GM in Washington - but hopefully not too much vindication, since Brown still ranks as one of the worst first overall picks ever (the jury is probably still out for him versus former Clippers Michael Olowokandi).
  • Brown versus Olowokandi. OK, so here's the data. I figure, as long as we're talking about it. Turns out, the jury came back, and Kandi was worse. Kandi scored more and rebounded more, both per game and per minute, but that 43.5% career shooting percentage - for a center! - is just too brutal to ignore. Man, I don't remember Kandi being THAT bad. His shooting percentages were just abysmal.
  • Shaun Livingston. Former Clipper Shaun Livingston made a major step in his comeback from that horrific knee injury when he signed a 2 year, $7M contract with the Bobcats this summer. He had played for the Heat and Thunder and Wizards, but all of those were on short term contracts, so to sign for guaranteed money was a big milestone. Ironically, Livingston, reconstructed knee and all, is one of only three Bobcats to appear in all 45 games this season. He had played only 48 total in the three seasons since the injury, and his career high for games played in a season is 61. Bear in mind that he was injury prone even before his knee imploded, so appearing in 45 in a row this year is really remarkable. His minutes are low (17 a game) and his numbers are unspectacular, but we know he's a great passer and a long defender who can defend multiple positions on the floor with his size. This will be Shaun's second trip back to Staples Center to play the Clippers - let's hope it goes better for the home team than the first time, a 126-85 victory for the Thunder in the final game of the 08-09 season.
  • Wallace rumors. Whenever a team is in a sort of no man's land of being good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but not good enough to go anywhere when they get there, there are going to be rumblings about starting over. (The weird thing is that pretty much any team can be good enough to compete for a playoff spot int he East, but that's a different story.) Gerald Wallace, an All Star last season, is the subject of rumors currently, partly because other teams may want him, and partly to save money since he's Charlotte's highest paid player. Wallace would be a bargain at his level of productivity from prior seasons; unfortunately, his numbers have nose dived this season. He's gone from 18 and 10 to 16 and 8, and he's shooting .426 from the field, by far his worst percentage since arriving in Charlotte in the expansion draft.
  • Three point shooting. The three point line has been a pretty telling barometer for the Clippers through most of the season. If they give up a lot of threes, they tend to lose; if they defend the line reasonably well, they have a fighting chance. Twelve times they've given up 10 or more threes - they are 2-10 in those games. This trend bodes pretty well for them tonight, as the Bobcats are in the lower third of the league in both 3 point percentage and 3 pointers made.
  • Randy Foye. Some players play better as starters. Randy Foye has been significantly better since being inserted into the starting lineup (of course, he was truly terrible before, so there really wasn't anywhere to go but up). Foye is probably better as a featured scorer than as a complementary player - he's not really a glue guy by any means, and he can find shots. The problem is that any team on which Randy Foye is a featured scorer is probably not a very good team. He averaged 16 a game for Minnesota a couple season ago, so there you go.
  • Superstar for one game: Livingston. I'd love to be right on this one. Shaun's season-high is 16 this year, and I'd love to see him top that.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    Macavity's a Mystery Cat; he's called the Hidden Paw—
    For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.

    T.S. Eliot. Yes, it was a T.S. Eliot poem before it was an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
  • Get the Bobcats perspective at Rufus on Fire.