The Clippers return home after a disappointing 1-3 road trip. They lose a gut-wrenching game in Dallas they should’ve won. They play respectably in a losing effort against a Houston team that’s historically given them matchup problems. They turn in one of their worst performances of the season in Memphis against a team they should be able to maul in the frontcourt and at the PG position. Then they finish the trip by delivering a whoopin’ of a poky, disjointed Minnesota team.
The Clippers’ schedule this week features difficult games against three just-shy-of-elite teams — Orlando, Portland, and Houston. The Magic come into the game at 15-5, but cynics would argue that the record has been compiled against an early-season slate of “tomato cans.” Magic blog Third Quarter Collapse — among the finest independent sources working in the basketball blogosphere — preaches caution coming into tonight’s game. TQC notes that Baron Davis has historically had his way against Magic PG Jameer Nelson. Still, tonight’s game is a difficult matchup for the Clips.
The Magic’s toolbox is filled with weapons perfectly designed to exploit the Clippers’ defensive weaknesses. Orlando’s starting forwards — Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu — are armong the most active and peripatetic 3/4 combination in the Association. At times, Turkoglu operates as a point-forward for the Magic, and he ranks 4th in assists among the league’s small forwards. Al Thornton will be tormented all night, both on the ball and away from it. Orlando, when they’re not going into Dwight Howard in the post, execute beautiful ball reversals for Rashard Lewis on the weak side. Zach Randolph will draw the Lewis matchup and will have to follow him to the perimeter all night. Every matchup for Zach is a difficult one, but Lewis’ versatility will cause Randolph fits. Lewis is one of the best spot-up forwards in the league, but he’s also a capable dribble-driver who has learned to take full advantage of his opponent out on the arc. As TQC points out, Camby will have to assert himself as the Clippers’ back line tonight, but that will require quick and assertive rotations by the rest of the defense. A recipe for disaster.
Then, of course, there’s Howard on the block. Will Marcus Camby be able to front the post against the big man, something Camby isn’t inclined to do, but the most effective course of action against Howard? Will Camby be physical enough against Howard to force him over to the help…to the extent the Clippers offer any? One of the impossible challenges in facing the Magic is the threat of their bigs on the perimeter. Their ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor makes it incredibly difficult for opponents to send help, even if Howard isn’t the league’s best passer. Unless your guards can put on their jetpacks and rotate over on the Magic shooters, it’ll make for a rough evening against a team that drains 8.6 3PFGs a game.
Offensively, the Clippers should post Baron against Nelson. Using Gordon as the ballhandler — as they did Saturday night — is a smart tactic. Gordon should also go at J.J. Redick with dribble-penetration. The difficulty there, of course, is that Dwight Howard is waiting for the guards in the paint. Despite Lewis’ length, Randolph should be able to maneuver against him on the block. If Camby can lure Howard out of the box, Randolph just may have enough room to do what he does down low.