Saturday, March 11, 2006 

CLIPS ARE AVENGING ANGELS

Not much time to savor the Clips' sweet 107-96 victory at Chicago last night. I didn't see the game (went to a Golden Girls reunion at the Directors Guild -- what could be gayer than that?), but have a few quick thoughts:

-- Outfitted with the same finger brace as Cuttino Mobley, Sam Cassell (still more E.T. than Freddy Krueger) nevertheless hit 61.1% FGs and 100% FTs to lead all scorers by a huge margin with 32.
-- You can't stop Elton Brand, you can only hope to contain him, but the Bulls defended him as well as any opponent this season. EB had only nineteen points but rebounded from two poor showings on the glass with thirteen boards and his 33rd double-double of the campaign.
-- The stats read nearly identically for both teams. The biggest difference: the Clips got to the charity stripe 37 times, converting 33, while the Bulls (who scored four more field goals) hit thirteen of just sixteen attempts.
-- Two other terrific numbers for the Clips: only 8 turnovers (they average 14.4) and 38 big points off the bench to match the Bulls' reserves. Coach Dunleavy told his troops before tip-off that he's going with Brand, Cassell, Mobley, Chris Kaman, Quinton Ross, Vladimir Radmanovic, Shaun Livingston and Corey Maggette the rest of the way. Vlad Rad, Livy and Maggs all responded with double-figure scoring (Vladi: 4-9 3FGs, Twig: 5 dimes, Corey: 10-11 FTs).
-- Before the season, Dunleavy said the team would need to win two-thirds of its home games and go .500 on the road to secure a playoff spot. By avenging the Bulls' 97-91 victory Feb. 12 in L.A. (the one loss I haven't been able to get over until now), the Clips raise their road record to 14-15 and, with a home mark of 21-10, can keep that pace with a win tonight at Milwaukee.
-- The '75-'76 Buffalo Braves also went 35-25 through 60 games and finished 46-36 en route to the franchise's only playoff series win.

Click on Clipper Talk and join the discussion. -- Jordan

Wednesday, March 08, 2006 

THEY'RE BAAAAAAACK!

If the Clippers played every night like they played tonight, they'd be one of the elite teams in the league. With everyone committed to Coach Dunleavy's defense-driven gameplan, they delivered 48 minutes of first-rate basketball against the NBA world champions, outlasting and ultimately outclassing the San Antonio Spurs, 98-85. Their performance had Staples Center rocking and Clip fans once again daring to dream big.

For me and my sister Piera (the hottie next to me on the clippers.com Super Fan page), the evening started with a visit to one of our favorite restaurants: r-23 on the railroad tracks between 2nd and 3rd Streets (hence the name). Over a bottle of Asahi, we split some edamame, a Dungeness crab salad, lobster tempura, and yellowtail carpaccio with assorted caviars. Then it was on to sushi: albacore, yellowtail belly, fresh water eel, and spicy tuna roll with gobo. Mochi for me, red bean ice cream for her, and we were off to Staples. Picked up my Clippers fleece blanket (part of the MVP Rewards program), noted happily that the Kings had defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-2, and prepared for the Clips' toughest challenge to date.

Let's face it: by responding to their nationally televised two-point loss in Utah with a woeful effort against Memphis, the Clippers sent out warning signs. They looked by turns uninterested, out of sync, and overly confident of a place in the playoffs. To take advantage of the Spurs' second game in two nights, the Clips would have to, in Bill Clinton's words, "focus like a laser beam" on the team's goals and their individual roles.

They did exactly that. Elton Brand outsmarted and outdueled Tim Duncan to win the battle of the MVP candidates. First, EB got Timmah in foul trouble with three midway through Q2 and a fourth midway through Q3. Then he exploited the void, striking for 30 and 9 with five assists and three blocks as the Jumbotron played video from one of his recent "Read to Achieve" events for schoolchildren. The man is a winner on and off the court and, even surrounded by other good guys, especially easy to cheer for.

But EB is EB every night. The unsung hero of the night (and, in my mind, the season) is Quinton Ross. Finally feeling good after his bout with back spasms, Q Ross made the most of his medically alloted 25 minutes oncourt. He shut down Tony Parker in the first half in a way nobody else in the league has. Parker -- whose girlfriend, Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, saw both ends of the Spurs' back-to-back (Laker fans booed her; Clip fans didn't) -- finished with twenty points but worked for them like the dickens and got most of them when Q Ross sat down. Meanwhile, Q hit all four of his shots, including the late dagger that had Gregg Popovich emptying his bench.

Sam Cassell -- you remember him? The guy who went 1-7 against Memphis? Well, after dislocating his left pinky finger, he popped it back into place and popped in a fifteen-point, eleven-assist double-double, including six straight baskets during the Clips' decisive 24-8 run that turned a 53-52 Q3 deficit into a 76-61 Q4 lead. We can only hope our spiritual leader has returned from his pilgrimage ready to lead us to the promised land.

Chris Kaman dominated at center, finishing two boards shy of a double-double with fifteen and eight. The Big Silly hit four of six field goals and an amazing seven of eight free throws. Cuttino Mobley rounded out the starting five with eleven points on 50% shooting. And Vladimir Radmanovic hit three of four from downtown, each seemingly bigger than the last. Vlad Rad has really stretched opposing defenses for the Clips while playing decent D himself; if he starts creating off the dribble, watch out, he could be a keeper.

Besides Vlad the Impaler, only Shaun Livingston and Corey Maggette got off the pine as Coach Dunleavy necessarily shortened his bench. Maggs started perfectly by driving hard to the hole for two FTs on his first possession, but got away from that style of play. Later, when the Spurs mounted their final charge, he rebounded his own miss and, one second into a fresh clock, jacked up the same shot. Forget his basketball IQ -- Maggs must understand his role on the newly reconstituted Clippers, which is primarily that of a slasher. Once Coach has a healthy roster, a rushed or contested jumper -- unless it is the only option -- should send Corey to the corner with a conical cap.

But tonight we accentuate the positive. The Clips proved to everybody that they can compete with anybody. Once Zeljko Rebraca comes back and the coaching staff fine-tunes the rotation, the team has the potential to become a twelve-headed monster, legitimately two or three deep at every position. Or, as Pamela Anderson would call it, stacked!

Still, there remains the nagging question: How can a team look so good against the Spurs one night and so bad against vastly inferior teams other nights? As with Goran Ivanisevic, fans never know which team they'll get: the good Clippers, the bad Clippers, or the 911 Emergency Clippers. That inconsistency is what separates the Clips from the Spurs, Mavericks, and Suns of the world and keeps them down with objectively less talented teams such as the Hornets and Lakers.

The team gets its first chance to build on this big win Friday night at Chicago. I continue to point to Feb. 12, when the Clips blew a nine-point lead in a 97-91 home loss to Chicago, as the night the dream of a division title died. The Clips unraveled after that, dropping seven of ten entering tonight. They must bring into Chicago the same attitude Cat Mobley voiced entering Boston: they beat us at home, so we're coming "full throttle" into their house looking for revenge. Ten wins over .500 doesn't seem like too much to ask of the team that dominated the defending champs tonight.

Click on Clipper Talk and join the discussion. -- Jordan

Tuesday, March 07, 2006 

To Tank or Not To Tank

It has been a discussion hot and heavy on the boards and it appears to have transcended the fans and into the media. Whether it is better to lose games to be the 6th seeded team or to just win games and let things sort itself out in the end. Here it is from the times and the Coach's mouth. --Tollis

http://www.latimes.com/sports/basketball/nba/clippers/la-sp-cliprep7mar07,1,1796316.story?coll=la-headlines-sports-nba-clippe

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Sunday, March 05, 2006 

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO...

The Los Angeles Clippers. For best impersonation of a contender. Yeah, they really had me going for a while there, beating up on the Bobcats and Hornets and inflating their record to 33-23. I almost forgot that before the All-Star break they lost to three non-playoff teams by an average of fifteen points. It almost didn't register that they last played a complete 48-minute game against a quality team over a month ago. But now that they've lost seven of ten -- and looked like crap doing it -- it's all coming back.

Thankfully, I Ebayed my tickets for tonight's game and got to watch the Oscars instead of the abortion that was the Clippers' 102-86 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. But from what I understand...

-- The Grizzlies' bench had three men in double figures and shot 7-11 3FGs.
-- Elton Brand followed up a four-rebound performance in Utah with...four rebounds tonight as the Clippers lost their seventh battle of the boards in nine games.
-- Sam Cassell -- our self-anointed and self-appointed leader -- shot 1-7.
-- Cuttino Mobley shot under 40%...again.
-- Chris Kaman had another big first half and yet again disappeared after intermission, this time with a bucket of fouls.
-- Shaun Livingston did not score a field goal, hit 1-4 FTs -- again -- and was called for an eight-second violation -- again. Can you say "bust"?
-- Corey Maggette shot 1-5 in twenty minutes and needs not foot surgery but WD-40.
-- Walter McCarty shot 1-4 in twelve minutes and was a waste of space.
-- The one player who brings instant energy every time out, "Jumpin'" James Singleton, finally got off the bench -- for 1:27 of garbage time.

With time and proper guidance, this team should become a well-oiled machine with underperforming parts replaced by substitutes capable of keeping the engine purring. Right now, though, it's soul-searching time for everybody from the coach on down. 33 wins won't get them into the playoffs, and they're not playing well enough to beat anybody, let alone the incoming defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. If they don't raise their game, they could find themselves on the outside looking in. And after their tremendous start, the only word for that would be...crash. -- Jordan


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