This afternoon’s game bears a fuzzy resemblance to the 05-06 season. The Clippers put together a great defensive effort.  They play a diligent brand of straight-up man defense, sending help selectively – but decisively.  No stupid gambles and, with a few exceptions [most of them Thornton] they rotate and close quickly.  Chris has one of his best games as a defender.  All afternoon, he does a solid job forcing Duncan toward help.   Given his size-quicks quotient, Chris should be the kind of defender that gives Duncan fits off the dribble -- to the extent any center can give Duncan fits.  I mean, it’s Tim Duncan, but it’s fair to say that Chris performs yeoman’s work today on him. 

The Clippers are the 8th best Defensive Efficiency team in the league.   I find this pleases me more than it probably should.   

It’s a crisp game.  The Clippers rack up only 11 turnovers and few of them are hellacious.   In the offense, they’re patient, but not inert.  I don’t care how well the Clippers play, it’s going to be tough for this team to get consistently good shots against quality defensive opponents.  That’s just life without Elton Brand.  But today, they move the ball around the halfcourt, work hard off the ball to get looks – and it pays off.  Granted, it isn’t the most efficient game; they take only 12 FTAs [they need to be north of 25 every night, unless they're just lighting it up from beyond the arc].  But it’s nice to see Corey drive to the hoop not actually looking for contact, but the easiest lane to the hole.  He has a smart game – those two off-the-ball fouls in a single possession that put the Spurs in the penalty notwithstanding.  

Big Positive Today: Thornton racks up eight rebounds.  One of the things I really like about our seats is that we have a smart vantage point to measure team rebounding.  Al really bangs for a couple of those boards.  Since he’s largely playing the 4, it’s something that has to happen – but it's still nice to see.  

I know these are losses – home losses, no less.  But there are two ways the rest of the season can go.  [1] The Clips can just phone it in, try to improve their draft position.  Run out the clock.  [2] A generally forward-looking vibe surrounds the team going into the spring, even though they lose considerably more than they win.  Despite the losses, the Clips beat a couple of decent teams a month.  Little by little, Kaman and Thornton learn how to deliver a fourth quarter. Word of Elton’s progress comes down in February and sometime in the next six weeks, we see tape of him in drills. 

It’s one thing to see good lines from the guys with upside.  But I’m willing to suggest that there’s future value that exceeds a couple of draft positions in having a team that finishes the season playing well together.  An interesting stat to see would be the correlation between lottery teams’ post-All-Star records and their following season records.  Forgetting all future implications, it’s nice to be at Staples this afternoon seeing the Clips playing well in a competitive game against an elite team, and not have it feel as if they might luckbox their way into a W.  The Clips are in today’s game because they play the best version of their brand of basketball.