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Clippers vs. New Jersey - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
January 16th, 2012, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chauncey Billups
PG Deron Williams
Randy Foye SG MarShon Brooks
Caron Butler SF Anthony Morrow
Blake Griffin
PF Kris Humphries
DeAndre Jordan
C Mehmet Okur

The Back Story:

First meeting two meetings this year. The Nets are one of three Eastern Conference teams the Clippers will play twice this season - the rest they only see once each. Last season the Nets swept the Clippers - how sad is that?

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are coming off of back-to-back home wins over the Heat and the Lakers, their two biggest wins of the young season, and face the 3-10 New Jersey Nets in an MLK day matinee. Admiral Ackbar says "It's a trap!" The Clippers will likely be without the services of both Chris Paul (who tweaked his hamstring near the end of the Lakers game) and Mo Williams (who already sat out the Lakers game with a sore foot). Neither player is ruled out of the game completely at this point, but the Clippers' decision to sign D-League point guard Courtney Fortson certainly seems to indicate that they think they may be very thin at guard for the time being at least. The Clippers have been playing very well, but obviously Paul is a huge part of that. If indeed Paul and Williams are both out, then Chauncey Billups (who's dealing with some back tightness of his own) will slide over to the point guard spot, and Randy Foye will start at the shooting guard. We may also get our first extended look at rookie Travis Leslie. This game is the first of three straight (the dreaded back-to-back-to-back or B2B2B you've heard so much about) so there will be no time to rest or heal between games. Regardless, it would be unwise to rush Paul back onto the court on a tender hammy. There are still 57 games left after all.

The Antagonist:

While the 10-loss Nets may at first glance look like a good opportunity to rest Paul and still pick up a win, upon closer inspection New Jersey may not be quite as bad as advertised. For one thing, the Nets have played more road games than any team in the league - they've played as many road games as the Clippers have played total (9). When you look at the number of road wins versus the number of home losses, the Nets are 3-4, which sounds a lot better than 3-10. The Clippers would be wise not to sleep on the Nets in general, given that New Jersey has won three straight against LA (this during a time when NJ was really beating ANYONE). The perimeter players like Deron Williams and rookie MarShon Brooks have actually been pretty good, but the bigs (other than Clipper killer and Kardashian-Ex Kris Humphries) have been pretty terrible. The Clippers certainly should win, even without Paul. But I would be the least bit surprised if New Jersey hangs close and finds a way.

The Subplots

  • Humphries, Clipper-Killer. Since joining the Nets, Kris Humphries has seemingly found a home. A former lottery pick, Humphries had kicked around the league with three teams in his first six seasons, never cracking the starting lineup nor really making a dent in the rotation. (He topped out around 13 minutes per game in his pre-Jersey days.) Since landing with the Nets, he has become their starting forward and has played quite well, particularly rebounding the basketball. But if he's been good in general in New Jersey, he's been a complete monster against the LAC. In four career games as a Net, he's averaged 19.5 points and almost 12 rebounds while making 32 of 43 shots. He's also gave Blake Griffin fits - Blake had one of the worst games of his rookie year, with just 11 points and 3 rebounds, against Humphries.
  • Humphries, Kardashian-Ex. Unfortunately for Kris, he's much better known at this point as the former husband of Kim Kardashian than as the power forward of the Nets. I don't "Keep up with the Kardashians" at all, but I have come to understand that the two were married on TV last summer - and the union lasted all of 72 days before Kim filed for divorce. The notoriety earned Humphries the title of "Most Disliked Player in the NBA" in a poll apparently conducted among 15 year old girls or something like that.
  • Williams vs. Paul, part 1. Deron Williams and Chris Paul have an NBA rivalry that began when they were both rookie point guards. Williams was the third player picked in the 2005 while Paul was picked fourth, and their careers have been linked ever since. They've been teammates on Team USA, the subject of debates about who is the best point guard, and adversaries in 16 head-to-head meetings, many of them classics. Three-fourths of those were won by Williams, but of course he usually had the better team in Utah. Unfortunately, we'll probably be deprived of another meeting today, unless Paul surprises a lot of people and suits up.
  • Williams vs. Paul, part 2. Williams and Paul are also linked somewhat in their contracts. Both were coming up on potential free agency in 2012, and both were known to be unhappy with their original teams (Williams in Utah, Paul in New Orleans). New Jersey surprised a lot of people by agreeing to trade for Williams at the February 2011 trade deadline without getting a contract extension or even an extra option year from him. That puts the Nets in the delicate situation of potentially losing Williams this summer, after a year plus rental, after giving up a slew of assets for him. Paul was traded to the Clippers in December 2011. Again the trade was done without a full extension, but the Clippers did at least get one more option year. As of now, it looks much more likely that Paul will stay with the 6-3 Clippers long term than that Williams will stay with the 3-10 Nets, but we'll see.
  • Comparing the trade packages. The Nets gave up Devin Harris, Derrick Favors (the third pick in the 2010 draft), the third pick in the 2011 draft (Enes Kanter), and a protected first round pick in 2012 to obtain Williams. The Clippers gave up Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu (the eighth pick in the 2010 draft) and Minnesota's unprotected 2012 draft pick for Paul. Who gave up more? Discuss.
  • The Williams team. A few years ago, the Clippers had Baron, Ricky and Paul Davis on the team. The Nets have gone that Davis team one better. The current roster features Deron, Shelden, Shawne and Jordan Williams. It's like a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. (Actually, it's not at all like a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, but it does have Williams in the name, so there's that.)
  • Prokhorov's Plan. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has more money than any single person should be allowed to have. He has more money than most cities. He seems determined to spend as much as it takes to build a winner in New Jersey (or rather Brooklyn, where the team will be moving next season). But other than a willingness to spend, it's hard to know what the plan is. They just go after every big name that seems to be available. The chased Carmelo Anthony for months, only to see him wind up with the rival Knicks, where he wanted to be along. That's when they moved to Williams, whom they could lose after this season. They've also been aggressively pursuing Dwight Howard, but probably don't have the assets to get him after the Williams deal. If they can somehow get Howard and retain Williams, they won't really need a plan beyond that. If not?
  • Brook Lopez. The Nets plans on many levels were dealt a severe blow when center Brook Lopez' injured foot required surgery just before the season started. Lopez is a major piece in any trade package the Nets might be able to offer to Orlando for Howard, and the injury clearly diminishes his trade value. It also makes it tougher to retrain Williams - the best strategy to get Williams to sign with the Nets long term is to win, and that's a lot harder without the starting center.
  • Bigs. Without Lopez, the Nets are pretty sad in the front court. Beyond Humphries, they don't have a player over 6'8" with a PER over 11. Mehmet Okur is the starting center, but at 33 and returning from a major injury, he's gotten off to a terrible start. The rest of the names don't exact inspire confidence - Johan Petro, Shelden Williams, rookie second round pick Jordan Williams, undrafted rookie Dennis Horner. Surely Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will feast on these guys, right?
  • Matchups. I expect that coach Vinny Del Negro will cross match on defense, giving DeAndre the assignment of defending Humphries, while Griffin will watch Okur. This allows Jordan to remain closer to the basket against the post threat Humphries, rather than roaming around the three point line watching the perimeter oriented Okur.
  • The bench. If Chris Paul and Mo Williams are indeed out, the Clippers bench gets very, very thin. Reggie Evans and Ryan Gomes are about it. With three guards out (Eric Bledsoe is still recovering from off-season knee surgery in addition to Paul and Williams) it's the backcourt that suddenly gets thin. Either Butler or Gomes could get some minutes at the two tonight. Otherwise, it's rookies Travis Leslie and Courtney Fortson (assuming he's available).
  • 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.
  • 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 recently the Clippers can only dream of for now - a new owner. Since Prokhorov bought the Nets 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 Chris Paul, and that's better.
  • 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 in summer 2010 and eventually left Oakland in a sign and trade. The guy is just a phenomenal shooter - he's a 45% three point shooter for his career, which is second all time among players with more than 100 three pointers.