Preview and Chat: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  February 23, 2008

Records: Lakers 37-17 (3 seed); Clippers 19-33 (12 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (2nd); Clippers 103.4 (26th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (7th); Clippers 107.7 (13th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radminovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers: Brevin Knight, Cuttino Mobley, Corry Maggette, “some call me” Tim Thomas, Chris Kaman

Lakers Notes: Just a few quick notes looking over the Lakers stats from the last 10 games.

Kobe is taking 18.9 shots, per game, down from his 20.5 average for the season. And he is being very efficient with those shots, shooting 55.5% (eFG%) and getting to the line 8.5 times per game.

Then there is Pau Gasol shooting 65.1% and Lamar Odom shooting 64.5% (eFG%), including shooting 50% from three point range (taking 1.2 shots per game, which should be about the max for him).

The Lakers also have guys doing a great job of spreading the floor. In the last 10 games, Derek Fisher is shooting 37.5% from three, Sasha is at 50% (taking 3.6 per game), Radmanovic is at 43.8% (3.2 per game), and there is Kobe at 36.4%.

The Lakers pace has been a little slower, down to 93.1 possessions per game (about three fewer possessions per game than their season pace).

No doubt, the offense is clicking at a high level, but the defense still needs some work. The Lakers are giving up 108.7 points per 100 possessions, about 2 points higher than their season average.

The Clippers Coming In: This season, a lot of the questions about the Clippers are bigger picture ones for the future. To get some answers, I turned to ClipperSteve from ClipsNation:

1. First things first — what’s the latest and expected return dates for Brand and Livingston? Will we see them this season? Should we, or should the Clippers look for more ping-pong balls?

The Clippers have been very tight-lipped, and very conservative about setting any dates for Brand and Livingston. Basically, although both Brand and Livingston have both uttered the word ‘March’ on many occasions, the organization has never given any date. They are both in the same place right now – they returned to practice within a couple of days of each other, but only in non-contact drills. The best guess is that one or both will be cleared for contacted within 10 days, and we might see them on the court a couple weeks after that.

So, yes, I think we’ll see them this season, if only briefly. Brand almost certainly; Livingston is more in doubt. That has nothing to do with where he is in his recovery (which by all indications is going great) and everything to do with the type of injury. The book is pretty well written on the ruptured Achilles and there’s no reason to doubt that Brand will (has?) recover completely. But Livingston hit the ligament trifecta, and Willis McGahee is the only other athlete I know of to do that. The good news is McGahee made a full recovery and made the Pro Bowl this year. But there’s just not nearly as much data on this injury, and everyone will be super conservative on it, with good reason. Livingston is scheduled to meet with his surgeon the first week in March and we’ll know more then.

Finally, there are those pesky ping-pong balls to consider. The team has plenty of incentive to keep them off the court, above and beyond lottery odds. For instance, why showcase either one of them when they could both be free agents at the end of the season? The best case for the Clippers is that they know these injuries are completely healed, but the rest of the NBA remains in the dark. They’ll play, but not much.

2. Assuming Brand does not opt out (unlikely after this injury, I would think), how is the growth of Chris Kaman this season going to pair with Brand in the future?

That’s a great question. I’ve heard some people say that there won’t be room for Brand and new Kaman to operate – that the post will be too crowded for both of them to be effective, etc. The poster boys for this problem would be Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph, I guess. But I say Brand and Kaman are going to be great together.

Let’s start with defense. The Clippers, even without their best low post defender (Brand) and their best perimeter defender (Livingston) have remained an OK defensive team this season. They have a chance to be a great defensive team at full strength. Kaman is currently 3rd in the league in blocked shots (easily the most surprising improvement in his break out season), while Brand has been a top 10 shot blocker for many years. And neither of them are playing free safety on the weak side the way Camby does. Brand always took the toughest low post assignment, and still blocked shots, and of course Kaman is forced to take the tough assignments this season. They are both very good on the ball defenders in addition to blocking shots. There will be no unchallenged shots against the Clippers next season.

Likewise rebounding is a no brainer improvement. Especially offensive rebounding, where the Clippers have been among the league leaders in the Elton Brand era, and are 29th this season (despite missing plenty of shots).

I’ll admit that there’s potentially less synergy on offense, but one obvious plus is that someone is going to have a mismatch. As defenses adjusted to the Generic Clippers (no Brand) this season, Kaman has seen more and more double teams, and he’s had very few options for the pass out. Brand changes that immediately. But the great low post duos (there haven’t been a lot, but McHale and Parrish come to mind) develop a rhythm and a knack that makes them that much stronger. Can Brand and Kaman develop that feel for each others’ games, that interior passing that leads to easy baskets as the help defender hedges from one to the other? I hope so, but we’ll have to wait and see.


3. Corey Maggette is one of the few players on the Clippers in his prime and playing great this season, showcasing for a new contract with a career year. Should the Clippers resign him, and at what cost? Or, do you move another direction?

It’s pretty clear that Corey will opt out of the final year of his current contract. He’s playing the best ball of his career right now (he’s 12th in the league in scoring at 21.8 per game, but is actually scoring over 24 per game in 2008), and he turned down an extension from the Clippers last summer. So he’s obviously planning to get paid this summer. What isn’t clear to me is, who is going to pay him? There aren’t that many teams with cap space, and of those I really don’t see Memphis or Seattle or Charlotte making a huge offer to Corey Maggette given the personnel they have already. So although he stands to be the second best free agent on the market (after Antawn Jamison, and depending of course on what happens with all those other option guys like Arenas and Marion and yes, Brand), I don’t see where the big offer is going to come from.

The situation is further complicated by the internecine battles on the red and blue side of Staples Center. Mike Dunleavy has spent the better part of 3 seasons trashing the guy, and has tried to trade him on at least three occasions. But owner Donald T. Sterling loves Maggette, has vetoed at least one and probably two of those trades, and has said he wants to re-sign Corey. Which leaves me without a clue as to what will actually happen.

I’m hoping they don’t bid against themselves for his services. They have Al Thornton ready to step into the small forward position right now, and although you could do worse than having Thornton come off the bench for a couple years, $50M+ would be a lot to pay when you’ve got a much cheaper alternative. Don’t be surprised if he ends up leaving the Clippers via a sign-and-trade, that gets him the pay day he’s looking for on a team that needs his unique talents.


4. The Clips offense has held them back this year. When they are winning and competing well, what are they doing right on offense?

Oh you noticed that, huh? Yeah, it’s a problem. Mike Dunleavy is a very good defensive coach and extremely prepared for each game. But the Clippers offense, which relies heavily on isolations, is unimaginative in the extreme. So frankly, the offense ends up being almost completely dependent on the existence of exploitable matchups, and the degree to which an individual player is ‘on.’ So if Mobley or Cassell is being defended by a smallish guard, then they’ll go into the post six plays in a row. And if the shots are falling, then the Clippers have a chance. (If Cassell plays Saturday, watch for him to go to work if he’s defended by Farmar.) Recent Clipper wins against Toronto and New Jersey and Atlanta were all about Al Thornton winning his matchup in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to say that the team doesn’t run the occasional set, and at times they look pretty good doing it. But it’s all pretty ‘Arthur Murray’ by the numbers. If they run the set and it works, great. If the defense denies the first option, then they go to an iso and stand around. The team’s spacing is rarely good, and they don’t have enough shooters to take advantage when they force double teams. Spacing seems like such a basic concept, you would think every NBA player would be in the right place all the time. But the simple fact is that very few teams actually do it well (the Lakers, Suns and Spurs come to mind), so it must be harder than it looks. The Clippers’ spacing sucks.

All teams are better when they run, but all coaches want to be in control. Still one key for the Clippers is definitely early offense. If they can push the ball (just a little), then good things happen. Maybe they get the ball to Kaman in deeper low post position because the defender hasn’t had a chance to push him off the block. Or maybe they just get into their set that much earlier, giving them more time to re-set if they need to. But instead what tends to happen is that they make an entry pass with about 14 seconds into the possession, and by the time they pass out of the double team, there’s not enough time for anything other than a desperation heave with 2 on the shot clock. The Clippers probably lead the league in those.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers had better not sleep on tonight’s game — the Clippers destroyed Utah last night. (Yes, the final score was just a 4 point differential, but that’s because of a late 11-0 Utah run, the Clippers dominated from the middle of the second quarter on.) The Clips are 5-5 in their last 10 and playing decent ball.

Part of that is how well Corry Maggette is playing — he is shooting 59.1% (eFG%) in his last 10 games, including 53.8% from three. As Kevin at ClipperBlog points out today, when Maggette is hitting the outside shot he’s very tough to stop because he is such a good penetrator and so strong doing so (sort of how it is hard to stop LeBron’s drives because of his strength). It’s hard, but try not to foul this guy in the paint.

Two other Clips playing very well right now — rookie Al Thorton (27 points in 29 minutes last night, going 10 of 18 from the floor and getting to the line 9 times) and Chris Kaman. Kaman is running the court well and setting up deep position early in the clock, the Lakers need to get back with him and not let him get the ball too deep.

Looking at notes from the previous meetings of these teams, the Clippers have focused their defense on Kobe, doubling him quick and often (especially on the pick-and-roll). The way the other Lakers are playing right now we should be able to make them pay if that strategy doesn’t change. Other guys should be getting good looks, they just need to knock them down.

Where you can watch: The game is at 7:30 (Pacific) on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles if you want the Lakers broadcasters, KTLA 5 for the Clippers quality broadcast team and League Pass nationally.

Kurt

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39 responses to Preview and Chat: The Los Angeles Clippers

  1. The Clippers are a tough bunch but the Lakers are not the Lakers of old. The Lakers have finally proven that they are capable of winning the games they are suppose to win. The latest loss that was an expected win for the team was to the Atlanta Hawks and before that, the Cavs. Two solid teams when truly looked at from a profile. Either way, the Lakers have a great run of games coming up and i’m looking forward to seeing a 10-0 in the last 10 column!

  2. not to be a hater, but I don’t really care for the Clippers announcers. i feel like they’re a little more openly homerish than I’m comfortable with. otherwise, they’re pros.

  3. For some reason, I always think of “Major League” when I hear them in clippers telecasts.

  4. Lamar Odom is back! February 23, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Lakers 116
    Clippers 93

    With big games for The Machine and Farmar

    That’s all, folks!

  5. Lakers Bringing Fear To The NBA February 23, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Could be a tricky game for the Lakers. Clippers always plays them tough. They definitely have the better team and i expect them to win big. Plus, its not truly an “away” game for the Lakers. Im sure theres plenty of fans from both sides of the court.
    Prediction: LAL 107 LAC 91.

  6. I will be at the game tonight and I expect a very competitive contest. The Clippers have been playing their best basketball of the season and would love to spoil the Lakers current win streak with their name painted on the floor this evening.

    I think that Kobe will be very motivated to slow down Maggette, who has been playing great this season, especially of late. It appears he is really working for that new contract as he will certainly opt out after this season ends. Ever since practicing with team USA, Kobe has been re-energized defensively and everyone knows he welcomes and thrives upon a good challenge.

    It will be interesting to see if Kaman can slow Pau at all, as no one else has been able to do so lately. He has been shooting an unconscious 73% while averaging 24 points over the past 4 games. I guess dunks and short hooks are very high percentage shots for Pau. It is very apparent that he is very comfortable playing with Kobe in pick and rolls as everyone can see, but it also appears his learning curve with the triangle is much better than any Laker acquisition I can remember.

    A funny side note is that Maggette is on my fantasy team and my match up this week is against a team with Kobe. I will still be cheering for Kobe to win this head to head match up and more importantly the game.

  7. Kobe cannot opt out this year. The end of next year is his opt out year.

  8. I think he was referring to Maggette’s contract.

  9. I was referring to Maggette, but I can see how I blended the two player’s comments together and how that was misconstrued. KOBE WILL NOT OPT OUT NEXT YEAR! This is his MVP championship year and I hope to see an extension signed after the parade.

  10. Hey Lakers fans! Your tv commentators are the worst! If i have to listen to a lakers game, i’ll stick with spiro and mychal…but being a clipper fan, it smith and ralphie boy for me!

    Binngooooo!

  11. I’ll take Ralph Lawler over Joel Meyers.

  12. Lakers Bringing Fear To The NBA February 23, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Ill take the late Chick Hearn over eveyone else. Doesnt anyone miss the saying he always says ”no harm, no foul,” ”the mustard’s off the hot dog,” ”ticky-tack foul,” and ”faked him into the popcorn machine.”

    And when the Lakers are going to win….(My personal favorite)..”You can put this one in the refrigerator. The door’s closed, the light’s out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the Jell-O is jiggling.”

    Right now, Laker commentators are ok. Though Chick was the BEST.

  13. I’ve posted this before. If the Lakers replaced Joel Meyers with Harry Shearer would anybody notice?

  14. Kurt, I’m so glad my ISP has your site back up. It makes a world of difference without your “fix”.

    On the Clippers…

    I think the Clips are a Jekyl-Hyde team this year. One day its 100+ pts for a win and next day barely getting to 90 for a whipping.

    On the Blog…

    Kurt I missed those early parts of the season when you actually made predictions.

  15. 13. I would notice — because I love Shearer.

  16. went to the game yesterday….to agree with kurt, clips did come out with a lot of energy after halftime, thats when they made their big run that put the game away. thornton is a beast….the key is getting at them early…clippers hanged in there even when they were down by five, six..i think if the lakers take them out early then they should have no problem winning….next nine games are very winnable…i would love to see 10-0 in the L10 column as well….GO LAKERS!

  17. By the way, early on Memphis/Tenn game is pretty entertaining. Watched a chunk of UCLA today, love their effort and execution, but this is far more fun to watch.

  18. just heard that Kamen is out for tonight, and Cassell is game time decision.
    personally I am glad because I’d like to see Pau have the night off from having to guard and be guarded by Kamen.
    now tonight they just have to play like they’ve been playing, take care of the teams you should handle, like the Clips.

  19. The lakers are dominating in the middle. I can hardly how good they will be when Drew comes back!

  20. Look at Pau run the break. Awesome….

  21. Pau thinks he is the 7 foot point/center. Also LO has a double double in just 2.5 quaters.

  22. NUMBER ONE IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE!

  23. Anyone know what is wrong with VladRad? Has he been in since the middle of the first quarter?

  24. Since the Hornets were defeated by the Spurs, and the Lakers have the tiebreaker over Phoenix, the Lakers lead the entire Western Conference!

    Last night, when I checked the Celtics blog, their poll (by a wide margin) predicted the Lakers would win the West. I think that most of us hope that they win the East–and that Hollinger is right!

  25. vlad had a slight strain in his calf, will travel with the team to seattle according to john black, around half time, so it might change and he stays back, depending on how serious. at least now we can handle something like this, being so deep at sf.
    phx plays detroit and some other tough teams, now’s our chance to open it up a bit, get some distance in the W column.

  26. I don’t think Joel Meyers is that bad, and Stu has always been great since his days with Chick.

    Anyways, I watched Luke Walton today with a little bit of uncertainty. He is definitely not playing as well as he was earlier/last season, even with Ariza injured. I just noticed how much we missed Ariza watching Waltin miss lay ups and not being able to effectively lock down athletic scores such as Maggette and Thornton.

    What do you guys think? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great fundamental player and a good passer, but he hasn’t been performing up to par when the oppertunity is there.

  27. Davirgmay (23): Radman went out with a strained calf muscle. Out for the rest of the game, day-to-day afterward, but he is making the trip.

  28. Lamar Odom is back! February 24, 2008 at 12:46 am

    damn i was real close in my prediction.

    For Tomorrow:

    Lakers 108
    Sonics 97

    Kobe turns it up.

  29. 27-I didn’t watch the second half, but judging by the box score I would say that “Lamar Odom is back!” Get well soon Vlad, you were playing great the past ten games.

  30. Love the Harry Shearer comment, he does sound exactly like him, although Joel really knows the game, so obviously we would all notice. I actually really like Joel and Stu as a team. When the Laker games are on cable and local TV, I always watch Joel and Stu over the garbage national announcers. Our guys just know the game better.

  31. great time to be a lakers fan. I admit, I lost my faith the last couple of years and I am deeply ashamed. But this group just gives me the excitement to watch them play and develop everyday!! GO Lakers!!

  32. This was a Clipper home game, they had won two in a row, including a near blowout against Utah, and they were ready for number three. I hope no one EVER takes a win like this for granted or fails to enjoy the unselfish play.

    In the beginning of this game, Lamar took the initiative, playing like the all star he can be, sending a friendly message to his old pal, Donald Sterling. Lamar had ZERO Oh! No! Dumb three point attempts, but made several long two’s in rhythm at the right time–with great confidence. Lamar played better than his 20/10 indicates. His confidence and joy were contagious.

    Pau showed that he could score just about any time he wanted, scored whenever it was needed, and kept feeding his teammates with great passes. I don’t think Kaman could have stopped him. I think that Pau had the most fun when he successfully led a fast break.

    Even though Derek Fisher both bricked his 3 pointers and fouled himself to the bench in the first half, his teammates kept feeding him, and he hit a whole series of 3’s in the third quarter.

    The Machine was The Machine from the three point line, but I will remember the drive and reverse layup that he must have learned from Kobe.

    Kobe couldn’t hit from outside if his life depended on it, and Dunlevy wasn’t about to get him started, so Kobe decoyed, played great defense, assisted, tied for fourth in points on mostly free throws, and watched his teammates score.

    Jordan Farmar played extra minutes due to Derek’s foul trouble, and made the best of it on offense and defense. Luke the same due to VladRad’s injury. Ronny made some great blocks on defense.

    They won by 18 and weren’ty really challenged, but I watched to the very end. Do the fans get Tacos when the Lakers are visitors at Staples?

    If you weren’t having fun watching this game, why do you watch basketball at all?

  33. boring game. i fell asleep at halftime. let’s hope for better execution tomorrow.

  34. Hi fellas,

    I must say that this season, my favourite team will be the lakers even though i am a big time Spurs fan. That’s how exciting this team has become.

    Em from Finland,

  35. N.O. went from the #1 seed to the #5 seed with a single loss last night. I guess you could say that the Western Conference is competitive this year.

  36. This is incredible. Just this summer, most people were talking about the lakers not reaching 40 wins and now were on pase to reach SIXTY wins!!

    What an incredible turn of events with help of a large Spaniard.

  37. Even though the Lakers won last time they played in Seattle, it was in overtime–and they were saved from a loss in regulation by Kwame Brown.

    Having lost Wally Z to Cleveland and Kurt Thomas to San Antionio, you’d think that the Sonics would be in chaos. Wrong. They’ve won two out of the last three, and could have won all three. They’ve relied on the energy of their young players, who have nothing to lose.

    The Lakers are playing the second game of a back to back. Their string of wins is about as long as it ever gets. Seattle would love to help them end it.

    Should the Lakers nonetheless defy the odds, and happen to win, and should Detroit whip out their patented defense against a former Laker, now cleverly disguised in Phoenix as “The Big Cactus,” and flummox him once again–and bring those Suns down with him, the Lakers would be in sole possession of first place in the West.

    Let’s see if they can win 40 before 20, and keep Phil happy. This would be 39.

  38. After tonight 16 of the final 26 are at home. We got a real chance to win 60 games this year.

    Odom is really really cutting consistently for the first time as a Laker and the results are remarkable.

  39. WOW, we have someone saying that the Lakers have to “defy the odds” to defeat a 15 win, lottery bound Seattle team!

    I don’t think that back to back games are an issue for this young Laker team. They are 7-4 overall in the second of back to backs this season and 6-2 Since December.

    Among those 2nd game victories are 2 wins against Phoenix, a win @ Utah, a win @ Denver and a blow out victory @ New Orleans.

    Now do you really think that the number one team in the Western Conference has to “defy the odds” to pull off this game? I think not.

    To address the close victory last time we played Seattle. I think you have to note that the Lakers were in a bit of disarray having just lost their big man Bynum the previous day.

    We now have Gasol and are rolling, this is a different story and a game we are supposed to win.