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The CW (Clipper Weekly): March Madness

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Current Record: 29-33, 3rd Pacific, 8th West

Last Week: Let’s see, the Clippers lost all three games they played by an average of 14 points. But with the madness going on in the NBA this season, the Clippers continue to hold on to the last playoff spot in the West, despite their best efforts to mail it in. They even inched closer to the sixth spot by losing one less game than the Lakers last week. Such is life in this bizarro world where only 12 of the league’s 30 teams are above .500 and the “contenders” seem to be trying harder to lose and stay in the lottery for the 1% chance that they’ll win the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant sweepstakes, rather than trying to get into the playoffs. Teams six through twelve in the Western Conference standings (Lakers, Denver, Clippers, Sacramento, Golden St., New Orleans, Minnesota) went a combined 7-17 last week, with five of the wins coming against each other (in other words, someone had to win).

The newly-signed Jason Hart is getting nearly all of the point guard minutes with Sam Cassell barely able to play because of his injuries, and Daniel Ewing back to his more appropriate role on the pine. While Hart is doing an adequate job, the Clippers’ already pedestrian offense plays at an even slower pace because he’s not as proficient at getting out in transition. The Clips failed to take advantage of the absences of injured Spurs star Tony Parker and suspended Pistons hothead Rasheed Wallace. Whereas those elite teams found ways to compensate for key absences, LA is showing no such ability.

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Quick Take: The team looks like it’s checked out at this point, despite being in the playoff race. Their body language exudes no confidence, their play offers no intensity. It’s not even like past Clippers teams where individual players would try to shine on their own in order to attract a lucrative free-agent contract somewhere else. Mike Dunleavy’s outburst and subsequent ejection during yesterday’s game didn’t really seem to make any impact at all, as the Pistons immediately increased their lead without much fight from the Clips.

The Clippers embark on a difficult six-game road trip (and we know how the road has treated the Clippers this season), which is shaping up as the pivotal moment of the season. It is very easy to see the Clippers going 1-5 or 0-6, which could bury them in the standings if a couple of their rivals start playing better. However, an upset win could provide the spark to snap the team out of its post-Livingston funk and help them gain some momentum for the final three-week push.

This Week:

Tuesday: at San Antonio (KTLA-CW, 5:00 pm) - uh oh, it's those Spurs again, who still haven't lost in over a month (winning streak at 12 games and counting). They're flat out playing terrific ball, and it would be a shock if the Clippers even stayed within ten points of them. Unlike the Clips, the Spurs are actually utilizing their entire roster for quality minutes, enabling Gregg Popovich to regulate the minutes of Tim Duncan, et al., yet still run teams off the court. Of course, having Duncan, Parker, and Manu Ginobili enables Pops to do a lot of things most teams can't.

Wednesday: at Houston (KTLA-CW, 5:30 pm) - one team that knows nothing about packing in after devastating injuries is the Rockets. Yes, they've had plenty of experience during the last three seasons dealing with Tracy McGrady's back problems and Yao Ming's brittle bones, but the fact that they continue to play well in spite of their one or both of their stars is admirable. Yao returned from his broken leg last week after a 32-game absence, giving Houston the best healthy inside-outside combination in the league. However, the supporting cast, in particular Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and the ageless wonder Dikembe Mutombo, has done all of the dirty work necessary to give the Rockets the ability to win games through superior toughness in tight spots: they're 11-6 in games decided by five points or less.

Friday: at Charlotte (PRIME, 4:00 pm) - the Bobcats have lost eight straight, coinciding with Emeka Okafor being sidelined with a calf injury. Okafor may be back by Friday, which will make it more difficult for Corey Maggette to get to the line 20 times as he did when the two teams met a couple of weeks ago. The Clips were getting owned in that game by Gerald Wallace, who got to the hoop at will against anybody Dunleavy threw at him. Wallace may still get his, but the Clippers must prevent one-dimensional scorers Matt Carroll and the wispy-mustached Adam Morrison from getting open looks to win this game.

Sunday: at New Jersey (KTLA-CW, 3:00 pm) - the Nets are also struggling, losers of five straight to fall out of the postseason picture (and even behind the, gulp, Knicks). The first game between the two teams was perhaps the most memorable game of the season, with the Clippers blowing an 18-point second half lead, but winning on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Cuttino Mobley. Richard Jefferson just returned from ankle surgery last week, giving New Jersey its three-headed perimeter monster, along with Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, but the Nets are so weak inside, Chris Kaman might actually put some points on the board.

AP photo by Gus Ruelas