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Los Angeles Clippers at Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Quicken Loans Arena
February 11th, 2011, 4:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Ramon Sessions
 Randy Foye SG Anthony Parker
Ryan Gomes
SF Christian Eyenga
Blake Griffin
PF Antawn Jamison
DeAndre Jordan
C J.J. Hickson


The Back Story:

  • First meeting of the season. The Cavs swept the season series last year (but that was kind of a different team).

The Big Picture:

The Clippers finally got a win on their Odyssey Wednesday night in New York against the Knicks, and it came in a somewhat unlikely manner. Not that it's so unlikely to beat the Knicks, but the big hero of the game was Randy Foye, filling in for Eric Gordon. Foye was one of the big free agent signings for the Clippers this summer (and the italics are meant to be ironic), but he's been mostly disappointing so far, performing significantly below all of his career numbers. On Wednesday, he scored 17 fourth quarter points to carry the Clippers to victory. The other free agent addition, Ryan Gomes, also had a big game, the first time this season the two of them have played well in the same game. It was only the fifth time this season that Foye and Gomes have scored double figures in the same game, and their 42 combined points were easily the highest total of the season for the pair. The Clippers could use a lot more of that kind of productivity. Actually, if they just make open shots it will be a start. Blake Griffin has labored in the first four games of the trip - he's made only 29 of his 64 shots (45%), and he's turned the ball over 14 times in 4 games. With the Clippers Eric Gordon injured and not playing, defenses are able to focus a lot of attention on Griffin - so Foye and Gomes will continue to get open looks. In contrast to Griffin, Baron Davis is playing his best basketball of the season on this trip. He's been getting to the rim better than at any time this season, and he's been hitting his three pointers (in no small part because he's taking almost exclusively good open looks lately). He's made 10 of 23 threes in February, and his season percentage has actually inched above 30% - no small feat considering it had been below 20% through the end of December. Without Gordon, the Clippers need contributions from several other sources to beat good teams. That may not matter tonight in Cleveland, but hopefully Gomes and Foye can continue to play well for the rest of this trip.

The Antagonist:

Everyone knows that the Cavs have lost 26 straight, the longest losing streak in NBA history. Most people also know that with a loss to the Clippers tonight, they'll break the record they currently hold with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (in their first two seasons of existence in the NFL) for longest losing streak in US professional sports history. What you may not know is that it was almost much, much worse. After starting the season 7 and 9, the Cavs are 1-36, and the one win was in overtime. In fact, they were behind by 4 in the final minute of that game, so they are one unlikely comeback away from 37 straight losses. Obviously they lost LeBron James - but they've also lost two other starters and two key reserves from last season's 61 win team; Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are gone, while Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao are injured. The Cavs were obviously going to be bad this season, and the injuries have exacerbated the problem. Still, it's a little shocking that they're THIS bad. Antawn Jamison is their leading scorer at 17 a game, and after that it's anyone's guess where they might get a bucket. They rank last in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency. But that's only one aspect of the game of course. They also rank last in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency. Combine terrible offense with terrible defense, and you get a record breaking losing streak.

The Subplots

  • Please, don't lose this one. No one wants to be the team that snaps this streak. The Cavs, if they can find a shred of pride left, might have some additional motivation for this game. For one thing, they're trying to avoid owning that 'all sports' record 27th straight loss (though that's a pretty arbitrary thing to my mind). For another, they got lit up by coach Byron Scott after their last loss, Wednesday at home against the 20 win Pistons. If they haven't stopped listening to Scott completely (which is, it must be stated, a distinct possibility) then they should come out with a purpose in this one. Lastly, it's the Clippers. If only from a historical standpoint, it seems that struggling teams see that LAC on their schedule and say "That's one we can actually win".
  • Famous streaks. Citizen Joe Wolf's Mullet (great handle, btw) reminded me yesterday that the Clippers have been at the wrong end of some busted losing streaks over the years. When the expansion Miami Heat lost their first 17 games in 1988, it was the Clippers who became their first victim of all time. They were also the first team ever to lose to the Charlotte Hornets that same year. Sure, that's ancient history, but just last season the Clippers lost to New Jersey when the Nets' record stood at 3-40 and they seemed to be well on their way to setting an all time futility record of their own. So, yeah, there's been a precedent set. The Clippers are fully capable of losing to any team, and the more embarrassing the circumstances, the more it seems the Clippers slip up.
  • Mortgaged Future. The story in Cleveland is a cautionary tale (well told by Brian Windhurst at this link). Dan Gilbert and the Cavs' front office did everything they could to keep LeBron James happy in his home town, and to try to bring a championship to the long-suffering Cleveland fans. Trying to demonstrate to LeBron that they were willing to do whatever it took, they traded for overpaid (and aging) players from Mo Williams to O'Neal to Jamison. They never had good draft picks as they were winning games, and didn't keep most of those - they've only had four first round picks in the seven drafts since LeBron entered the league, and only two of those are still with the team. They haven't had a draft pick lower than 30th since 2008. A less obvious issue is that they now stuck with a bunch of role players. Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson looked like nice pickups when the ball was in LeBron's hands on every crucial possession - all they had to do was play defense and make open shots. But without James, they are bit players in a drama without a leading man.
  • The bright side in Cleveland? Sadly, there really isn't one right now. Most any other team struggling this season can point to SOMETHING positive; Sacramento has Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins; Minnesota has Kevin Love and Michael Beasley; New Jersey has Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors; Washington has John Wall. What has Cleveland got? J.J. Hickson? Christian Eyenga? Ramon Sessions has been a nice pick up for them, but it's not like he's got a lot of headroom. These guys are one player away from having one player. All they've got going for them right now is the lottery.
  • Point differential. Eight wins on the season make the Cavs seem better than they are, if that makes any sense. Of course, 1-36 in their last 37 makes up for that pretty effectively. But with the 12 win Kings, 13 win Wolves and 14 win Raptors and Wizards around, it might seem like the Cavs have company at the bottom of the league. Don't believe it. Their point differential of minus 11.2 is far and away the worst in the NBA; the Wizards are next at minus 6.1.
  • Byron. On a record losing streak and with the team playing poorly, there will naturally be speculation about Byron Scott's job in this his first season coaching the Cavs. Byron says he's up to this task, having led bad teams in New Jersey and New Orleans to respectability and beyond. Still, one has to wonder if he regrets taking the job. When Phil Jackson quits this summer and Brian Shaw is coaching Kobe and Pau, will Byron think to himself "Damn, that could have been me?" Of course he will.
  • Light at the end of the tunnel? Assuming the Cavs lose to the Clippers (fingers crossed), they have a very realistic shot at a win in their next game. In that scenario, the Cavs will take a 27 game losing streak up against a Wizards team that is 0-25 on the road. It's not often that two teams on 25+ losing streaks meet in a game where one of the streaks is guaranteed to end. Setting up this epic battle is all the more reason that the Clippers MUST beat the Cavs tonight.
  • Another streak. There's another losing streak on the line tonight - the Clippers have lost eight straight to Cleveland. LA was unable to snap their eight game losing streak to Orlando, but surely they'll end this one, adding it to long losing streaks against San Antonio, New Orleans and Phoenix that were ended this season.
  • Getting ahead of ourselves. The Clippers have to take the next week one game at a time. But I'm a blogger - I don't have to live by that cliche. The next two games are against the worst record in the league, and fourth worst record in the league (Toronto). A couple games later, they play the team with the third worst record in the league (Minnesota). In between, they play a Bucks team that is 11 games under .500 and has lost 5 of 6. In other words, they have a very real chance to win the next four road games (five straight overall) and enter the All Star break with a 5-3 start to their Odyssey. Let's just hope they're focused on the Cavs for now, while us fans dream about what could happen.
  • Easy wins. The Clippers have had a home friendly schedule so far, but it has been against tough opponents. They are tied for the most difficult strength of schedule at this point of the season (tied with the Cavs, in fact). In particular, not that 52 games in the season, with only 30 games left, the Clippers have yet to play Cleveland or Toronto or Washington, the three worst teams in the Eastern conference (and the three worst teams in the league by point differential). Not that those are guaranteed wins by any means, but they're certainly winnable. With only 30 games left, fully 20% of the Clippers remaining schedule is against those three teams. I'm just saying.
  • Matchups. With so much to talk about just on the poor Cavs, it's easy to forget about the basketball part of this game. It's not bad enough that Cleveland has lost 26 and is just not good - the also appear to be ill-equipped to handle the Clippers. They're starting a forward at center (Hickson), a small forward at power forward (Jamison) and a shooting guard at small forward (Eyenga). And it's not like they have a ton of options on their bench for going big, especially with their injury issues. Former UCLA Bruin Ryan Hollins, all 240 of him, is the closest thing they have to a center. Jamison is listed at 6'9", but he's closer to 6'6". Griffin and DeAndre Jordan should dominate the paint in this one.
  • Help on the way? Mo Williams and Leon Powe have each been out since some time in January. They are both getting close to a return. They're listed as doubtful for this game, but there's a possibility they could play. Whether in this game or soon thereafter, at least the Cavs will be getting some help soon.
  • Ramon Sessions. In the summer of 2009, Ramon Sessions was an almost daily fixture on Clips Nation during a slow part of the off season. There wasn't much else to talk about, and Sessions was an intriguing free agent point guard who the Clippers had shown some interest in. Those crazy Minnesota Timberwolves (KAHHHHNNNNN!), stockpiling point guards at the time, signed Sessions - and promptly buried him behind the underwhelming Jonny Flynn. Apparently disenchanted with Sessions, Kahn promptly dumped his contract on Cleveland for nothing (Delonte West who was cut and former Clipper Sebastian Telfair). In Cleveland, Sessions has returned to being the quietly productive point guard he had been in Milwaukee. Of course, he's only ever played on terrible teams, so the question of whether he could be the starting point guard on a good team remains unanswered. He has the best PER on the Cavs, but he was only inserted into the starting lineup in the absence of Williams.
  • Three point defense. You think the Clippers are bad at defending the three point line? The Cavs are lat in the league in opponent three pointers attempted, made and percentage. The Cavs opponents are making almost 43% from deep - yikes! The Clippers are nearly as bad as they once were - sure, they're 29th in opponent threes made, but they're up to 23rd in percentage allowed (37.3%). The Clippers don't seem to pose much of a three point threat with Gordon out, but Baron, Foye and Gomes are all capable of making the long ball - LA was 9 for 17 in New York last night. As for Cleveland, both Gibson and Parker are both shooting better than 40% from deep, so one recipe for losing to this team would be to allow them to get a lot of good looks from beyond the arc.
  • Can Griffin Get Going? Blake has yet to have a really good game on the road trip. The Cavs will no doubt swarm him as all the other teams this trip have done. But if Blake goes quickly before the double arrives, there doesn't appear to be anyone of the Cavs capable of defending him. 
  • Superstar for one game: Sessions. The guy we talked about for two months in 2009 comes back to haunt us.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    'Ere the King's crown shall fall, there are crowns to be broke;
    So let each Cavalier who loves honour and me,
    Come follow the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

    Sir Walter Scott, The Doom of Devorgoil
  • Get the Cavs perspective at Fear the Sword.