When the Clippers first faced the New Jersey Nets, the boys in blue and red were mired in a season worst 9 game slump that would continue through their game against the New York Knicks. Both Kaman and Baron (may he play in Cleveland in peace) were out of the lineup and the backups, DeAndre and Bledsoe, hadn’t progressed into starter-worthy players. Now? Things have changed.
Even with Eric Gordon out of the lineup, the Clippers have won 4 games in a row, two of which were on the road and one against the Celtics (the best road win of the season, along with the Bulls win in December). The impressive part about the wins has been the fact that the Clippers haven’t won playing perfect games. Only against Houston did the Clippers have the full complement of players. But against Denver, Gordon re-injured his wrist and Eric Bledsoe took over. In Charlotte, Eric Gordon watched from the bench while Kaman and Bledsoe combined for 29 off the bench. And against the Celtics, Blake Griffin had one of his worst games of the year only to be saved by DeAndre Jordan and Mo Williams.
Even as recently as a month ago, when the Clippers slogged through a road heavy February, the Clippers didn’t show any of the mettle they’ve displayed recently. They lost to terrible opponents like Toronto and Cleveland. Maybe it was the team collectively hitting the rookie wall. But I believe it was the Baron for Mo Williams/Jamario Moon trade. Other than the loss to the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers have won all their games with the two former Cavs. Mo has been a stabilizing influence on the team. Not only has he been averaging 19 points and 6.4 assists (only .6 of an assist lower than Baron), but he’s been hitting big shots. He knocked down two huge shots against the Nuggets and he scored 9 points in the last 5:30 of play against the Celtics.
Offensively, the team has looked more cohesive with Mo. The Clippers have averaged 101 points per game (99, 106, 100, 92 and 108 points) in their last 5 games on 47 percent shooing, far better than their averages of 98.4 points and 45.6 percent shooting. Mo’s abilities to be both a shooter and facilitator allows him to morph into the role the teams needs, whether that be a attacking point guard, a facilitator or outside threat.
New Jersey will have to adjust to the new look Clippers, who aren’t the same team that the Nets bowled over in November.
Keys to the Game
– Deron or no Deron. Since he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, Deron Williams has been on a tear, averaging an incredible 15.2 assists in his five games to go along with 15.8. However, Deron returned to Dallas to see the birth of his child and may not return to play against the Clippers. And while congratulations to Deron and crew are in order, I’m sure that the Nets can’t be thrilled about NCAA superstar Jordan Farmar stepping in to fill Williams’ spot at the point.
– The jump shooter against the dunker. 7’0” Brook Lopez is not known for his interior presence, he takes 5.7 shots per game outside of 10 feet and only grabs 6 rebounds per game. He still attempts 4.3 shots around the rim and with Deron in play, Brook is a very good pick and roll or pick and pop type player. DeAndre Jordan, on the other hand, has only taken a single shot outside 10 feet the entire year and thrives on his play around the rim. For each, the matchup will provide difficulties, Brook’s roving will pull DeAndre away from his effective area in the paint, where he can also help on defense and DeAndre’s strength underneath the basket will give the weaker Lopez fits.
– Get Blake going. Blake suffered through his worst game of the year against the Nets back in November as he only scored 11 points and grabbed three rebounds. That’s normally a first quarter for him. Mo needs to roll with Blake early, creating offensive momentum. However, part of Blake’s troubles stemmed from having to cover Kris Humphries. Hump scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebound in an effort that thoroughly out-classed Blake. Hump has also been averaging 13.8 points and 15 rebounds in his last 5 games, so Blake will have a challenge.
Eric Gordon: wrist, out
Deron Williams: personal (birth of his child), questionable
Damion James: concussion, doubtful
Quinton Ross: strained lower back, questionable