Twice in the preseason, the Clippers faced the Sacramento Kings. They beat the Kings in the first match-up by a whopping 42 points and lost the second by 2. Like the Clippers, the Kings have been in perpetual rebuilding mode since their last run to the playoffs, unable to develop an identity. Now, they begin with extremely talented guard-forward combination of Tyreke Evans, last year’s Rookie of the Year, and DeMarcus Cousins. In a way, they aren’t too dissimilar to the Clippers Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, except that instead of having blue collar, honest attitudes, they are both known for their moodiness and stubborness.
Yes, they have a better record than the Clippers at 4-9, but their wins have been against Minnesota, Toronto, Cleveland and New Jersey. Not exactly a murderer’s row of teams. Minnesota is playing better now, but they were abominable at the beginning of the year. Same can be said of Toronto (who have quietly won 4 in a row). The Cavs started hot and now are fading, and the Nets have been mediocre for the whole season. At least the Clippers have beaten the Hornets and the Thunder. In two more games and half as many wins, but still, arguably more impressive (with impressive being used very lightly).
Because the Kings have a lot of depth with big men (Cousins, Dalembert, Landry, Thompson, Whiteside), they are going to be able play physically against Blake. Those five bigs have 30 fouls between them and if you’ve seen Blake shoot freethrows, with that strange wrist roll to hitch (sounds like a skate board move), then you know that sending him to the line can be damning for the Clips. They almost lost to the Hornets on Monday because of this very reason. They were 17 for 34 from the line and Blake himself spurred on this awful trend by shooting 6 for 14. Should the Kings employ the Hack-a-Griffin technique, it could be very effective.
Additionally, Blake has struggled against tall, shot blocking defenders with reach, like Dalembert. Remember his night against Tyson Chandler? 4 for 15 from the field. He’s going to have to work harder for his points than he did against Amar’e Stoudemire and David West, that’s for sure.
There will also be the possibility that Blake and DeAndre will get in foul trouble because of the Kings big men (and likewise for the Kings, DeMarcus drawing the quickest fouls), which means the Clippers will probably have to trot out Aminu, Brian Cook, Craig Smith and Jarron Collins in the power forward and center spots. That could spell disaster, especially with Collins, but Cook played shockingly well against the Hornets and, even when he hasn’t played as well, hasn’t shown the same whiny disposition that made him so easy to dislike when he came into camp. When he was added to the team and Stern came out with the new rules on technical fouls, I immediately thought he’d be whistled for more than his fair share of them. But his body language has been much better, even if his play has been pretty meager until the Hornets game. Maybe his time on the bench for the Rockets altered his self-perception and attitude. One thing’s for sure, I’m glad he’s not ripping the refs every time down the floor. There are still lapses, but nothing like when he was with Los Angeles, Orlando or Houston.
With the depth of the big men and their ability to swarm Blake and Co., it means that the Clippers are going to need some effort to create spacing, and more than just Eric Gordon thrashing his way to the basket (when is he going to find his shot?). The effectiveness of the offense against the Hornets hinged on how well the ball moved around the perimeter, which allowed Aminu to get his 16 points in the first half and opened lanes for Gordon to take over the game in the third and fourth.
However, the Clippers improved most on defense, holding the Hornets to 95 points, the second lowest total all season (third if you count the 91 they held the Jazz to in regulation before losing in overtime). The Hornets didn’t shoot a terrible percentage, 47 percent, but they did finally shoot the three poorly for a Clippers opponent, only burying 6 for 20. That’s been a huge key for the Clippers to get that 3 point shooting down, because they have been leaving open opponents to shoot 43 percent from behind the arc. Do you know how high of a percentage that is? It would be top 25 in the league for the individual. And that’s the average. It’s abysmal.
The penetration and the lack of help/rotation is a major factor in that high of a percentage, so the Clippers are going to need to focus in on Tyreke Evans. The good news is that the best man on man defender on the team, Eric Gordon, will be checking Evans, but keeping a guard with his skill set contained requires total team help. The Clips will have to remember the defense that they played on Chris Paul in the second half and bring that back.
Every game is a tough game for the Clippers right now, but they show signs (if infrequently) of developing as a team. But the problems they have are endemic of a young team and are correctable. There aren’t any bad apples with exception of Bad Baron, and he’s not been playing. The Clippers won’t have a great record but I do think that this team will continue to improve, if not from VDN’s coaching, then at least from just being around each other and acclimating to each other’s play. Hopefully, they’ve coalesced to the point where they can stamp the first winning streak of the season.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Thanks for reading the site, I appreciate all the comments, I read them all. Enjoy your family, football, food and the Clipper game tonight. I’ll get some sort of recap of the game up tonight, but it may be in a more rudimentary note form. Depends on how all the Tryptophan (which apparently is a myth) and booze (not a myth) affects me.