The game’s highest profile team strolls into Staples Center tonight, winner of 21 of their last 22. They are laughing, having fun and enjoying being the bad guys. During the Cavs’ brutal loss to the Lakers, LeBron tweeted:
“Crazy. Karma is a b****.. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!
They’ve nicknamed themselves “the Heatles” and they have had many glowering at their confidence, Stan Van Gundy saying “they’re pretty impressed with themselves.” The greatest free agency moves by a team has settled in and the players have been clicking, showing what they are capable of. Whether you love or hate them, they are a fascinating team to watch. And because of that, ESPN has added a whole new site to TrueHoop (with our favorite, Kevin Arnovitz, helping out over there). Everywhere they go, the media will direct their attention. With this matchup, the Clippers, not just Blake Griffin have garnered a little extra attention. J.A. Adande wrote an article speculating on the future of this year’s Clippers, especially the ability to retain Blake Griffin and while I’m normally supportive of his writings, I think he missed the mark.
Even if the Clippers were in their normal dysfunctional mode, this would be too early to remark. But because there is the coinciding termination of contracts with Kobe, Pau and Blake, and since it is a Lakers world right now, Adande begins seeing Blake in purple in gold. It’s fine and his prerogative to talk about it, but where he stumbles is at the end, with a point that is functions as the invisible spine of the entire article:
It’s what any young team should want to be. Athletic, hard-working, entertaining. It’s what the Clippers have right now. It’s what they’ve had before. And it’s what they’ve never been able to get beyond.
I may be wrong to say this, but the Clippers have never had this before. They have never had a player that could develop into not just an MVP candidate, but an MVP. Blake’s numbers are historically good, and his dunks and theatrics may propel him into the All Star game (looooong shot, but fans and experts have been talking about it). On top of which there is Eric Gordon who is in the top ten in the NBA in scoring along with a bevy of supporting players. Not too mention that the team looks like it has leadership and is actually enjoying themselves. Compared to 2002, it’s ridiculous. There wasn’t even a single player averaging 20 points per game. Sure, Odom, Brand, Q, Miles and Miller were all good pieces then, but they never played with the same type of team unity that this team has. Miller played awful with the Clippers. Q and Darius were their own stylist squad, but that was more arrogance and affectation than team-wide camaraderie. It was easy to get caught up in that style, but it wasn’t what the Clippers have now. I mean, it’s so good right now that even Baron is smiling and playing like a distributor. After the last few years, most thought his resurrection was an impossibility.
The good vibes even extend to the front office (although, still, not all the way up to Sterling), they’ve shrewdly maneuvered the draft under Olshey and they appear committed to winning the right way, building through the draft, signing character players, and not getting suckered into a bad contract. There is possibility of spending, Kaman and Baron earned good money, that should be able to carry over, and with that type of dollar spending, combined with the new approach, the team should evolve.
Historical precedence will tell you that the Clippers will return to mediocrity, but if there ever was a time in the Clippers’ history where the future was the brightest, now, by far, is that time.
Keys to the game:
-Go inside. Chris Bosh has never been known as a defensive stopper and neither is Zydrunas or Joel Anthony. The Clippers need to get the ball to Blake so that he can really punish the Heat on the inside, force the team to collapse and get their strong wing defense off balance. It has to be better than normal, Blake’s standard strong first quarter then a slide in the second and third before a strong fourth might not be enough.
- Turnovers. The Clippers have been a smidge better of late, averaging 14.5 turnovers in the last 4 games. Compared to their season average of 16.6 turnovers a game, that’s pretty good, but the Clippers are going to have to be even better against the Heat. The Heat play strong perimeter defense and can demoralize teams with their fast breaks earned from turnovers. Give them almost 17 turnovers a game and they are going to ruin the Clippers. Even if they get 14 or 15 turnovers, the Heat will have a field day with the Clips transition defense (um, Blake, please, please keep your head up).
- DeAndre Jordan. The Heat are amazing at getting to the basket, so DeAndre is going to have to be at his best at protecting it (he has been recently). But it gets more difficult if they frequently use Zydrunas Ilgauskas in high pick and rolls to get DeAndre away from the basket. Zydrunas is a legitimate threat to make those 18 footers so DeAndre can’t just leave him alone. And if that happens, LeBron and Wade will have a much easier time finishing around the basket, because no one else on the team is as good at shotblocking as DeAndre. Blake is athletic, but he hasn’t come close to harnessing this side of the game. Farouq has the length to bother players, but he plays more out on the perimeter, away from the basket. DeAndre will also have to be careful about drawing fouls, both Wade and LeBron draw a lot of contact and can get big men like DeAndre in trouble. And the Clippers need him on the court, for rebounding purposes as well, because you don’t want to let the Heat out on the fast break. If DeAndre is able to play with the same effectiveness that he has in the last 4 games (10.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks), then I think the Clippers will have a solid chance to upset the Heat.
- James Jones/Mike Miller. The Heat get their three point specialists unbelievably good looks because that’s where the help often comes from. The Clippers defend the three especially poorly, still giving up almost 40 percent from downtown, but it’s going to be even tougher with the Heat. They have to communicate and be on their toes, it’s going to be difficult.
- Poise. Poise is a fundamental need to beat a team like the Heat. On top of the star power of Wade, LeBron and Bosh, they are playing better basketball than any team in the NBA right now. Having won 21 of their last 22 games, they have finally figured out how to gel and dominate. The Heat, no matter how good the Clippers play, are going to go on runs. But if the Clips play really well and don’t get flustered, they could pull off a win even bigger than their defeat of the Hornets when they were the best in the NBA or of the Spurs when they were the best in the NBA.
Chris Kaman out, ankle
Brian Cook doubtful, ankle
Craig Smith out, herniated disk
Udonis Haslem gametime decision, left foot