This is not the same Orlando Magic that visited the Staples Center back in December. Then the Magic had Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter as part of the team. Now they have Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Earl Clark and Jason Richardson. However, just as they were then, the Magic are struggling. In December they had just lost four games in a row before beating the Clippers and right now they’re 3-5 in their last 8 and are no closer to becoming an elite team.
Actually, they may be further away from elite status. The Magic knew that the trades probably wouldn’t help their defense. The Magic miss Gortat, he provided sound defense from the bench and allowed Dwight to be more aggressive. However, they had no idea that the trade would also hurt their offense. While Hedo and Gilbert were prayers for reclamation, it has been a surprise that Jason Richardson has played as poorly as he has in his time with the Magic. In his 25 games with the Suns, Richardson scored 19.3 points per game in only 31.8 minutes and had a PER of 19.4. He shot almost 42 percent from three. But in his 26 games in Orlando, he’s playing 2.5 minutes more per game and yet his scoring is down to 14.2 points per game, PER down to 13.3 and he’s shooting 37.6 percent from three, a dramatic decline. Sure, he’s not being set up by Steve Nash, but with the attention Dwight demands, you’d think that his decline in effectiveness wouldn’t be so drastic.
The current wobbly state of the Orlando Magic doesn’t solve any of the Clipper road problems. The Clippers have lost 6 in a row on a road and are 3-17 in all away games over the course of the season, those three wins strung together over Christmas.
Just as influential as the loss of Eric Gordon, the Clippers also haven’t developed their killer instinct on the road. The momentum they are able to create at home due to the crowd doesn’t translate to their away games and the mistakes that they make on the road, largely inefficiencies like free throw percentage, turnovers and defense, cause the Clips to suffer mightily. Usually a team can overcome some mistakes, basketball is never error free, but it’s been even more difficult when the Clippers aren’t using their normal advantage either: rebounding. They haven’t out-rebounded an opponent in the last three games overall (even giving up 11 more rebounds at home to the Bulls) or in their last three on the road. It won’t get any easier with the Magic, as they have the second highest rebound rate in the league.
Links around the league:
• Old friend Kevin Arnovitz gives some insight on the youthful Clips:
The Clippers provide plenty of catnip for fans on YouTube, but they’re also 28th in the NBA in turnover rate, and added another 20 miscues on Sunday. Nobody wants to play the role of Debbie Downer in critiquing the league’s most exciting young outfit, but the Clippers could stand to occasionally bypass the high-risk, high-reward alley-oop in traffic in favor of, say, exploiting an obvious mismatch on the weak side.
• I didn’t see the Heat game (I was flying back from D.C.) but I thought this was interesting: Lisa Dillman reports that it was Joel “The Warden” Anthony that played the tough D on Blake, while Marc Stein includes in his Heat blurb that Bosh was the one blanketing Blake.
• A season long story, Blake getting pummeled by hard fouls. Do the Clippers need to find a Charles Oakley-type in the offseason or at the trade deadline to protect Blake? Who would that be? They say that Rhino is the best they have now, but he’s injured.
• Trey Kerby has some Photoshop fun with a strange Blake Griffin photo.
Keys to the Game
– Dwight Howard: offense and defense. Dwight is the central player both literally and figuratively. He protects the interior defense as well as anyone in the league and it’s particularly important for his team because he’s surrounded by average and below average defenders. The Clippers need to be creative with him patrolling the paint by breaking down the defense and keeping their heads up for good interior passes. There aren’t too many players on the Clippers that have the floaters or pull up jumpers good enough to beat Dwight high and he’s quick enough to get the sneaky shots at the rim. The best attack might be to get him in foul trouble, with the Clippers’ best candidates being Blake and Baron. Let’s not forget, it’s not like Marcin Gortat can help out in case of foul trouble, he’s in Phoenix now.
On the other side of the court, Dwight is beginning to develop a little more of a post game than just his lefty hook, but he still doesn’t have a ton of range. So it’ll be very important for DeAndre to use his strength and speed to keep Dwight out of good position (it’d be nice to have DeAndre wake up, he’s been playing poorly in the last 3).
– Blake Griffin, necessary monster. The Magic don’t have a defender other than Dwight that can really stop Blake, and if Dwight comes over to help, Blake could easily put D12 in foul trouble. So the Clippers need a big game out of Blake to overcome the Magic.
– Continued the improvement on three point defense. They give up 37.7 percent from beyond the arc, “good” for 26th in the league. That’s an improvement from their legendarily bad numbers at the beginning of the season when the Clippers gave up over 42 percent from three. They’ll need to keep the improving trend going if they’ll want to beat the Magic, who have attempted the most threes in the NBA.
Chris Kaman: left ankle, out
Craig Smith: herniated disc, out
Eric Gordon: wrist/back, technically day to day, but he’s out
Brandon Bass: left ankle, out
Daniel Orton: left knee, out