I returned from my cruise on Sunday morning, January first. Let me just say, without getting too specific or self-incriminating, New Year's Eve on a cruise - on the final night of a cruise, no less - is quite the party. Given that I am completely out of practice, partying-wise, I'm still recovering. (My situation was only exacerbated by the fact that my eldest niece and nephew are now of drinking age - it's fun being the cool uncle and all, but when you're 49, it's ultimately unwise to try to keep pace with 22 year olds.)
I wasn't sure what to expect on the cruise regarding access to sports broadcasts. I was encouraged at first when we boarded on the 24th, as NFL games were being shown on the big screens by the pool. I later discovered an establishment calling itself a "Sports Bar" on deck 5, so I felt comfortable that at least the Clippers ESPN appearance on Christmas Day would be available.
Unfortunately, it was not the case. I'm still not sure why, but while the boat showed the Lakers-Bulls game on ABC, and then the Magic-Thunder game on ESPN, for some reason the Clippers-Warriors game was not on. We were watching ESPN in Mexico, to be sure, so I understand that it is not the same - but I also know that they showed several promos for the Clippers during the preceding game, and even cut away to Chris Paul during warm-ups at one point. So when Magic-Thunder ended and they started showing a show on running instead of the Clippers, I was confused and disappointed.
I stopped by the sports bar a few more times Christmas night to check the scores on the ESPN crawl - the last one I saw had the Clippers ahead going into the fourth. I heard the next day that they'd won by 19, but didn't know anything about how that happened. On Wednesday I watched the Grizzlies-Thunder game - and sadly saw the Clippers-Spurs scores as that game progressed.
Finally, the disappointment of missing the opening game was lifted by an unexpected bonus - the Clippers-Bulls game on Friday night was available on the boat. Strangely, ESPN in Mexico appears to simply pick up certain games from NBA-TV, rather than broadcasting the same games they show in the states. So imagine my surprise when I got to watch the Clippers - and also to listen to Ralph and Mike! As you all well know, that game started off with great promise, but didn't quite finish that way. And to think I missed karaoke for that.
I had of course set the DVR to record all of the games during the course of my vacation, so I planned to watch them upon my return. However, that plan went awry on a couple of levels. For one thing, there seems to have been a Tudors Marathon on BBC-America during the week, and the ClipperWidow's DVR subscription to that sexy costume drama caused a space crunch on our disk, and the Clippers-Warriors game had already dropped off. Then, instead of sitting and watching recorded Clippers basketball on my first day off the boat, the CW for some reason felt like I should help her unpack and take down the Christmas decorations.
A series of Project Runways on Monday (apparently it was really important for ClipperZoe to catch up on season 2) took care of the Spurs-Clippers game before I watched it. Ah, the tribulations of the family man trying to maintain a certain level of fanaticism in his sports viewing.
In the final analysis, I missed both of the first two games - didn't watch them when they happened, didn't watch them after the fact. I'll live of course - there are 64 other games to this season alone - but I can't pretend that I'm not a bit disappointed to have missed the official start of the Chris Paul era for the Clippers.
As a Clippers fan re-entering the civilized world after a week away, I do have a few observations about the team after 4 games:
- While we might have wanted better, 2-2 is not a bad start. Among the first four games were three 2011 playoff teams, and the two losses came at the hands of the teams with the two best regular season records in the league last season. The Spurs have essentially the same lineup, and the Bulls have made a single change which happens to be a major upgrade at a position of need. The Clippers, with three new starters, were bound to be at a disadvantage against good teams with such stability from last season.
- Although 2-2 at this point is not bad, it must also be said that the defense has not been good, at least statistically. I didn't see the Spurs game, and maybe it was just a matter of running into a hot team, but allowing 56% shooting from the field is not acceptable. Likewise the Bulls were able to get most any shot they wanted. After struggling to contain Derrick Rose in the first quarter, the Clippers went to a series of traps to try to get the ball out of his hands. Unfortunately, that tended to leave three Clippers defending four Bulls below the free throw line, and the rotations were nowhere near crisp enough to prevent easy scores. The Clippers currently have the second worst defensive efficiency rating in the league, allowing more than 110 points per 100 possessions. Obviously it's early, making for a small sample size, and a bad game or two (like maybe allowing 115 to the Spurs or allowing 114 to the Bulls) can have a big impact, but the defense has a long, long way to go.
- On the other hand, the offense has been pretty good, even at this early point regarding team chemistry. They are scoring almost 107 points per 100 possessions, good for 8th best in the league.
- Blake Griffin has done some of the off-season work he needed to do. His jump shot is improved - but he still needs to get better about when to use it. For me, he needs to take the 18 footer when he receives a pass and the defense is playing off of him. Catch-shoot - muscle memory, no thinking necessary. Too often Blake seems to overthink that shot - he'll catch the ball, probe into the lane, make an unsuccessful attempt to get around the defender that is already playing him for the drive, and then end up with the same shot he started with - only now he's got no rhythm and he's already made it clear he doesn't really want to shoot. Catch-shoot. Shoot it with confidence. It will fall.
- Although I'm not comfortable referring to him as part of a Clippers' Big Three, it is clear that DeAndre Jordan is very important to this team. That's in large part due to the huge drop off to Brian Cook (aka Oatmeal Raisin) and/or Trey Thompkins when DJ has to go to the bench. It's unclear whether a healthy Reggie Evans or the newly signed Solomon Jones will help much there. When VDN switched DJ onto LaMarcus Aldridge it was a major factor in that game (a good adjustment, though I'm not sure why it took so long). Bottom line for now, DJ needs to stay on the floor, and that means avoiding foul trouble. In each of the two Clipper wins this season, Jordan has 2 fouls; in each of the losses, he has 5 fouls. Coincidence?
- Chris Paul is pretty good.
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank all of the citizens who took on bigger roles in my absence so that I could drink beer, compete in trivia contests,sing karaoke and overeat for a week. Citizens John Raffo, Lawler's Law, LJ Hann, Newtybar and johnnyoc21 all stepped up to keep the site moving, and no one seems to have missed me a bit. There was even an appearance by the elusive Citizen Zhiv. Club Optimism is going to be stronger than ever this season.