Every time we play the Clippers this memory is conjured up. I remember Swirsky calling that on the radio and going into mild cardiac arrest. Nine years later the Raptors are embarking on a potentially lethal four game road trip with some knocks. None of Bosh, Bargnani, Calderon and Turkoglu could go 100% in practice on Wednesday due to various bumps and bruises. All four will play but as Triano so eloquently put it, today was a day of “maintenance” which was necessary after the effort expended against the Bulls (I know, I know). The Raptors have won their last three meetings in the Clippers version of the Staples Center and this is our best chance of picking up a win on this trip which also sees us play Phoenix, Denver and Utah; you do recall what happened the last time we were in Denver and Utah, right?
Blake Griffin’s already out for them and the Raptors do catch another break, second year guard Eric Gordon is out with a strained left groin. He was averaging 19pts and 4asts but has missed the last two games in which the Clippers replaced him with Al Thornton, so they do have some size in the backcourt. Before we look at the matchups, let’s get our ESPN Truehoop partner ClipperBlog‘s take on some things:
A low key player liable to have a big game against a bad defense and why?
Craig Smith has been really active for the Clippers. He’s both brawny and agile. Matched up against the likes of Andrea Bargnani, he should be able to use those attributes to work himself easy shots and second-chance points.
How’s Baron Davis doing?
Much better. He actually recorded his first dunk as a Clipper Wednesday night. More important, his ratio of long jumpers to close-range shots has narrowed considerably this season. Because he’s in better shape, he’s been able to re-establish his dribble-drive game and, as a result, create opportunities for others.
Would you pull the trigger on an Andrea Bargnani for Chris Kaman and Al Thornton trade?
At this point, probably not. Though Thornton is a liability, the Clips are pretty set up front and Kaman is a big part of that. Despite an off night on Wednesday (his first real stinkbomb of the season…he still managed a double-double), he looks great.
Are you secretly a Lakers fan?
I’m secretly a Lamar Odom fan.
The Point: Jose Calderon’s averaging 15pts and 7asts over his last four games and seems to be out of his early funk. Baron Davis is netting 14pts and 7asts but shooting a pathetic 38%, needless to say we should be going under any screen set for him. However, as ClipperBlog said, he is being more aggressive and launching less questionable shots so it could be a matter of how motivated Baron Davis feels to go at Jose Calderon. Since Jose doesn’t appear to in the fullest of health for this game, this could be a turning point. Davis was never a defensive force and definitely isn’t one now, if Calderon could take advantage of the lateral uncertainty of Rose and Hinrich, Davis shouldn’t be a problem. If he does turn out to make a mess of this, there’s always Jarrett Jack who, remember, is supposed to defend these bigger PGs/smaller SGs. Still waiting for a complete game from that guy. I’d even flirt with the idea of putting Wright on Davis.
The Man: An excited DeRozan returns to California and faces Al Thornton who is equally athletic but far more unpredictable. The defensive work for DeRozan should be easy, Thornton’s shooting 38% this year so there’s not going to be a reason to play him tight to start things off. In fact, DeRozan’s the ideal candidate here to provide help to others as long as the rotations are there to back him up. The rookie has no excuse to let Thornton go off, especially since the Clipper’s only crossed double digits twice this season. Offensively, you’d think there would be opportunities to get points for him on the break and such but let’s face it, to get those easy ones you need to be able to rebound properly and we’re 28th in the league at -2.25.
The Wing: If Turkoglu is worth $53 million, he needs to undress Rasual Butler tonight. There are no excuses, this must be a matchup that we win hands down. Turk’s not been very assertive in his playmaking or offense so far and the Clippers present a good opportunity for him to create by getting their bigs in pick ‘n roll situations. I’m expecting a big game from him even though he’s being guarded by a good defensive player. He better not let Butler pull a Marion on him.
The Big: Chris Kaman can’t move and doesn’t like leaving the paint, in fact, his mobility could be worse than Shaq’s. Our bread and butter tonight should be to get Kaman involved in PnR situations where he’s forced to step-out at a 45. After that he should be at Bargnani’s mercy and more importantly, out of rebounding position. Even if Bargnani’s settling for jumpers he should first make sure that there’s somebody other than Camby under the boards, which is not what he did against Chicago. Kaman is a whale who can move Bargnani with one swipe of his dorsal fin and there’s not much Bargnani can do about it except maintain position. Could be a weak-point for us.
The Strong: Emm Vee Pee…Emm Vee Pee…unfortunately, players on .500 teams don’t get MVPs and at some point the team will have to start doing well before he gets the TV time he deserves down south. This is a battle of old and new as Marcus Camby tries to use his length and span to disrupt Bosh. Bosh will have to prove his jumper first because the strategy of barreling in is less likely to work against Camby who can afford to give space and still contest any shot attempted by Bosh. The Raptors are still dead last in defensive rating while the Clippers are a surprisingly respectable 14th, a lot of it has to do with sheer athleticism and passable defensive rebounding (although the margin is worse than the Raptors). They’re above average in every defensive category and are 2nd in the league in blocks at 7.66. Camby is swatting 2.33 and leads the team in rebounding with 9.7. Bosh could have a tough time tonight.
How to win this game
The Clippers are averaging 96.44ppg and if we hold them to that number, we’ll win. Simple as that. Forget about X’s and O’s, just like we showed up and played hard on the first game of the earlier roadtrip against New Orleans, do the same. The first game is always the one to steal and the Clippers happen to be missing a key player in Eric Gordon so life should be easier. We can’t let Camby and Kaman carve us up inside, you know both of these guys will be hitting the glass so both Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson need to match them in effort and commitment to rebound.
Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon need to be initiators of all things offense and they both have favorable matchups which they can take advantage of if the screening is done right and the floor is spread properly, something the Raptors have done very well this year. We can’t rely on Bosh to get his through one-on-one tonight so the wing play will need to be solid. I’m picking Belinelli to come off the bench and have an impact on offense, but both him and Jack should be warned that having a Clipper scrub like Craig Smith or Sebastian Telfair explode on us will result in a Greyhound bus to Phoenix.
The Clippers are 19th in 3pt shooting at 33% so the pack-the-paint strategy could work.
Not much else going on other than Quincy Douby being released which means that we’re going to add someone to the roster. The question is do we add another big or a defensive wing, I’m leaning towards a wing only because Reggie Evans will be coming back in two weeks or so at which point it’ll create a logjam. Unless of course we release Patrick O’Bryant at that time which would make sense, after all, he’s been as useless as anyone on this roster, including my man Douby. This does leave us very thin at the PG because if one of Calderon or Jack goes down it’ll mean Marcus Banks getting a non-practice minute which we can all agree is fatal.
Tonight’s the first Raptor Fan Friday of the season at Sports Centre Cafe on Yonge/St. Clair. First drink on the Realizar.
A man once asked me to run in a marathon, I said no. He said it was for a good cause, I told him to buzz off because I didn’t like waking up at 6AM on a Saturday. This is easier but uglier, do it, it’s for a good cause.
Let’s go Raps, win it for the Q. Oh, and fake trades anyone?