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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
March 19th, 2011, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Ramon Sessions
Randy Foye SG Anthony Parker
Ryan Gomes
SF Alonzo Gee
Blake Griffin
PF Samardo Samuels
DeAndre Jordan
C J.J. Hickson

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers need a win. They were feeling pretty good about themselves a week ago, having won three out of four road games. A bad loss in Memphis was a downer, but could be explained away as severe road weariness. The subsequent loss to Philadelphia in Staples Center, where the Clippers had won 11 of 13 previously, was much harder to fathom. The biggest problem was that the team just looked flat. They will likely get a boost tonight from Eric Gordon's return from the lineup. Gordon, the team's leading scorer, has missed the last six games, and 24 of the last 26 (has it really been that long?) with several wrist injuries, the big one being a severe sprain. The Clippers are 7 and 17 in the games Gordon missed - 2-0 in the ones he played during that time. The last time Gordon returned (before reinjuring the wrist in the very next game) Gordon started, played 35 minutes, and scored 24 points, so hopefully rust is not an issue after another six games off. Blake Griffin will likely be very happy to see Gordon back on the court. He's in the closest thing to a slump in his pro career, having missed double figures in five straight games, the longest such streak of his career. He's also shooting below 40% in those five games. Gordon will help Griffin in myriad ways. His presence on the court will help spread the floor and create space for Griffin; he'll also help to keep defenders honest, since they'll have another top weapon to worry about. And don't forget that Gordon and Griffin were developing some pretty nice rapport on the pick and roll before Gordon went down. More of a question mark will be how Gordon and new point guard Mo Williams will fit together - they've only played two games together so far.

The Antagonist:

The Cavs are a trainwreck. Actually, they're a nightmare of a train wreck involving a car crash - all hosted by Joan Rivers. I'm not even sure why Joan Rivers is there, but in my mind she is. It doesn't help that they have $20M in salary (Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao) out for the season, and may be missing another $13M tonight (Baron Davis left the last game with back spasms). This of course allows them to play their young players, but the problem is that other than J.J. Hickson and Ramon Sessions, it's far from clear that any of these guys are even keepers, much less stars. As for Hickson and Sessions, they're clearly legit NBA players, but they're probably best as role players rather than featured scorers. The Cavs are currently STARTING two different undrafted players in the front court - rookie Samardo Samuels at the four, and NBDL escapee Alonzo Gee at the four. Even with Hickson, the Clippers' front line should feast on these guys. If you're familiar with the LeBron James Cavs of the last few seasons, you may not recognize this team at all - only three healthy Cavs (Anthony Parker, Hickson and Booby Gibson (it's funny cuz his name is Booby) even played with LeBron in Cleveland. Sitting three games behind their closest competitor, it's clear the Cavs will go from best record in the NBA to worst record in the NBA in a single season.

The Subplots

  • Last meeting. Five weeks ago, the Clippers did what no other team in the NBA had been able to do for a record breaking period of time - the lost to the Cavs. Cleveland was on an NBA record breaking 26 game losing streak when the Clippers strolled casually into the Q. It wasn't easy, but led by Mo Williams (now a Clipper of course), the Cavs pulled out a victory in overtime. Williams and Hickson did the damage for the Cavs in that meeting. It's not the way the Clippers wanted to enter the record book.
  • Who are these guys? I wish I could give you a thorough accounting of this opponent, but I really don't have a lot to say about Samardo Samuels or Alonzo Gee.
  • Avoiding the sweep. The Cavs have the worst record in the NBA this season. They have not completed a sweep of a season series yet, though they are up 3-0 on the Knicks. If they beat the Clippers tonight, it will be the first and possibly only sweep they accomplish this season. The Clippers are one of only two teams to have suffered a sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Nets this season. It's no secret that they play well against top opponents, but struggle to keep their focus against some of the less prestigious foes opponents.
  • Clippers small forward. The Clippers just aren't getting any production from the small forward spot. Starter Ryan Gomes, not particularly good all season, is currently in a terrible slump. He's made just 2 of his last 17 shots, has gone scoreless in two straight games, and has scored just five points in the last four. This is the starter we're talking about. The other options haven't been much better. Al-Farouq Aminu is 3 for his last 14. Jamario Moon is 4 for his last 12.
  • Condolences, Baron. Shortly after being traded from his hometown to Cleveland, Baron Davis' beloved grandmother entered the hospital. She died on March 7th. Baron spent nine days away from the Cavs, dealing with Madea's death and his own grief. He's still pretty broken up about it. I hope (and expect) that Baron will get a pretty warm welcome from Clippers fans tonight.
  • Baron's Impact. Ralph and Mike mentioned something during the Philly broadcast that had crossed my mind as well: is it possible that part of Blake recent struggles has to do with Baron's departure? Baron's creativity and pin-point passing must surely have gotten Blake two to three extra baskets per game. Without those easy ones, Griffin misses out not only on the points, but he also loses an opportunity to get energized and perhaps get on a roll. Baron made lobs look easy, but watching Williams and Randy Foye an Eric Bledsoe struggle to throw a decent one these last couple of weeks makes you appreciate what he did for the team.
  • 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 like Shaquille O'Neal and 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're now stuck with a bunch of role players. 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 Deron Williams; 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. All they've got going for them right now is the lottery.
  • Losing streak. The Clippers have now lost eight straight to Cleveland. The Clippers have managed to end several long losing streaks this season: against San Antonio, New Orleans and Phoenix. This one needs to come to an end tonight.
  • 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; it will be interesting to see if he remains the starter after Baron returns to full healt.
  • Superstar for one game: Hickson. I'd go with Baron if I thought he was going to play - I don't. Hickson had a big game against the Clippers last time and could do it again.
  • Famous Quotation:

    For who is he, whose chin is but enriched
    With one appearing hair, that will not follow
    These culled and choice-drawn cavaliers to France?

    William Shakespeare - Henry V, act 3, prologue
  • Get the Cavs perspective at Fear the Sword.