Coming off consecutive heartbreaking losses, the Clippers have the mammoth task of stopping the bleeding against a mighty Orlando Magic team, with Dwight Howard the bruising basis of their identity. However, a big reason that they are playing well this year revolves around the healthy Jameer Nelson. He’s having a quiet career year, averaging 15 points and 7 assists while shooting almost 40 percent from beyond the arc. The Magic aren’t getting as much attention because they are a game behind the traveling publicity stunt that is the Miami Heat. Even still, they play a high caliber game.
Keys for tonight:
- Turnovers. This has been killing the Clippers. Losing the ball twice in the remaining minutes in the loss to the Lakers and the 10 turnover fourth quarter in the loss against the Grizzlies is going to have to change if they are going to win. The problem, of course, is that it’s characteristic of the Clippers highest usage guys. Gordon, Blake, Kaman, Baron, Bledsoe all have turnover issues.
- Dwight Howard v. DeAndre Jordan. On top of playing much better defense this year (I watched, for maybe the first time ever in the game against the Lakers, DeAndre block a shot that wasn’t batted like a kid swinging at a piñata), DeAndre is the only Clipper remotely capable of guarding Dwight. Cook? Too Slow. Blake? Too short, not seasoned enough and he can’t get in foul trouble. Jarron Collins? Okay, good one, Jarron doesn’t have a chance to stop Dwight. So DeAndre will have to be smart in his play tonight, which won’t be easy.
- Defending the three. Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus surround Dwight, always ready to knock down an open three. The Clippers are no longer the worst in the league at defending the three (the Cavaliers have taken that title) but they still give up 41 percent from behind the line. With a team as heavily dependent on the three, the Clippers three point defense will be a huge factor.
Chris Kaman and Randy Foye are out.
Additional words of hope:
From Hoops World’s Anthony Macri, he believes in the foundation of the Clippers.
Blake Griffin gets all the highlight reel attention (and rightly so) for the Los Angeles Clippers and the high-flying frontcourt is really impressive, getting after it on the glass and when they challenge shots. However, the real key to the current and future success of the “other” L.A. team is the two Erics (Gordon and Beldsoe).
Sometimes, assembling talent seems patchwork, and the talents never really have a chance to develop synergy. This should not be the case for the Clippers. Their frontcourt pieces are built to sprint the floor and finish at or above the rim. However, in order to realize that potential, the two Erics need to speed the ball along and get the ball into the big boys’ hands at the right times. Both Gordon and Bledsoe are adept at both rip and run basketball and halfcourt dribble penetration, and have shown the ability to hit forwards with dump off passes and quick alley-oops, which is critical since the Clippers outside shooting is a question-mark.
Defensively, the team relies on athleticism right now to make up for a lot of fundamental mistakes, but most of their errors (lack of consistent ball pressure, poor angles against dribble penetration, failure to anticipate rotations) are all correctable. It seems only a matter of time before the keys (their frontcourt, Griffin in particular) and the keymasters (the two Erics) find the gatekeeper.