Game 25 Preview: Clippers vs. Blazers

I've got to admit, as much as I loved the road trip it'll be nice to see the boys wearing white again.  And playing a game at the proper time too!

A Look at the Clippers

After being picked by many, this rakish dandy of a blogger included, as a darkhorse pick to make the Finals, the Clippers have gotten off to a relatively disappointing 10-11 start.  One of the main reasons has been injuries.  Corey Magette's travails have been well-chronicled.  Sam Cassell is also day-to-day with a foot problem.  Chris Kaman has had trouble also.  Second, while their main starters have fared passably well, their bench and supporting players have not come through.  Small forward Quinton Ross, center Kaman, and backups Tim Thomas and Daniel Ewing have all failed to live up to expectations.  Neither has well-regarded Shawn Livingston made great leaps forward.  Finally, and simply, they're giving up 97.6 points per game.  Elton Brand aside they're not exactly built for defense, but that's a little excessive.  They ARE built to rebound and they're not getting enough of a cushion therein to make up for the poor defensive effort.

The team still centers around Brand, who is one of the better all-around players in the league.  He's a very solid defender and a good rebounder.  His 18.6 ppg average so far is well off his 24.7 mark of last season, however.  He's not shooting worse, he's just averaging about 4.5 shots and a couple free throws fewer per game.  As a matter of fact, the Clippers are taking the exact number of shots per game so far this season as they were last season (to the tenth of a shot, but Brand, Cassell, Maggette, and Cat Mobley are all averaging fewer attempts than they were last year.  That means a lot of other people are taking more shots and they probably shouldn't be.  It also means that teams are starting to sag in on Brand and make life tough for him, daring the Clips to shoot from range, and they're struggling.  Cassell and Mobley are still a very dangerous backcourt though, provided both play.  And Maggette being in there won't help matters.  This is not a team to be trifled with, as we found out earlier in the season.  The Boston loss may have been the biggest gap point-wise, but the Clipper loss was the soundest defeat in that you never felt for an instant that we were (or should be) in the game.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  If Z-Bo can hang with Brand on the boards this could be an interesting game.  Zach has a renewed vigor for defensive rebounding and keeping those nasty big guys off the glass (and away from cheap buckets) would give us a real edge.  Brand and Kaman are among the best offensive rebounders in the league so it will be a chore.
  2.  It's hard to predict a good strategy against the backcourt not knowing exactly who will play (and for how long) but generally you want the Clips shooting over the top.  Mobley is the main guy you have to watch from range.  Tim Thomas can also hit them.  With everybody else you want them hoisting long ones.  Not only will they miss, it also keeps them off the foul line.  Look for the zone to be employed tonight.
  3.  Punish, punish, punish their lack of defensive alacrity when we have the ball.  I know the temptation is to watch Zach go for 30, but it's equally possible that Brand will match him blow-for-blow.  Worse, Elton will make Zach work really hard doing it.  Zach HAS to depend on his backcourt mates tonight, and his backcourt mates can serve him best by hitting open jumpers and by driving past the Clipper guards when given the chance and getting to the free throw line.  In fact you may just eliminate one of their two big guys doing that, and that would be a major bonus.  In fact drawing fouls and getting into their bench may be the best method of beating them.
  4.  This is a game we'll want to slow down.  The Clippers have enough athletes to punish us in the running game.  I'm particularly a-feared of seeing Maggette (provided he playss) and/or Livingston running out there.  Dunks are bad news for us.
  5.  Pursuant to that, the Clippers are not a turnover-causing team, nor would you expect them to be with that lineup.  Let's not turn them into one.  They're a savvy, veteran skill unit.  That's enough problem for us without adding easy buckets and no shot attempts for us into the mix.
  6.  The game will be a lot easier for us if we simply don't let them get up on us.  They are not the type to surrender a big lead easily.
That'll do for now.  I'm going to wrap this before the storm cuts power out.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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