|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
|February 26th, 2011, 7:30 PM
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The teams split their two games last season, each winning at home.
The Big Picture:
When the Clippers take the floor at Staples Center tonight, we may not recognize them - they'll be the ones in the white uniforms. It's the first time since February 2nd that they'll be the home team, and you'll have to forgive them if they're confused when they don't see any red-shirted teammates to pass to (Blake even wore red in the All Star Game). The 11 straight road games was the longest road trip in the NBA since 1978, and second longest in NBA history, so thanks for that NBA schedulers. Unfortunately, things don't get a lot easier for the Clippers in the short term from a scheduling standpoint, facing the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics on the second game of a back to back. At least the Clipper Spirit will be there - they're pretty. The Clippers will once again be shorthanded, but it's unclear just exactly how shorthanded they'll be. Eric Gordon, who had hoped to be back by Monday at the latest if not before then, is now sounding like Monday is not exactly a sure thing. So you can forget about tonight. Meanwhile, the new Clippers, Mo Williams and Jamario Moon, are in town and appear to be ready to go, but have to wait until Baron Davis passes a physical in Cleveland before they can play for their new team. As I write this, Baron has been through the physical, which included an MRI on his knee, but it's unclear to me whether we have to wait for the Cavs to have the results of the MRI or not. For his part, Coach Vinny Del Negro wasn't too encouraging about whether the newest Clippers will play tonight: "They won't be able to take part in the shoot-around; it'll be tough to just throw them out there." Which likely leaves the Clippers with Eric Bledsoe and Randy Foye once again as the starting backcourt. Foye played well against the Lakers scoring a team-high 24, but Bledsoe struggled to make shots, going just 2 for 11. Without consistent scoring coming from anywhere else on the floor, defenses have been able to focus entirely on Blake Griffin, and the Celtics are among the best at creating defensive schemes to take players out of games.
The Clippers aren't the only team dealing with trade deadline changes. The Celtics traded starting center Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic on Thursday. They also shipped out Semih Erden, Luke Harangody and Marquis Daniels in other deals. With all those guys gone, Green and Krstic not yet with the team, and the O'Neal brothers (Shaquille and Jermaine) still out, the Celtics called up Chris Johnson from the D-League just to be able to suit nine guys for their loss to the Nuggets Thursday night. Green and Krstic have joined the team and have been through a practice and so are expected to play tonight against the Clippers. The Celtics were out of sorts in Denver after losing Perkins, who was such a big part of their Championship in 2008 (and he might have been the difference in the 2010 title as well, had he not gotten injured). It seems like Boston decided while Perk was out for the beginning of the season that they could do without his stellar post defense, and that a backup to Paul Pierce at the small forward (or conversely a stretch four when they wanted to play small) was more important. We'll see. As you may recall, I'm not a big fan of Jeff Green, so it looks to me as it the Thunder got the better of the deal. At any rate, while there is certainly some upheaval affecting the Celtics right now, their big four of Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett, all of whom were All Stars this season, is all intact. Those are the guys responsible for giving them the best record in the Eastern Conference this season, so as long as they're around, the Celtics are a tough out.
- Home again, home again, jiggety jig. We knew that the Odyssey was going to be difficult, and like Ulysses before them, the Clippers are finally home, but more than a little worse for the wear. They went 2-9 on the trip, and lost three straight to Eastern Conference teams with losing records. Injuries haven't helped matters - they've played most of the season with at least one starter missing, and often two, and this trip was no exception - but after the optimism of January (inflated by a very home friendly schedule) this trip has demonstrated the reality of how much growing this young Clippers team still has to do.
- Two straight over Boston at home. The Clippers have beaten Boston in LA each of the last two seasons, including last season on a last second Baron Davis jumper in what was probably the best win of the year. Too bad Baron's not with the team any more.
- Hot at home. It's hard to recall at this point, after a 2-9 road trip directly preceded by a home loss to the Bulls, but the Clippers had been red hot at home in January. They won an LA Clippers record nine straight at one point, and were 9-1 at home for the month, including wins of the Heat and Lakers and Nuggets among others. Of course, most of those wins were with a healthy Eric Gordon, their leading scorer and (especially now in the absence of Baron) only real option for creating off the dribble. It's a young team and clearly plays better with the home crowd behind them. It's entirely possible that their adrenaline will carry them to a terrific performance tonight after such a long time away.
- Division Leaders. The Clippers have had a strange habit of beating good teams this season. In fact, among their victims are five of six current division leaders (Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Lakers). The only one they haven't beaten is the Atlantic Division leading Boston - a team they have yet to play. They get two chances in the next six games to complete the set against the Celtics, but at home tonight would be the more likely scenario.
- Overpromising. When Eric Gordon went down with a sprained wrist on Jan. 22, the Clippers characterized the injury as needing three to four weeks. Then, at the beginning of the Odyssey they strangely announced that he was day to day, and would accompany the team on the road, seeming to imply that Gordon might be able to play at some point on the trip. Now, here we are, exactly five weeks after the original injury, and Gordon isn't yet back. This wouldn't be so annoying were it not a pattern that gets repeated over and over. Gordon is crucial to this team, and it's most important that he fully heal - but why can't we get a decent estimate on his return?
- Garnett and Griffin. Blake Griffin has gotten under the skin of several opponents this season, and they tend to be more veteran guys. From Andre Miller to James Posey to Lamar Odom, Griffin's non stop effort has definitely rubbed some guys the wrong way. He's also taken some really hard fouls, partly because of these conflicts, and partly because opponents don't have any better ideas for how to stop him. Meet Kevin Garnett. KG is a 16 year vet and one of the most confrontational players in the league, and is sure to try to intimidate Griffin tonight. The battle between these two is going to be exciting (and I assume contentious) from the opening tap because I certainly don't see Griffin backing down in the face of KG's woofing and posturing. It will also be interesting to see if the Celtics decide to double Griffin. Doc Rivers tends to like to guard people one-on-one, but I'm not sure there's any percentage in that against the Clippers, who really don't have too many guys who can hurt the Celtics with Gordon and probably Williams out of the lineup.
- Trade physicals. Is it my imagination, or do trade physicals take longer when Clippers are involved? Of course there have been plenty of other physicals that became issues in trades. The trade of Tyson Chandler from New Orleans to Oklahoma City two years ago (coincidentally, the last time the Thunder tried to address their hole at center before acquiring Perkins) was rescinded when Chandler failed his physical. But it seems to happen a lot with the Clippers. Five years ago, a proposed trade with the Pacers of Corey Maggette for Ron Artest never made it to fruition because of Indiana's concerns with Maggette's injured foot. Then, two years ago the Clippers' debut of Zach Randolph was delayed several days when Cat Mobley's physical in New York revealed a heart condition (that trade was eventually approved, since the Knicks were interested in the deal only to get rid of Randolph's contract, so Mobley's basketball health was a moot point). Baron's physical in Cleveland isn't a big issue yet... but how many other trade deadline players are still waiting to make their debuts? Things are rarely easy for the Clippers.
- Green and Allen. It's funny that Green is now on the Celtics, since I wrote a bullet about him just three games ago when the Clippers played the Thunder. I questioned the wisdom of the trade that sent Ray Allen to the Celtics in exchange for the fifth pick in the draft that became Green - and now they're both in Boston!
- Preferred pronunciation. You know, the preferred pronunciation of this team is with a hard 'C', i.e. Keltics. The ancient peoples of the British Isles were the Kelts, not the Selts (though it was still spelled Celt). Furthermore, if the NBA team from Boston is named for that group of people, then they really should be the Celts; the Gaels of St. Mary's, Spartans of Michigan State and Trojans of USC are all named for the people. Calling a team the Celtics is either naming them after the language, or naming them after an adjective, and let's face it, neither makes a lot of sense - I mean, neither can really be pluralized, right? I realize that the people and the language are often identical (French and Spanish to list a couple of examples). But imagine if there were an NBA team from Berlin called the German, as opposed to the Germans. That's what we're dealing with here. So this team is (a) misnamed from the outset and (b) mispronounced to boot. Rest assured, when I discuss them, I do so with a hard C sound and in the appropriate noun form. Go Clippers! Beat the Kelts!
- Superstar for one game: Chris Johnson. In keeping with the original intent of this feature, who better than a recent D-League call up playing his fourth NBA game (second for Boston, but he also played two with the Blazers earlier this season) to light up the Clippers tonight?
The Celt is quarrelsome; he prides himself that with him it is a word and a blow. He broods upon the memory of ancient wrongs in a way that to the Englishman is incomprehensible; if the English were Irish by temperament they would still be roused to fury by the name of the Battle of Hastings, instead of summing it up philosophically as "1066 and all that."Dorothy L. Sayers, The Other Six Deadly Sins. That's one hell of a good quote for this team.
- Get the Celtics perspective at CelticsBlog.