You think the Clippers maybe felt a little urgency coming out of the locker room at halftime with a 17 point lead after the debacle in Milwaukee the other night?   The Clippers rolled Utah in the third quarter with a 19-11 run to go up 25.  Utah didn’t hit a shot from the floor for the first four minutes of the quarter, and didn’t convert over the last 2:53.  

Elton was beastly from the outset.  On the game’s first two possessions…

•    Elton holds it deliberately way out on the left-side arc against Boozer.  With :09 left on the shot clock, he returns the ball to Hart at the top of the circle.  Maggette, who has set up on the low left block against AK, gets a down screen from Elton, then fades out to the high left wing.   Off the screen, Elton drops low.  Corey thinks about shooting – and six weeks ago probably would’ve – but instead drops it back into Elton, who hits the turnaround 15-footer.

•    A nifty play off the inbounds.  Elton is set up on the far side, at the right elbow. After Corey gets it back on the left sideline, Elton gets a great back screen from Jason Hart.  Off that pick, Elton then moves to set a screen on AK for Maggette.  This results in a beautiful Side Screen Roll.  Maggette passes it over to Elton in his favorite spot.  Two more.

The Clippers never trail from there, and play their quality brand of basketball – not picturesque, but physical and effective in the halfcourt, the kind of stuff they did last spring.    

Corey Maggette continues to play near-perfect basketball.  Though he sat out most of the first quarter with two fouls, Corey returned in the second and put together another efficient performance.  What is Corey doing differently over the past month? For one, he’s found his 20-footer, and he’s stopped taking contested jumpers.  

Second, he’s giving up shot attempts that aren’t there, which goes a long way to explaining his increased assist numbers.  About four times a night now, he’s dumping the ball back into the post instead of driving headfirst into a clogged lane, or kicking it out after drawing opponents’ help defenders into the lane with a dribble-drive.  I can’t be certain, but I feel as if Corey has been setting up on the ball side with Elton a lot more often, with Cat now playing on the weak side perimeter.  Earlier in the season, it was reversed, with Cat dropping the ball into Elton and Corey standing out on the arc.  

Finally, the defense.  There was a time not long ago that if you saw a blown rotation in the Clippers’ defensive halfcourt, there was a better than 50% chance that Corey was the culprit.  He’d get lost on weak side screens [particularly against a team like Utah who does so much off the ball] and his judgment in help situations was awful – doubling when he didn’t need to and hedging such that he was ineffective both on his guy and on the playmaker.  With his strength and quickness, Corey has never been a bad on-ball defender.  But now he’s using those same attributes in almost every defensive situation. It’s miraculous, actually.  Over the past month, he’s truly a different defensive player. 

The defense at the point warrants mentioning.  Both Hart and Ewing harassed Deron Williams all night.  He finished with six assists.  The last time he’s had fewer?  January 29.   Stats aside, he had trouble getting the ball back on a number of motion sets.  Williams would leave the ball out on the perimeter with one of the Utah bigs, but Hart would blanket Williams, cutting off the lane between him and the ball, making it hard for Williams to get the ball back. 

I suspect we’ll see Ross play at least 25-30 minutes on Gilbert tonight, with Maggette coming off the bench, but playing at least 30 minutes.  Personally, I’d prefer to see both Ross and Maggette start, with Mobley substituting.  The Wizards play absolutely no defense, but it may be a stretch to try to go small against them because they still have two legitimate big men to work with.