The CW (Clipper Weekly): Together Everyone Achieves More
Current Record: 36-37, 3rd Pacific, 8th West
It’s amazing how sometimes a little adversity can galvanize a group of people and inspire them to achieve more than was thought possible. OK, so in the Clippers’ case, they’re basically achieving what was expected at the beginning of the season. Nevertheless, after utterly disappointing play for most of the season, the Clips seem to have finally found their groove just in the nick of time, playing their best three-week stretch of ball despite the absence of their leader of today (Sam Cassell) and leader of tomorrow (Shaun Livingston).
While the Clippers were unable to close out a nailbiter against a tough Houston squad, the team responded with back-to-back road wins, including breaking a Washington Generals-like ten year losing streak in Sacramento (17 games), and a laugher against Portland. The Clips have maintained a high level of execution, particularly on offense, which means a lot of people are getting touches. And surprise, surprise, when people are getting the ball and the team is winning six out of seven, the clubhouse mood gets a little bit lighter. Corey Maggette is happier with his increased role. Jason Hart has gone from in-over-his-head to team catalyst. Chris Kaman… well, he’s still playing like a stiff, so not everything has changed for the better.
Yes, that is a feeling of anticipation that is arising from Clipper Nation once again. Despite the fact that most fans expected the team to be closer to title contention than the lottery, this is still the same franchise that has four playoff appearances in its 23 years in LA and has never had two consecutive winning seasons. Just getting to be a part of the dance means something to the Clips. It may not seem like a big deal to the Showtime crowd, but to even be validated as an above-average team (and not just a one-year wonder) is significant. It represents a hope that Clipper fans can dream bigger.
Last year's success was predicated on a team concept, working together on defense and spreading the wealth on offense. It was this togetherness that resonated with fans - that and the whole winning thing. For most of the year, the Clippers have been a collection of individuals rather than a team. Big difference. Painful to watch. But the team is beginning to resemble last year more, with five or even six players routinely scoring in double figures and active on both ends of the court.
If there is any bad news, it's that the injury bug continues to claim additional victims. Maggette missed Saturday's win after taking an elbow to the chest, and is questionable for the big crosstown showdown against the
Kobes Lakers on Wednesday. Cassell is showing no signs of returning from his back injury. No, Kaman isn't injured. Seriously. He's just bad.
#6 Lakers (39-34): vs. Denver (36-36), at Clippers (36-37), at Seattle (30-43)
#7 Denver (36-36): at Lakers (39-34), vs. Sacramento (30-42), vs. Dallas (61-12), at Clippers (36-37)
#8 Clippers (36-37): vs. Lakers (39-34), vs. Denver (36-36)
Golden St (35-39): at Houston (47-27), at Memphis (19-56), at San Antonio (52-21)
Decide it on the court. That's the rub for the Lakers, Nuggets, and Clippers, who have a little round robin action this week with the opportunity to determine their own playoff destiny. Granted, the race for #6 isn't exactly the most meaningful, especially when considering the negligible difference of getting a first-round facial by the Spurs (#3), Suns (#2), or Mavs (#1), by far the three best teams in the Association. What's more important for each of these teams is to finish on a good note, given all of the turmoil that all three have faced this year, to build some forward momentum for next season.
The Lakers can all but wrap the #6 seed with a couple of wins, while the Nuggets and Clippers can give themselves some more buffer from the Warriors. With Golden St. playing two extremely tough road games, a strong week by either Denver or LAC could virtually clinch a playoff spot.
Wednesday: vs. Lakers (FSW2/FSN, 7:30 pm) - the Lakers have won both games in the series, but it's been four months since the two teams met, and much has changed in that time. What's not different is the fact that the Clips have to find an answer for #24, who's averaged 34.5 in the two meetings. Q. Ross, who's been primarily collecting splinters on the bench, will probably have the first crack, especially with Maggette ailing. However, with the Lakers apparently allergic to playing anything resembling defense (nearly allowing 108 points per game over the last 15), EB should be licking his chops at getting to face their highly inconsistent front line. More on this game later in the week.
Saturday: vs. Denver (KTLA-CW, 7:30 pm) - the Nuggets continue to putter along, waiting for the burst that the Iverson trade was supposed to bring which hasn't materialized. On paper, it feels like Denver should be better, with the NBA's top scoring duo of Melo and AI ringing up 56 points a game, plus two tough bigs in Nene and Marcus Camby. But the two superstars haven't really figured out how to elevate each other's game on offense, while both are suspect on defense. The Clips need to make it a halfcourt game since Denver's offense is much weaker in the set offense (read: isolation plays for the two stars) than in transition.
AP photo by Rick Bowmer