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Los Angeles Clippers at Atlanta Hawks - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
Philips Arena
February 4th, 2011, 4:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket , KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Mike Bibby
Randy Foye
PG Joe Johnson
Ryan Gomes SF Marvin Williams
Blake Griffin PF Josh Smith
DeAndre Jordan C Al Horford


The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have played more home games (30) and fewer road games (18) than any team in the NBA. Well, starting today, that disparity is going to be corrected in a hurry. By the time the Clippers host another game in Staples Center more than three weeks hence, they will have played 29 road games. They play the first of 11 straight on the road tonight in Atlanta. A month ago in LA, the Clippers dominated the Hawks during the first half, only to fall apart at the end. They were outscored by 22 in the final 16 minutes, as they struggled to score while Atlanta's one-on-one nightmares made shot after shot. On one level, the Clippers might have some confidence against this team - they showed they can outplay them for a good portion of that first game. At the same time, the Hawks thoroughly dominated them when it counted, not to mention that LA will be playing this one in Atlanta without leading scorer Eric Gordon. So yeah, it's a tough assignment. This will be the first game that Blake Griffin is playing as an All Star, and I'm guessing that he'll be pretty pumped. He'll need to have a monster performance without Gordon around to help carry the load. He went for 31 and 15 against Atlanta in the first meeting. But he's going to need help regardless. Baron Davis will have to play well, as will Randy Foye filling in for Gordon. Davis and Foye are the Clippers best scoring threats after Griffin with Gordon out. It would also be nice if the team could get something from the bench - rookies Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu have really tapered off in recent weeks, and the Clippers simply must have more productivity from them if the second unit is going to avoid being blitzed every night. 

The Antagonist:

The Hawks are a tough team to figure. They are currently fourth in the East, ahead of the Magic by the thinnest of margins. The difference between fourth and fifth is home court advantage in the playoffs. The Hawks were pretty hot for a time - they won 7 out of 8 beginning with their victory over the Clippers in LA. Then they went 3-3 in their next six leading up to tonight's game, and that stretch included a 100-59 drubbing at the hands of the Hornets. Ugly. But there are reasons to suspect that the Hawks may be rounding into top form - Marvin Williams recently returned from injury, and Joe Johnson is playing by far his best basketball of the season. Along with fellow All Star Al Horford, near All Star Josh Smith, veteran Mike Bibby and 2010 Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, Atlanta's top six are intimidating to be sure. What makes them particularly dangerous is that Johnson and Crawford are both great shot makers - even if the Hawks aren't playing great, they can just give the ball to one of those guys and they've got a chance to score. If one or both gets hot, watch out. That's what happened in the game in LA last month, and in fact that's happened in several of the Clippers' recent encounters with Atlanta. Without Eric Gordon, LA's best perimeter defender, the potential for Johnson and Crawford going off is that much higher.

The Subplots

  • Williams Suspension. After missing 11 games with a back injury, Marvin Williams returned to the Hawks' lineup on January 26th. Then, a week ago in just his second game back, he got into a fight with Shawne Williams of the Knicks and each of them were suspended for two games. He's served his suspension and is eligible to play tonight against the Clippers.
  • All Star Showdown. Three participants in tonight's game found out yesterday that they would be All Stars this year. Griffin, Horford and Johnson were all named as reserves in their respective conferences. Johnson will be playing in his fifth All Star game, Horford his second, and Griffin will obviously be making his first appearance. No doubt his first of many.
  • Johnson on a tear. I've been critical of Johnson as regards the All Star selections, but there's no denying that he is playing much, much better now than he was early in the season. In fact, you can go back to that January 2nd game in Staples to pinpoint the turnaround in his season. Through the end of December, he was averaging around 17 points per game. Against the Clippers, he scored 29 and since then he's averaging nearly 27 points per game. He has scored 30 or more in five of his last nine, including a season high 37 Wednesday against the Raptors. Maybe he's worth that contract after all.
  • Clippers road woes. The Clippers lost their first 11 road games of the season. They then won three straight, and it seemed perhaps as if they were starting to figure out how to win away from home. They've since lost four straight again, to drop to 3-15 on the year, one of only five teams in the NBA with as few as three road wins. Three of those recent losses were to teams they were trying to catch in the Western Conference standings, so they were big games, and the Clippers came up short. The fact that they recently won nine straight at home only underscores their struggles on the road. They are a young and athletic team, and they feed off of the energy of the home crowd. On the road, they tend to get flustered and can't work their way through difficulties.
  • The Odyssey. Obviously, the trip starts out tough. But Atlanta is less daunting than Miami or Orlando, so if they want to avoid starting the trip with three straight losses, they would be wise to beat the Hawks.
  • L10. For several weeks now, when we've looked at the L10 column (record in their last 10 games) on the NBA standings, we've seen a winning record next to the Clippers name. That's a pretty good feeling. Well, heading into this game, it shows 6-4, and it will likely soon be trending very badly. With 11 straight games on the road, the first four against four of the six best teams in the Eastern Conference, it could read 3-7 very soon.
  • Hawks versus the West. The Hawks are 31-18 overall, and 22-9 against the Eastern Conference. That leaves them a lukewarm 9-9 against Western foes.
  • Kaman. Chris Kaman twisted his ankle on November 9th, almost 3 months ago now. He tried to play in early December, but after only two games back he experienced more pain in the ankle and was shut down again. It has since been determined that he had suffered a bone bruise and not simply a sprained ankle. Several weeks ago he told Lisa Dillman that he thought he would test his ankle at the beginning of this trip to see how it felt, but he has since backed on that timetable. The bottom line is, like two seasons ago, we're watching Kaman's season slip away on an injury that was at first thought to be pretty minor. When do you start tossing around names of seven footers whose careers were shortened or ended by foot injuries? Guys like Bill Walton and Yao Ming.
  • Al Horford. Horford missed a couple of games two weeks ago with a turned ankle, but he's back in the lineup and feeling fine, if his 12 point, 14 rebound, 7 assist game against Toronto is any indication. Two games missed for a turned ankle... must be nice.
  • 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.
  • Guarding Griffin. If the Hawks go with their usual starting lineup, then Josh Smith will probably draw Griffin. Smith is one of the few power forwards in the league who's anywhere close to Blake's league in terms of athleticism. However, Smith is giving away a fair amount of size.
  • 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 20 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. Mautice Evans, Jeff Teague, Damien Wilkins and Zaza Pachulia are not going to strike fear into a lot of teams. Of course, the Clippers bench isn't exactly of the highest caliber right now either.
  • Superstar for one game: Marvin Williams. Returning from his suspension, Marvin's going to have a big game.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.
    Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
  • Get the Hawks perspective at Peachtree Hoops.