Happy New Year, Clipper Fans! Hope everyone has recovered from the Jazz game. Just when it looked like the Clippers had found there stride, they ran into the annoyingly well-run Utah Jazz. The Clippers were playing so well that they had some pundits asking if a .500 season was in the cards. Although, to me, that has seemed out of reach ever since the Clippers lost 13 of their first 14. Before the Jazz game, the Clippers would have had to have gone 31-19 the rest of the year to reach .500. Consider that the Clippers have been playing their best basketball lately and still have only been 9-10 in the last 6 weeks. Going 31-19 would be an enormous jump.
However, I do think that the Clippers can play at or above .500 for the remainder of the season, maybe finish with a 26-23 record closing out, winning 36 games total. But I just think that this team is too new for them to find the chemistry requisite to routinely win. I still see habits characteristic of a team that hasn’t gelled yet, like their third quarter collapses, turnover problems, and free throws. Fixing all of that requires time than there is in a season. But there will be good wins and solid play because they continue to show more and more as the season progresses. Here’s hoping the Clips continue their recent winning ways and beat the Hawks.
Keys to the Game:
– The Defense of Al Horford. Horford is by far the Hawks most efficient scorer, and he’s enjoying his most efficient year. He’s shooting 57 percent from the field, 81 percent from the line all while pulling in almost ten rebounds a game. And while the Hawks do look for him to get some easy buckets, if they go away from Horford, they can go through cold spells. DeAndre has the size and athleticism to bother Horford, even Blake will see some time on Horford, but they both need to know it’s imperative to deny him the ball and force the Hawks into shooting jumpers.
– Eric Gordon v. Joe Johnson. Speaking of the Hawks shooting jumpers, Joe Johnson is one of the primary reasons. He’s having his worst shooting year since joining Atlanta, making only 40 percent of his shots. One of the big reasons? His 34 percent clip from the 16-23 foot range while taking 4.2 shots from that area, his highest shot total from any one spot. So he’s taking the majority of his shots from his least efficient, and least rewarded area, Gordon will have to try and keep this up. On the opposite end, though, Johnson is a good defender and has a large size advantage over Gordon (6’7” to Gordon’s 6’3”). Eric won’t be able to simple rise over Johnson, he’ll have to use picks well and beat him off the dribble. Don’t be surprised if Eric doesn’t make a high percentage of his shots in this game.
– The Battle of the Athletic Freaks. The re-united Collins twins! Just kidding. The real freaks are Josh Smith and Blake Griffin, two of the best dunkers in the league and important pieces for their respective teams. Smith leads his team in both steals and blocks, but many of those come from the weakside and on help defense. Griffin will give Smith all he can handle, however there have been signs that quicker forwards like Grant Hill and Ron Artest do better against Blake, even if both of those players are better man on man defenders than Smith. I still expect Blake to get his numbers, but where there is cause for concern is on the defensive end, where Blake still hasn’t found the same effectiveness. While Blake continues to gobble up defensive rebounds, and that really helps, he hasn’t played great defense on opposing bigs, primarily maintaining his position and goading the opponent into missing. Not only has this style of defense not worked against the talent of the NBA, but it puts him at especially great risk against Smith, who can easily elevate and finish over stay at home defense. Blake will have to be more active to prevent a big game from Smith.
Chris Kaman out, ankle
Brian Cook out, ankle
Craig Smith out, herniated disk
Marvin Williams out, back contusion