The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers' franchise-record 17 game winning streak finally came to an end last night in Denver in a 92-78 loss to the Nuggets. The streak was bound to end some time, and the odds of the Clippers making it out of their current four games in five nights sequence undefeated were extremely low. As it happens, if you're going to lose any of these games, you'd want it to be against the Nuggets, the only opponent that is not a division rival. Unfortunately, the Clippers have several things working against them. First and foremost, they are playing the second game of a back-to-back (and let us not forget, their fifth game in seven days). They already looked tired in Denver last night, which probably doesn't bode well for tonight, unless they were just conserving their energy for this one. The Clippers other issue is that their losses this season, like their wins, have come in bunches. So far this year, they've won two, lost two, won six, lost four and won 17, broken by last night's loss. If the pattern holds, they're more likely to lose after a loss than to win. But let's hope that pattern can be broken tonight. I think the team is better now than the first time they played the Warriors, way back in early November in the third game of the season. Of course, the Warriors are also much better than anyone knew. In fact, this game pits the two biggest surprises in the NBA this season against each other.
I had an inkling, even in the pre-season, that the Warriors were going to be good, but no one really could have predicted that it would be the Clippers and the Warriors at the top of the Pacific Division. Here's a bullet from my Nov. 3 preview:
"Don't look now, but this Warriors team is very talented and could be very good this season. If healthy, a starting lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Bogut has several proven players and a couple with huge upside. They also have guys like Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry coming off the bench, and even with Rush out they can still turn to Richard Jefferson behind Barnes. With Kevin Love hurt in Minnesota and Dirk Nowitzki hurt in Dallas, the Warriors have to be thinking they can get off to a fast start and get right into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, assuming they themselves can overcome injuries. Bogut's minutes restrictions put a definite crimp in that plan."
Well, other than the health of Bogut and the loss of Rush, things could not have gone much better for the Warriors so far. They are fifth in the West, just percentage points out of the four spot behind the slumping Grizzlies. If they ever get Bogut back, they'll be even tougher (assuming he's anywhere close to the player he once was). For once, the Warriors are doing it on both sides of the ball this season -- they can still score, but their defensive efficiency has improved more than any team in the league other than the Clippers. And just as I suspected, Jack and Landry have been huge for them off the bench. With a healthy Bogut, their first seven compares favorably with any seven in the league.
- Comparison of key metrics. From last season to this season, the Warriors have improved from 109.1 points allowed per 100 possessions (27th in the NBA) to 104 (11th). The Clippers have improved from 105.7 (18th) to 100 (3rd). Those are far and away the biggest biggest defensive improvements in the league.
- Moving on. The Clippers were going to lose eventually of course and the important thing now is that they move on from their first loss in over a month. There's certainly no reason to be overly concerned with the Denver game. They played badly, they shot especially poorly (5-29 on threes, 13-29 from the line) -- it happens. Wednesday is another game.
- Pacific Division. Amazingly, the Clippers and Warriors, who have been doormats in the Pacific Division for decades, find themselves 1-2 in the Division as the only teams above .500. Heading into tonight's game, the Clippers hold a 3.5 game lead over the Warriors, three games in the loss column. The lead has been as large of 4 games. This week could be a godsend for the Warriors, as the Clippers have a very difficult stretch that includes two meetings with Golden State. If it goes badly for the Clippers, they could find themselves just a single game ahead, tied in the loss column, by Sunday morning.
- Rested Warriors. The Clippers played in Denver last night and then flew the 900 some miles to Oakland. Meanwhile, the Warriors' last game was on Saturday. The Clippers have played both Utah and Denver since Golden State last took the court. Oh, and the Dubs next play when they meet the Clippers again on Saturday, while the Clippers play the Lakers in between. In other words, all Golden State has had to do for three full days, and all they have to do for this entire week, is work on beating the Clippers. If there's a game plan for beating L.A. Mark Jackson has had plenty of time to find it and implement it.
- Best tank job in history. Rarely if ever has a tanking strategy paid off quite so perfectly. Last March the Warriors traded Monta Ellis, their leading scorer, for Andrew Bogut, who was already out for the year with an injury. On the day of the trade the Warriors won to move to 18-21 on the season. They went 5-22 the rest of the way. They had a first round pick that was only top seven protected and they needed those losses to keep it, which they did. They also shut down Steph Curry, who didn't play a minute the final six weeks of the season (timed exactly to the date of the trade) and even shut down David Lee for the final two weeks. During those last two weeks their starting lineup frequently consisted of five rookies, only one of whom was even a first round pick. Imagine that, starting one first round pick, two second round picks and two free agents, all rookies. The Warriors starting lineup this season (assuming a healthy Bogut) consists of Curry, Lee and Bogut, none of whom played down the stretch, Harrison Barnes who arrived with the all-important seventh pick they went in the tank to get, and Klay Thompson, who was a rookie last season picking up valuable experience taking a lot of shots playing for a terrible team. Usually tanking is so distasteful in large part because any potential payoff is so far down the road. If you're bad enough to lose a lot of games, it's going to be a while before you're good again. The beauty of the Warriors plan is that they took a pretty good team, and stashed away the good pieces, so they could be terrible, but then be even better when they brought the good pieces back out again. Bravo. You cannot script a better tanking scenario. I'm giving them a slow-clap right now.
- Why are the Warriors better? It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Warriors are better. Barnes is the starter at small forward, and he's not exactly setting the world on fire (42% from the field, 9 points per game). Curry and Lee were always good players, who happen to be playing well (especially Lee, see below). Thompson is a great shooter, but is below 40% overall and has taken a step back from his rookie season. It really seems to be a combination of factors for the Warriors, and you can't really discount the fact that coach Mark Jackson had a full training camp with this team. He seems to have them playing well together.
- The 20/10 Club. For his first two seasons in the league, Blake Griffin has been a member of the 20/10 club, 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He was usually joined there by Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and occasionally Zach Randolph, and that's about it. This season, with Griffin's minutes down on a deep Clippers team and Love and Howard battling injuries, none of the usual suspects are averaging 20 and 10. In fact, there's only one player in the league who is: David Lee. How weird is that?
- Hack-a-Jordan. Mark Jackson was quick to use the Hack-a-Jordan strategy last season. So far this year, DeAndre is more of a threat with the ball, and even worse at the line, so the usually dubious strategy becomes more attractive. Don't be surprised if Jackson fouls both Jordan and Griffin intentionally tonight. Andris Biedrins has to be good for something.
- Connections. Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford spent most of a season in Oakland between his stints in New York and Atlanta. Ronny Turiaf signed a big contract with the Warriors when he left the Lakers back in 2008 and spent a couple seasons there. Matt Barnes really solidified himself as a viable NBA player on the We Believe Warriors of the 2007 playoffs (the last time the Dubs made the playoffs, btw). Warriors coach Mark Jackson was a Clipper back in the early 90s. Chris Paul, Willie Green, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry were all teammates during Paul's final season in New Orleans.
- Get the Warriors perspective at Golden State of Mind.
- Lyrical reference:
The Butcher -- Radiohead
He's a warrior
Here's a little bitch coming outta him
He's a warrior
Here's a little bitch coming outta him
Coming outta him.
This Radiohead track was released in 2011, but was not included on the King of Limbs album.