|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|March 11th, 2011, 4:00 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
I don't think anyone was expecting the Clippers to go on a four game winning streak to open the month of March. Maybe there was some optimism when the full roster became available for the first time since the second game of the season, but when Eric Gordon was sent right back out of the lineup the next game, that optimism mostly turned to fatalism. But after beating the Celtics in Boston Wednesday night, the Clippers find themselves riding their longest winning streak of the season. That's right - even back in December and January when the team was playing so well, they never strung four straight together; this matches their longest winning streak in the last four seasons. And they have a golden opportunity to extend it tonight against the Nets. New Jersey beat the Clippers four long months ago, during LA's dismal 1-13 start to the season. The Clippers were missing Baron Davis (since traded for Mo Williams), Randy Foye and Chris Kaman for that game, but even allowing for the depleted roster, it was easily one of their worst games of the season. In particular, it was definitely Blake Griffin's worst game: he had three rebounds, and zero defensive rebounds. That doesn't happen. So I think the team is going to have more than a little extra motivation tonight. They want to keep the win streak alive; they want to avenge the earlier loss; and Blake in particular wants to play well. With Williams and DeAndre Jordan coming off season highs in Boston, and Chris Kaman playing well too, the Clippers have a lot of weapons to use against the Nets.
New Jersey opened training camp among rumors that they would soon execute a monster trade, sending rookie Derrick Favors and draft picks to Denver for Carmelo Anthony. It took over four months, but eventually they did indeed trade Favors to... Utah for Deron Williams. They also gave up Devin Harris and some picks in the deal. It's a huge gamble for the Nets - there's no guarantee that Williams will sign an extension in New Jersey, and he's a free agent in 2012. As it happens, Williams is out for this game, attending the birth of his baby - which is a good thing for the Clippers, since they were never able to beat Williams when he was in Utah. But the Nets shouldn't be taken lightly - they've won three straight themselves, and center Brook Lopez has been on a tear, averaging almost 27 per game in his last five, while shooting 57%. But beyond Lopez, and with Harris in Utah and Williams out tonight, the Nets are a collection of cast offs. Then again, they're a collection of cast offs that have made a habit of haunting the Clippers. Journeyman Kris Humphries, who has played for four teams in eight NBA seasons, always seems to play great against the Clippers. Former Warrior Anthony Morrow lit LAC up for 37 in his first NBA start a couple of seasons ago. Former Clipper Travis Outlaw has had a terrible season in New Jersey, but killed the Clippers in the first meeting. Meanwhile Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic are former Lakers, which means they have plenty of experience tormenting the Clippers. Truthfully, it's hard to figure how this group has 20 wins already, when the team had only 12 all of last season - they don't seem any better on paper. You have to give new coach Avery Johnson some credit.
- Last 39 games. The Clippers are 20-19 in their last 39 games. That's almost half an NBA season. That's including a 2-14 February. That's with a significant number of player games lost to injury between Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon and Craig Smith and Randy Foye. In fact, that's with only one of those 39 with Kaman and Gordon together for the entire game. It's also with more road games than home games over that span (18 home, 21 road). So the team has enjoyed a modicum of prolonged success, despite some significant obstacles. There's plenty of very real reasons to be hopeful about this team.
- Blake extra motivated. As I mentioned already, Blake Griffin had his worst game of the season the last time these teams played. That was before his break out game against the Knicks a few days later - so at the time, we didn't know just how unusual an eleven point, three rebound game would be for him. His second lowest win total in his career is double that. But in addition to the poor outing against the Nets, Blake had one of his poorer games of the season last night against the Celtics also, with 12 points and 7 rebounds, while making just 4 of 14 shots. So Blake has a couple of things to bounce back from in this game. Most of the time when Griffin has had something to bounce back from, he's bounced back in a big way.
- Clipper bigs. With Jordan coming off a huge game in Boston, Blake likely to explode, and Kaman playing well, the Clipper bigs would appear to have a big advantage. But Lopez has been playing well also, and Humphries has always outperformed his averages when he faces the Clippers, so maybe it's not so clear cut. Still, the Nets don't have anyone of quality to call on when they go to their bench - the first big off their bench will be either Dan Gadzuric, or Johan Petro, or Brandan Wright.
- Ex-Lakers backcourt. The Nets' backcourt will look familiar tonight, when former Lakers Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic trot out there. Vujacic certainly has to be thrilled to be in New Jersey, even if the weather is not as good. If he was a machine in LA, it was a DNP machine, because that's what he generated. In New Jersey, he's averaging over 27 minutes per game. One presumes he'll be just as annoying, even if he's not wearing that annoying yellow uniform.
- Travis Outlaw. Travis Outlaw, who finished last season with the Clippers before becoming a free agent, was the big free agent signing for the Nets this summer after they failed to land any of the big prizes. Outlaw started 52 of his first 57 games in New Jersey, but six games ago he lost his starting job, and it looks like he has lost it for good. At first he was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Damion James - then when James suffered a concussion, it seemed like Outlaw would be back in the first five by default. Instead, Avery Johnson went with Vujacic, and Outlaw played just 12 minutes in their last game. Outlaw is having a dismal season - shooting under 38% from the field, and under 30% from deep.
- Could be worse. The next time you are lamenting the Clippers signing of Ryan Gomes when they desperately needed a small forward this summer, remember Outlaw. Gomes has not been particularly good, that much is clear. But his 3 year, $12M contract is a hell of a lot more cap friendly than Outlaw's 5 year, $35M deal. Gomes is making half of what Outlaw will make in the last year of his deal. More importantly, in 2015 when the Nets are paying Outlaw $8M, Gomes will be long gone from the Clippers books. The standard should be higher than "Don't make a really terrible signing", I'll admit that. But still, it could be worse.
- A bold strategy. New Nets owner, Russian kajillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov seemed determined to land a marquee player to put on the new marquee at their future home in Brooklyn. The day after the Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony (to whom the Nets had been linked in trade rumors for months), the Nets turned around and landed Williams. It took them over four months to fail to execute a trade for Anthony - it took a matter of hours to finalize a deal for Williams. It's a super star driven league, and Prokhorov seems to have designs on being a super star owner, and he needed a super star to open his new building. But even if things go well with the new arena, they won't be playing there until the 2012-2013 season - and Williams could very well be gone by then. For the time being, DWill is being non-committal - he says he'll wait until next season to make a decision about an extension with the Nets, to see which direction the team is headed.
- New owner. The Nets and Clippers have much in common. Both are the second, less famous franchise in a major metropolitan area. Both labor in the shadow of the other team (though in the case of the Nets, it's hard to say why the Knicks are considered the marquee franchise - I mean, at least the Lakers win). But the Nets got something last summer the Clippers can only dream of for now - a new owner. Since Prokhorov bought the Nets and he has made it clear that he intends to spend a lot of money to make them contenders. Of course, the Clippers have Blake Griffin, and that's better.
- Humphries. The Nets found out something this season that the Clippers could have told them last year: Kris Humphries can play. Humphries has bounced around the league since being a lottery pick for the Jazz back in 2004. He's playing for his fourth team in his eighth season, and is finally a starter. When the season started, the Nets figured they had the choice between newly acquired veteran Troy Murphy, or raw rookie Favors, at the power forward position. But Humphries won the job with his play, and now those other guys are both gone. "Breakout" doesn't really do justice to what's going on with Humphries this season. A career 46% shooting, he's hitting 53% from the field this season. He's averaging 9.7 rebounds per game in fewer than 27 minutes per - that over 13 rebounds per 36 minutes, a full rebound better than a certain Blake Griffin. He's got a PER of 17.6. It's pretty much unheard of for a player to a guy to make a major productivity jump at the age of 25, but that's what has happened here. Of course the Clippers knew all of this, as Humphries lit them up for two 20 point games last season, including his career-high of 25. He's having such a good season, that he's now dating a Kardashian.
- Anthony Morrow. Another Clipper killer is Anthony Morrow. Morrow scored 37 points against LAC in the fourth game (and first start) of his career. It still stands as his career high. Morrow signed an offer sheet with New Jersey this summer and eventually left Oakland in a sign and trade. The guy is just a phenomenal shooter - he's actually shooting a career low from beyond the three point line this season - only 45.2%, third best in the league. Given the Clippers' struggles defending the three this season, Morrow and Vujacic could be trouble tonight.
- Superstar for one game: Vujacic.
When the soul of man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.
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