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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Toronto Raptors - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
March 26th, 2011, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Jose Calderon
 Eric Gordon SG DeMar DeRozan
Ryan Gomes
SF James Johnson
Blake Griffin
PF Ed Davis
Chris Kaman
C Andrea Bargnani


The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

In Clippers played respectably against the Lakers last night, within four with the ball with less than a minute to go against the hottest team in the NBA. The Raptors did not play respectably, losing by 38 in Oakland against the Warriors. But it's a loss for both teams. The Clippers hung close in their game despite the fact that leading scorer Eric Gordon had one of his worst games of the season. After his first touch of the fourth quarter, Gordon was a net negative for the team, by a wide margin - 0 for 11 shooting, with 2 turnovers. He made his last three shots, but finished 3 for 14 for 7 points in his worst shooting game of the season (he was 3 for 14 for 10 points against Atlanta in early January). The Clippers have nine games left this season to get a better understanding of what they've got here. They don't have a first round pick in the upcoming draft, so they've got no incentive to lose games. Then again, they don't have much incentive to win games either, other than to play spoiler in the playoff race. Tonight is their last game against a sub .500 team - the final eight are against playoff teams battling for their post-season lives or at least for playoff posistion. So it could get a little ugly down the stretch for the team. First things first though - avenge the February loss in Toronto tonight.


The Antagonist:

The Raptors have been pretty bad all season, but they've been among the worst teams in the league for the past 2 and half months. They were 13-24 on January 9th - they are 7-28 since. It's no secret why the Raptors are as bad as they are. In terms of offensive efficiency, they score 105.8 points per 100 possessions, a little over a point below the league average, and a mark identical to the Clippers. But on defense, they give up 112.1 points per 100 possessions, which is over three points worse than the Clippers (who aren't particularly good on defense themselves) and is the second worst defensive efficiency in the entire NBA. And that was before giving up 138 to the Warriors last night! The Raptors are led on offense by Andrea Bargnani at 22 points per game and DeMar DeRozan at 16.6. On defense, they aren't led by anybody.

The Subplots

  • Clips Nation Night II! Tonight is the final get together of the season for Clips Nation at Staples Center. Hopefully you already have your tickets - if not, there may still be time to get some. The details for Clips Nation night are here, and the link for tickets is here (password 'clippers'). There will be a Blake Griffin T-Shirt and a chance to watch the Clippers warm up down close and a reception before the game - it should be a lot of fun, as these events always are. Hope to see you there.
  • O Canada! At one Clippers home game each season, they sing "O Canada" (they also sang it a couple of times at All Star Weekend this year). And at the risk of seeming unpatriotic, the National Anthem for our neighbors to the north kicks the "Star Spangled Banners" ass. But for me, nothing compares to listening to 80,000 Frenchman sing "Le Marseillaise" in a giant stadium. They mostly mumble through the first bit, but they really belt it out when they get to "Marchons! Marchons! Qu'un sang impur, abreve nos sillons." Because, you know, it's the climax, and because who doesn't want to sing really loud when you're saying "Let's March, so that the impure blood should water the furrows of our fields." Back to "O Canada", it's pretty cool too.
  • Kaman or Jordan? Chris Kaman has been the starter the last three games, after Jordan spent some time in the hospital with pneumonia. But Jordan is back at or near full strength, and he played 23 minutes to Kaman's 25 against the Lakers last night, so presumably either one is an option as the starter tonight. So the question is, who gets the start? It's been my assumption all along that eventually Kaman would get his starting job back - he's the far superior scorer, and is arguably a better (if very different) defender as well. Jordan plays with great energy and when he is active, he really helps the team. It's not a problem having two starting quality centers, but the Clippers do need to decide how they will use both when they are healthy.
  • LA Connection. This will be a homecoming for two Raptors. DeMar DeRozan (Compton High, class of 2008) and Amir Johnson (Westchester High, class of 2005) are both LA kids who played their high school ball for storied City Section programs.
  • Three point shooting. When Bryan Colangelo left the Suns to take the job as Toronto's general manager, he seemed to have two things in mind for the Raptors: (a) put as many foreign players on the floor as possible, and (2) put as many shooters on the floor as possible. They still have plenty of foreign dudes - the Raptors roster features players born in Spain, Italy, Brazil, France, Nigeria and Lithuania. What they don't have are any shooters. In the 2007-2008 season, the Raptors made 39.2% of their three point attempts - 1/10th of a percentage point away from the best make in the league. This season they are dead last in three point percentage, making a dreadful 31.4%. That's the worst three point shooting the league has seen in six seasons.
  • Xenophobic Clippers. If Toronto is among the most international teams in the NBA, the Clippers are among the least international, and have been for awhile. They are one of two NBA teams without a foreign born player on their roster (Indiana is the other one). In fact, in the past four seasons, the Clippers have had international players for just 16 games - Chiekh Samb for 10 games in 08-09 and Guillermo Diaz for 6 games in 07-08. You have to go back to 06-07 to find a Clippers team that had an international player for the entire season (Yaroslav Korolev) and back to 05-06 to find one that contributed in any significant manner (Zeljko Rebraca). The international flavor and appeal of the city of Toronto is often mentioned as a reason that the Raptors have so many foreign born players on the team, but of course LA is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, yet the Clippers seem to consciously avoid international dudes. Of course, if your two foreign born first round draft picks were Michael Olowokandi and Yaroslav Korolev, you might be a little xenophobic too.
  • Bargnani. Bargnani's 22 per game makes him the seventh highest scoring player in the Eastern Conference, 15th in the league, but even so, he barely got mentioned as a candidate for the All Star team, despite the fact that the East has a dearth of decent centers. That's owing to a couple of things. First and foremost there is the Raptors poor record of course. But there's also the fact that Bargnani does very little besides score. He's a center, shooting 45% from the field and getting 5.5 rebounds per game - he's also a terrible defender. The guy can score - but given the rest of his game, it's hard to have him on the floor. Bargnani will join a fairly short list of players in the last ten seasons who averaged 20 points per game in a season, and yet never made an All Star team. I have Corey Maggette (3 times), Jason Richardson (3 times), Ricky Davis (once) and Mike James (once) as the others, but I may have missed one or two.
  • First meeting. The Clippers lost 98-93 in Toronto last month, and combined with the loss to the Cavs in the directly prior game, it may have marked the low point in the season. Six games into their Odyssey of a road trip, they still entertained unrealistic hopes of making a playoff run. But back to back losses to the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference brought them crashing back to reality. Obviously the Clippers would very much like to avenge that loss tonight.
  • 29 wins. The Clippers won 29 games last season. They are sitting at 28 with nine games left. They would dearly love to show as much improvement over last season as possible - but this is their last game against a team with a losing record. They really need to make sure and get this one tonight, because of their...
  • Remaining schedule. With games left against Dallas (twice), Phoenix, Oklahoma City (twice), Memphis (twice) and Houston, the Clippers will be facing talented and highly motivated teams in each of their final eight games. It may not be quite as tough as the group they opened the season with (8 out of 9 against teams that made the playoffs last season), but it's close. At home against Memphis on the season's final day may be the only game left after tonight where the Clippers will be favored.
  • Injuries. The Clippers should be a full strength again tonight, for only the sixth time this season. The Raptors on the other hand are definitely missing Linas Kleiza, out for the season after knee surgery, and may also be without bigs Amir Johnson and Reggie Evans, who both missed last night's game. If Johnson and Evans are both out, the Raptors will have fewer big bodies to run at Blake Griffin. Also, the loss of Johnson limits the number of "Johnson & Johnson" puns I can use regarding the Raptors' starting forwards. I was thinking something about baby shampoo.
  • Griffin. If Blake Griffin is facing fellow rookie Ed Davis and Bargnani and Frenchman Alexis Ajinca all game long, he should have a big game. The Clipper bigs across the board should feast on the Raptors' front line.
  • Movie Quote: 

    Once upon a time, in the mythical land of Toronto, Canada.
    Scott Pilgram vs. the World. I'm not sure I have that quote from the opening sequence in Scott Pilgram exactly right, but there's definitely something about the mythical land of Toronto, which I found pretty funny. I actually loved Scott Pilgram - it was one of my favorite movies this year. I was surprised that it did so poorly. I thought it had a great, creative vibe to it.
  • Get the Raptors perspective at Raptors HQ.