This is the Clippers last game of a 6 game road trip, and as a reward they get a well rested Rockets team that hasn’t played in 4 days. Vegas has set the spread at 15.5, a relatively outrageous number for an NBA game. For all of you innocent cherubs out there who have never gambled, this means that Vegas expects the Rockets to win by 15.5 points. Comically, (or perhaps depressingly) the Rockets nearly cover this spread in the first quarter, jumping out to a 30-17 lead.
Baron Davis sits out tonight for the second straight game. Before the tip, my league pass companions for the night, Matt Bullard, Clyde Drexler and Bill Worrell inform me that they spoke with some of the Clippers players before the game. According to these unnamed sources, Baron is out due to an ulcer. After this is said, Matt Bullard deadpans “Isn’t he a little young to have an ulcer?” Uncomfortable silence ensues.
Let’s bring you up to date with Baron’s injury status. Depending upon who you ask, Baron has, or has a combination of, the flu, cramps, a stomach virus and an ulcer. It’s no secret around the league that when bad teams are way out of the playoff race, players sit out the rest of the year with relatively ambiguous injuries like pulled muscles. If this is the case with Baron, I don’t put it past the Clippers medical staff to struggle with the simple task of naming one injury or ailment, and then sticking to it. I truly do hope that Baron is okay and it isn’t too serious. Remember, different people have different levels of pain tolerance, so it’s impossible to know just how Baron is feeling right now. Extremely ill or just barely under the weather, the Clippers should shelve Baron for the year anyways to get Mike Taylor as much playing time as possible.
Speaking of Taylor, he’s matched up tonight with a dead ringer for The Simpsons character version of Ken Griffey Jr., Aaron Brooks. Besides Tony Parker, Aaron Brooks is probably the fastest point guard in the league, so it’s another tough match up for Taylor. Defensively, Taylor is still very raw. He hasn’t quite learned how to positively harness all his energy and athleticism yet, but he has all the potential to one day be a good defensive player. As it is right now he gets caught standing straight up and not in a defensive stance too often, and against quick guards like Brooks you just can’t get away with that. Tonight Brooks gets the best of Taylor, going 9 for 17 with 21 points. Taylor finishes with 11 points and a phenomenal 6 to 1 ast/to ratio, and is pretty good offensively all night despite playing the game with a knee bruise he suffered at the end of the 2nd quarter. A few days ago there was a post in the comments section comparing Taylor to a young Rajon Rondo, and I agree that there are some striking similarities between the two. Taylor isn’t half the defender Rondo is right now, but offensively they are very similar in their unpredictable nature. Taylor still has a long way to go to before he’s a legitimate starting point guard, but this has been a promising rookie campaign.
With Marcus Camby (ankle) also out, Chris Kaman got 27 minutes of work tonight against one of the league’s best in Yao Ming. Yao absolutely took it to Chris to start the game. Check out the stat lines from the first 6 minutes of play:
-Yao Ming – 7 points, 6 rebounds (3 offensive)
-Chris Kaman – 2 points, 0 rebounds, 1/4 shooting
This isn’t exactly fair to Chris because of the small sample size, but Yao pretty much dominates him all night. When matched up directly against Kaman, Yao went 5 for 6 from the field and 5 for 6 from the line for 15 of his total 21 points. Kaman scores down low a few times to start the 2nd half, but he spends most of the evening missing uncontested 15 footers.
After Kaman gets abused in that first 6 minute stretch, Dunleavy curiously decides to bring in Brian Skinner, who hasn’t seen action since March 4th against Memphis. Skinner didn’t produce much in his time on the floor, so Dunleavy thankfully brought in DeAndre Jordan. Jordan came in and immediately made his presence felt, scoring 5 points and gathering an offensive rebound in 4 minutes of play. Jordan also finished the half with a team best +/- mark of +7. Jordan played tough in the second half as well, and ended up finishing a perfect 4/4 from the field for 9 points.
It’s hard to be too mad at Kaman for his performance tonight. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I actually rarely ever get upset with Chris. He’s just too much like a loveable St. Bernard; Giant, hairy, clumsy, and generally destructive. For some giggles, quickly flip back and forth between Chris and the St. Bernard. They’re one in the same!
Al Thornton plays really well defensively tonight, forcing Artest to shoot a horrible percentage from the field. He also takes it right to Artest a few times on the offensive end with decent success. Despite not burning up the box score, Thornton plays one of the better games we’ve seen from him in a while.
Eric Gordon struggles slightly against the much taller Shane Battier, but he still does a great job of putting the ball on the ground and getting to the rim. Part of what makes Houston so tough defensively is that their perimeter defenders can play really tight and take away jumpers because they have a great shotblocker in Yao to back them up. The Clippers guards technically should have this luxury as well with Kaman and Camby behind them, but the help D is so poor that one extra pass almost always leads to an open look.
Enough doom and gloom though. I think at this point in the season it’s healthy to allow your mind to wonder and have some quality self introspection time. The question I regularly ask myself is, “Why am I a Clippers fan?”
It’s a complex question that doesn’t have one answer. I do, however, think that all Clippers fans share some of the same basic qualities. I believe we are all extremely loyal people, sometimes to a fault. I believe that we are all obviously extremely patient people as well. But most of all, I believe that ALL of us crave to be a part of something truly special. Hopping on a bandwagon? Not special. Rooting for the Lakers? Easy. But backing the Clippers during one of their worst seasons? Painfully difficult. I know things look awful right now, but I can promise you one thing. If on one fine day we do get to taste the championship champagne, our prior suffering will make that swig the sweetest of our lives.
Thanks for reading fellow masochists Clipper fans.