A bunch of encouraging stuff out of last night:

  • Corey Maggette is leveraging his hot outside shot into better opportunities.  His shot chart is interesting:  7 FGs, but only one inside of 13 feet.  This isn't a bad thing. Virtually all of those FGMs were smart one-on-one opportunities - a good number of them generated by off-the-ball work.  Exhibit A [2nd, 2:36]:  While Knight and Kaman run a S/R at the top of they key, Tim Thomas sets a nice baseline screen for Corey on Andrei Kirilenko. Corey glides across the baseline from left to right.  Kaman rolls off the first screen to set another screen - this one for Maggette at the left elbow.  Corey swings around, picks up the pass from Knight, then takes it strong to the hoop against a statuesque Okur. 

    Maggette uses his teammate's screens to perfection.  And rather than try to draw contact against Okur, he realizes that a controlled path to the basket is the better course.  

  • Chris Kaman has begun to call for the ball when he recognizes that he has an advantage in the post.  Early on in the 1st [8:29], there's a telling moment when the Clippers are rushing the ball upcourt.  It's clear that Kaman is supposed to set up at the right elbow but, for whatever reason, Kaman is way out ahead of the play -- so much so that Mehmet Okur, his defender, is standing straight-legged waiting for the set to materialize.  Kaman recognizes this and, instead of parking himself at the elbow, he scoots much, much deeper into the lane to about 12 feet.  Knight has to be quick - because Kaman is entirely in the paint.  Okur gets between Kaman and the hoop, but Kaman's position is indomitable. Knight bounces the entry pass into Kaman, who doesn't put the ball on the ground, but instead quickly turns for a right-handed jumper with a perfect follow-through. 

    All you have to do is look at Kaman's FGAs since he got back from the flu to realize that he's having a much harder time getting himself shots.  That's a by-product of weariness [the rebounding numbers are even more telling...only 10.5 RPG since he got back]. But so long as Chris can maintain that recognition and cultivate those big man instincts, he's going to be fine. 

  • Maybe I'm burying the lede, because Al Thornton, once again, is the story tonight.  10-18 from the field; a Maggette-esque 7-8 from the line for 27 points in 29 minutes.  He's settling in, maintaining control in the halfcourt, finding space - for instance, his first FGM of the night.  He's drawn Carlos Boozer, whom he's desperately trying to post up off the left mid-post on the ball side.  Boozer is skillfully pushing Thornton off the block.  But here's where Al's offensive instincts kick in. Rather than try to draw blood from a stone, he realizes that, by stepping back off the post-up, he can fill that empty space between the lane and the arc.  Just as Al steps out, Maggette delivers him the ball, at which point Al hits a turnaround open J...because Boozer doesn't have time to react. 

    I'm not sure this is something Al would've instinctively done as recently as eight weeks ago.  Here's another [3rd, 1:57].  Al Thornton against Paul Millsap off the high-right post.  Dan Dickau gets him the rock.  Thornton doesn't waste a lot of time here. With a left-handed dribble, he moves left toward the paint.  But here comes the Utah help.  Al immediately picks up on it, so he spins baseline, gets way inside, then goes up strongly with two hands, then sinks the two footer - and draws a foul. 

    Learning to quickly recognize where the help is coming from -- then learning how to elude it on the drive is a crucial skill for any penetrator.  Thornton is a quick study on this. 

The Clippers will continue to take their lumps over the next 25 games - and they have to be resigned to the reality that Maggette will walk during the off-season, but provided Brand comes back 96-100%, and Kaman remains healthy, they're looking at a formidable front court on opening night 2008-2009 with Kaman, Brand, and Thornton - with Tim Thomas, and a very serviceable Josh Powell coming off the bench.  The backcourt, of course, is problematic.  The Clips will need to find someone who at least approximates a combo guard, or hope that Livingston came marshal the offense with  Knight as a reputable backup.  Then, the onus is on the front office to find a shooter at the 2.  Will Chicago pick up Ben Gordon's option?  Lots of smart people like Juan Carlos Navarro.  He can shoot, pass, and operate in an offense.  He'd be a nice companion to Livingston because, given his small stature at the 2 and Livingston's length, Shaun could take the bigger guard, leaving the quick-footed Navarro to guard the smaller point guards.

Side Note: Clipperblog apologizes for the diminshing coverage during the work week.  Unfortunately, the demands of real life have been calling.  Structure is a bitch.