The Big Picture:
The Clippers and the Heat will play two exhibition games in China beginning with Thursday's game in Beijing. With the time change, the game will begin at 4:30 AM in Los Angeles, and will be broadcast live on NBA-TV. The second game will be Sunday in Shanghai, but the time change means that it will actually be Saturday night for those of us here in California. Although Chris Paul is with the team and has begun to participate fully in practices, he will not play in either of the China games. For the Heat, Dwyane Wade sat out their first exhibition with some soreness in his knee. He will probably play some in this game, but don't expect him to play a lot. For Paul, Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, this is a homecoming of sorts, as they return to the site of their Olympic triumph in 2008. The last time those four played in the MasterCard Center in Beijing, they were Team USA teammates winning the Gold Medal against Spain.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Heat won the NBA Championship last season by being good on offense (eighth in the league) and even better on defense (fourth). The Clippers regular season offense was actually more efficient than the mighty Heat -- but their defense was much worse, so it provides a little glimpse into what will be needed in order to take the next step. Of course the Heat also stepped it up in the playoffs.
- Game threads. Given the inconvenient time of the game, we'll have a couple of different game threads on this one. We'll post a thread for the live broadcast at 4:30 AM -- insomniacs, Europeans and insane Angelenos can enjoy that one. We'll post another thread for the 11:30 AM rebroadcast on NBA-TV. I'm not expecting either thread to be super active, but they'll be there for you if you need them.
- Taking it easy. After a 14 hour flight on Sunday and with players no doubt still dealing with jet lag, expect both coaches to go deep into their training camp extended benches for this one. Eric Bledsoe may have to play a lot for the Clippers with only two point guards on the roster (though both Willie Green and Jamal Crawford can pitch in) but other than that I doubt any starter on either team will play more than 20 minutes. Maybe they'll go a little harder for the fans in Shanghai over the weekend, but I have a feeling this one is really going to feel like an exhibition -- I don't expect any of the intensity we saw in Las Vegas on Saturday.
- Chasing rings. In the off-season Miami signed two former All Stars, both of them three point specialists, to help them repeat as champions. Ray Allen is the NBA's all time leader in three point field goals and he turned down the chance to stay in Boston for more money in order to come to Miami to win another title (he won with the Celtics in 2008). Lewis is being paid almost $14M this season -- by the New Orleans Hornets; he's being paid the minimum by Miami. Last season he had the third highest salary in the entire NBA behind only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. What's maddening is that both Allen and Lewis could be great additions in Miami, where Wade and James and Bosh get so much attention and anyone playing with them is bound to get plenty of open three point looks.
- Donut basketball. Miami won the title last year playing donut basketball, with a big hole in the middle. Bosh, who has been a power forward his whole career, played exclusively at center the final two playoff series. And it looks like the Heat are embracing the approach for the long term at this point. After a couple of seasons of being sort of a halfway house for aging and out of work seven footers (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire, Erick Dampier, Eddy Curry) the Heat didn't add any bigs of note this summer. Whether their standard lineup includes Joel Anthony or not remains to be seen, but it's pretty clear they can put a lot more talent on the floor when they go smaller, so we can expect that's what they'll do.
- Matching up. If the Heat do indeed play Bosh at the five and James at the four in China, the Clippers will have difficulty matching up (of course it's difficult matching up with LeBron no matter where he plays). Can Jordan defend Bosh's face up game? Can Griffin defend LeBron? In some ways Griffin may be better equipped to defend James than Caron Butler who normally gets the assignment, but the Clippers also have Matt Barnes and Grant Hill who can take turns on LeBron this season, a luxury they did not have last season.
- Speaking of Hill. Hopefully we'll get our first look at Hill in a Clippers uniform during this trip. He skipped both the intrasquad scrimmage and the Denver game because... well, because he's old. And because he's Grant Hill. He doesn't need the preseason to prepare, and there's no reason to put extra miles on his legs. But he'll want to get some game action in, and one suspects that the NBA would be interested in having such a well known player get off the bench for these games. When the regular season rolls around, these are the kinds of games where Hill can make a difference for the Clippers, defending the likes of James and Wade.
- Jordan and Bledsoe. Clippers youngsters DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe both looked very good in the preseason opener against the Nuggets. This is a chance to show some consistency -- something that both of them need to prove they are capable of doing. Bledsoe was nothing short of spectacular in Las Vegas, and Jordan actually showed off some post moves. The off-season additions are all well and good, but the Clippers most reliable path forward could be via the development of these two. If indeed the Heat start Bosh at center, Jordan will have a big strength advantage. Are his new post skills up to the task of taking advantage of the relatively frail Bosh?
- Blake Griffin. In contrast to Jordan and Bledsoe, Griffin was pretty invisible in Las Vegas. His supposedly re-worked free throw stroke resulted in 2-6 foul shooting, and his new jumper produced nothing but an airball. He'll get some dunks in to the delight of the Chinese fans -- but can he begin to show improvement in the other aspects of his game?
- Lamar Odom. A lot is riding on Odom for the Clippers this season. He really has to be the third big in a three man rotation, and against many teams he could get more minutes than Jordan. His conditioning, focus and productivity are all key factors to watch this preseason.
- Lyrical reference:
The Big Heat -- Stan Ridgway
It's the big heat, there's someone followin' you
It's the big heat, step aside, we're comin' through
If you're not exactly familiar with Stan Ridgway, you may nonetheless be familiar with his original band, Wall of Voodoo and their 80s new wave hit Mexican Radio. For some reason I continued to follow Ridgway into his solo career, which included this noir-y pop song -- sort of like a post-apocalyptic Raymond Chandler story.