For most teams, a five game road trip would be circled on the calendar as a daunting obstacle. However, the Clippers just returned from an 11 game road trip 10 days ago, so this won’t seem like a sojourn so much as a jaunt out to the eastern countryside to play with some cronies.
Kidding aside, the Clippers did look forward to seeing how they would fare with a healthy team. The banged up version of the Clips had an abysmal 2-9 trip, with losses in Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee. But with Kaman back and thinking Eric Gordon would provide spacing/penetration/defense/relentless hustle, would a winning trip be possible? There is only one elite team on this away slate, Boston, and the only other team above .500 is Memphis.
With Eric Gordon out, looks like 7-10 days according to Lisa Dillman at the LA Times, the Clippers won’t have the luxury of a full complement of players. They had 5 1/2 quarters to enjoy helath, but now the team must retain their initial goals even without their planned squad. VDN always seems to say “No one is going to feel sorry for us,” and it’s true. The Bobcats have been averaging less than 80 points a game in their last four (all on the road), so they would be ecstatic to take advantage of the Gordon-less Clippers.
Keys to the Game
– D.J. Augustin. Since Paul Silas became coach of the Bobs and opened up the offense, Augustin has been a different player. He has averaged 18.7 points and 5.9 assists since the coaching change. In the January match-up between these two teams, Foye smothered Augustin into a horrible shooting night. Augustin went 4 for 12 from the field and only handed out 4 assists. With Mo on the team now, it’ll be a question whether the Clippers switch Foye onto D.J. or not, because the switch was necessitated because Baron covered Stephen Jackson. (What will be interesting, will be if Stephen Jackson plays because that’s who Baron guarded in the first game. The Clippers really struggled on Jackson in the first half. Jackson lit them up for 14 points before Baron and the Clippers put the clamps on him in the second half.)
– Learn to throw Oops, Mo, or be more selective. In his first few games with the Clippers, Mo Williams has tried to take over where Baron (and to a lesser extent Foye) really controlled the improvisational elements of the Clippers by throwing Blake alley-oops. The last game between Charlotte and the Clips saw Blake routinely beating his man down the floor to get open looks at oops, so the opportunities will exist. Even though Mo has made some good lobs, he hasn’t shown the same quick pass from the top of the key in the half court offense, or the lengthy fast-break lob, that either Baron or Foye can throw. If Mo can wrangle the oop and capitalize on Blake’s cuts and leaks, great, the Clippers could earn themselves some much needed road momentum. But the team, already the worst in the league in turnover percentage (26.1 percent), doesn’t need more turnovers.
– Consistency at Center. Since Kaman came back, the Clippers have fared better (3-5, okay, not great but better than most of February), but the way that he and DeAndre have combined has been a huge indicator of the success of the team. In the three wins, DeAndre has averaged 7.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks with Kaman chipping in 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Contrast those numbers with their averages in the wins: DeAndre 4.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks; Kaman 12 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1 block. With exception of Kaman’s point totals, both have substantial declines in productivity in the losses and neither outplays the other in losses, or even come close to maintaining consistency. The Clippers need both bigs.
– Keep the ball moving. In the first quarter and a half of the Nuggets game, the Clippers moved the ball well, largely due to the sole ability of Eric Gordon. After Gordon fell to the ground on the hard Mozgov foul, the Clippers (even Blake) settled for long jumpers until Bledsoe saved them in the fourth. The Clips can’t rely on Bledsoe (yet?), so they’re going to have to make a point of maintaining some motion in the offense.
Eric Gordon: re-aggravated wrist, out
DeSagana Diop: Ruptured Achilles, out
Tyrus Thomas: Left knee, out
Stephen Jackson: Hamstring, questionable