The Clippers down and up season continues as they face the Golden State Warriors today. In the two teams’ last meeting, in the second game of the season, the Clippers’ season still felt brighter than highlights, like they could win games regularly. After all, they played the Trail Blazers well until folding in the fourth quarter (although that turned out to be a false litmus test). But in the following game against Golden State, the Clippers played one of the two most disappointing games of the season (the other being the road loss to Indiana). After Blake’s 20, 14 and 4 against Portland, we all wondered what he would do against the defense allergic Warriors. Unfortunately, his night didn’t pan out nearly as well, he only notched a 13 and 10, paltry compared to what we’re used to now. He didn’t even win his matchup with David Lee, who, as talented as he may be, usually lets opposing forwards erupt for well above average games.
Conversely, the Warriors springboarded into a great start, tantalizing their fan base with the hopes of another playoff appearance until Wilson Chandler left his teeth in David Lee’s elbow, sidelining Lee. The Warriors then plummeted, the worst being a 7 game losing streak.
The Clippers laugh at seven game losing streaks. By the 14th game of the season the Clippers had already had a 9 game losing streak and were looking like they were going to have a historically bad year and get the most ping pong balls with the hopes of Harrison Barnes (or Perry Jones or Kyrie Irving). But since then, even with lengthy injuries to Baron and Kaman (perhaps because of them), the Clippers are playing better basketball than they have all season. Blake Griffin astounds. Eric Gordon continues to enjoy his quiet break out year. Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu have both shown more than just project worthy talent, but currently worthy of playing time. Bledsoe was so good in his starts, that he may be the catalyst to Baron Davis’ pass first re-invention. Even DeAndre Jordan looks like a poor man’s Marcus Camby. Sure, there have been losses to Utah and Atlanta, but the Clippers are nothing if not resilient. They’ve played hard all year despite their record, continuing to improve. So it’s no surprise that they learned from their losses to the Jazz and the Hawks and beat the Nuggets. They are 10-11 in their last 21. Not bad.
Both teams appear to be meeting not just on the court, but in the standings. In the West’s Pacific Division the only place that appears set in stone is first place, but the Clippers could easily develop enough to take over second place, currently held by the Warriors, 3.5 games ahead of them in the standings.
Keys to the Game:
– 3-pointers. Currently, the Clippers allow the second worst percentage in the league, 39.8 percent. The Warriors, on the other hand, are the best long range shots in the league at 40.5 percent. They are famously strong at the guard spots, where they have high scoring threats of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, but the lesser known breakout star has been their small forward, Dorell Wright. A great candidate for Most Improved, Wright shoots 41 percent from behind the arc on 6.3 attempts per game, netting 2.6 makes and raising his scoring average from 7 points per game last year to 16 this year. And since the Clippers have had a tendency to let opposing small forwards get away from them, Wright seems to be the likely spoiler, if there is one.
– Rebounding. The Warriors have a frontline tandem of Andris Biedrins and David Lee that combines to average almost as many rebounds per game (19.3) as the Clippers duo of Blake and DeAndre (19.6). When the Warriors rebound well, Lee has the outlet passing and Monta and Stephen are quick enough that the Warriors fast breaks are almost unstoppable. The Clippers need to control the glass if they want to limit the transition points.
– Tempo. The Golden State Warriors are in the top 5 for possessions per game with 97.5 possessions per game. The Clippers, while they like to get out on the fast break, hang closer to the middle of the NBA in possessions with 94.6 possessions per game. When the Clippers are at their best, they play controlled, never letting games get to high scoring for them. In only one of their wins have the Clippers allowed a team to score more than 100 points (108-103 W over the Suns), so keeping this game around or under 100 points would be huge, especially considering the potency of the Warriors.
Chris Kaman ankle, out (for a while)
Brian Cook ankle, doubtful
Craig Smith herniated disk, out