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The CW (Clipper Weekly), 9th Edition
Current Record: 19-21, 3rd Pacific, 9th West
Last Week: The Clippers mostly took advantage of a soft spot in the schedule and some fortunate timing to move up a spot in the West rankings. The Warriors, who the Clips passed in the standings, had only eight healthy players on Monday, yet it was enough to handily beat a mostly healthy Clippers squad (Tim Thomas sat out with an ear infection). Coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. got to listen to the Oakland crowd vociferously boo his son Mike Dunleavy Jr., despite the fact that junior Dunleavy played perhaps his best game of the season with 18 and 13. By Wednesday, the Warriors had consummated an eight-player trade with the Pacers, leaving Golden St. with only six healthy players. Apparently, this was more to the Clippers liking, as they won a closer than expected bout with the Warriors’ depleted roster at Staples. Memphis provided no such challenge, and the Clips swept the season series against the lowly Grizzlies with a 21-point blowout win on Saturday.
Quick Take: Even after a 2-1 week, the Clippers don’t inspire a great deal of confidence. Winning teams take advantage of weak, undermanned opponents; they go for the kill when they have a chance. In reality, the Clips should have gone 3-0 given the injury problems of the Warriors. During Wednesday night’s win, the Clippers opened up a 23-point third quarter lead, then relaxed and nearly coughed up the whole thing despite their overwhelming personnel advantage. This lack of mental toughness is at the heart of the team’s inconsistent performance and a significant departure from last season. Sam Cassell has been playing great since returning from injury (19.7 points, 12 dimes last week) but as the emotional leader, he’s got to find a way to inspire some of his teammates to step up as well.
Tuesday: vs. Milwaukee (PRIME, 7:30 pm) - the Clippers catch another break with the Bucks (call them Warriors east), who are without starters Michael Redd (knee), Mo Williams (shoulder), Bobby Simmons (ankle), and potentially Charlie Villanueva (shoulder). Redd was sixth in league in scoring when he went down two weeks ago, and the Bucks have failed to score 100 points in the six games since his injury (losing five of six). The Clips must capitalize on Milwaukee's lack of firepower and clamp down on D.
Thursday: vs. New Jersey (TNT, 7:30 pm) - the Nets, expected to be the runaway winners of the Atlantic Division, have just recently found their groove, winning nine of eleven to get back to .500 and first place (yes, you read that correctly). Fans will be flocking to Staples to catch a glimpse of Vince Carter's acrobatic dunks and Jason Kidd's dynamic passing, but the Clippers will be focused on turning the game into a halfcourt contest, pounding the ball down low to take advantage of the inexperienced Nets' frontcourt which is without starters Nenad Krstic (knee) and Richard Jefferson (ankle).
Saturday: vs. Minnesota (KTLA-CW, 7:30 pm) - this one is huge. The Clippers turned in perhaps their best performance of the season in a stirring one-point road win on the 10th. At 20-19, Minnesota sits only a game and a half ahead of the Clips for the last playoff spot, and realistically represents the only team that the Clips can actually catch, barring a major improvement by LA or a major collapse by one of the contenders. The T-Wolves will be at the tail end of a brutal five game, seven day West Coast road trip, so the Clippers should look to push the tempo and score a lot of points in transition.
AP photo by Matt Sayles