“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending”
– Homer, The Oddyssey
So it begins. The Clippers start out their 11 game road trip playing the Atlanta Hawks. They’re coming off a tough beating at the hands (hooves?) of the Bulls, their last home game.
Regardless to their position in the standings, this trip is imperative in the growth of the team. So far this season, the only wins on the road have come in Detroit, Chicago and Sacramento, all in a ten day span. The win against Chicago was impressive, but in the road games since (Golden State, Portland, Dallas Houston), the Clippers have reverted to their early season ways: strong first halves followed by disappointing third quarters and a final, inevitably disappointing collapse in the fourth. You could argue that we miss Eric Gordon’s presence, which I would no doubt agree with, but the problems are fundamentally deeper than just EJ’s absence. What the Clippers need is “to be skilled in all ways contending,” they have to be able to transfer their abilities at home to their road game. Instead of suffering bouts of self-doubt in the second half they need to find a way to stay mentally and emotionally involved. It seems that the good teams enjoy the boos and silencing the crowd as much as the cheers at home.
The selection of Blake to the All Star team and Eric Bledsoe to the rookie team is a positive note to help bolster spirits on the road. Some might not agree with the selection of Blake, like Andre Miller, but it’s just the sign of the times for the Clippers. Regardless of what Andre Miller says, Blake has made his teams better. Much better. I can’t imagine this team full of mistake-prone rookies and disinterested veterans would be rattling off nine game home win streaks without his presence. It hasn’t translated to an overall winning record, but that’s due to the road woes.
The Clips are in for a shock, because even the teams that they have been losing to on the road are not of the same caliber as the opponents they’re about to face. Aside from Dallas, the recent road opponents don’t compare to Atlanta, Miami and Orlando. They’re healthy, playoff tested teams. Although, maybe they already had their wake-up call with the Bulls.
The good news with this Clippers team is that they have responded to almost every challenge, even if that meant losing in the first place. They lost to New Orleans and the Spurs early in the season, but then beat both of them in December. They lost to the Lakers in December but beat them in January. The Clippers are self aware enough to know about their inconsistencies on the road, but it’s going to take a lot more than self-awareness to improve. It’s a start though.
Keys to the Game
– Al Horford v. Blake Griffin. Al Horford is one of the best passing big men, and he’ll be a handful for Blake. He’s a great shooter, shooting almost 60 percent from 16-23 feet, so Blake can’t play off of him the way he can with most other big men. On the other end, Horford is exactly the type of player that Blake eats up, as evidenced by the last game (BG: 31 points, 15 rebounds and 3 assists). Horford’s not long enough to counter Blake’s leaping ability and he’s not strong or quick enough to counter his moves, so the Clippers will need to go through Blake if they are going to win. Josh Smith could play Blake in some possessions, but he derives his greatest value on help-side and transition defense.
– Get to the bench. Other than Jamal Crawford, the Hawks have a less than stellar bench. The best way for the Clippers to get there is to get a couple early fouls on the Hawks starters. Larry Drew is notoriously quick to go to the bench, a risky habit considering his thin bench.
– Free throw battle. This ties into the last one, but in the last meeting the Clippers were beat partially due to the disparity in free throws. They played pretty good defense on Joe Johnson for the most part, he only shot 7 for 20, but they allowed him to go to the line 17 times, which gave him the conduit to score his 29 points and help the Hawks win. The Clippers need to be the aggressors, get the Hawks in foul trouble and earn their way from the line. This is where Eric Gordon is missed, because it can’t just be Blake Griffin going to the line. The Clippers need to make their free throws when they get there.
Baron Davis: back, game time decision
Eric Gordon: wrist/back, out
Chris Kaman: left ankle, out
Craig Smith: herniated disc, out