When the Washington Wizards allowed the Los Angeles Clippers to come into the Verizon Center on February 4 and absolutely disrespect them by 26 points, it was hardly a shocker. The Wizards were coming off three consecutive losses, the third being a listless performance against lowly Raptors in Toronto. The Clippers, on the other hand, had won four out of five, including two tough victories in Oklahoma City and Denver. Polishing off the Wizards was merely a formality. However, as these teams face off in the Staples Center this evening, their respective lead-ins are slightly different. The Clippers are still rolling along (despite a tough loss in Dallas on Monday), but they are doing so without Chauncey Billups, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Wizards, meanwhile, have won two straight road games over Detroit and Portland by at least 15 points–a franchise first. The one constant has been John Wall, who seems to have learned what Chris Paul already knows: Switching speeds is more important than just having speed. Before the Wizards attempt to prove they belong on the same court with the Clippers, Nick Flynt (@clipperblognick) of the True Hoop Network’s ClipperBlog.com, along with Sam Permutt (@sammyvert) and yours truly, Rashad Mobley (@rashad20) of Truth About It, have three questions to answer.
#1) The 17-9 Los Angeles Clippers are playing well because of, or in spite of, Coach Vinny Del Negro?
NICK FLYNT: I’m leaning on the side of “in spite of.” It’s almost impossible for a coach to screw up with talent like Del Negro has with the Clippers, but the defensive system certainly isn’t making the roster greater than the sum of its parts, and some of the lineups Vinny has rolled out for extended periods have been…unfortunate.
SAM PERMUTT: Having a beloved floor general who also happens to be one of the best guards in the league leading your team (CP3) undoubtedly makes coaching significantly easier. The same can be said for having freak-athletes who have the desire and focus to work hard every day (Blake and DeAndre) and proven veterans (Chauncey, Caron). In a way, all these positives make Del Negro’s job that much tougher when trying to measure his impact. He’s supposed to win, and it can be credited to the personnel that almost every team in the league (except the Heat) would gladly exchange for. At the end of the day, if Del Negro leads the Clippers deep into the playoffs, he’ll be considered a success.
RASHAD MOBLEY: The Clippers are winning NOW because Coach Del Negro is staying out of the way and letting Chris Paul (and Chauncey Billups before the injury) run the team–much like he did with Derrick Rose in Chicago. But come playoff time when the bad teams are weeded out and the good ones advance in part because of savvy coaching moves, I suspect the outcome will be a bit different.
#2) JaVale McGee and Blake Griffin are two freaks of nature athletically. McGee has the wingspan of all three bloggers on this panel combined, and Griffin can dunk on, around, and through 99-percent of the league. There are nights when they can solely rely on this athleticism, and other nights (in McGee’s case, most nights) when their lack of a complete offensive game is exposed–although in fairness, McGee has developed a bit of a hook shot, and Griffin’s jumper is more consistent than it was last year. What does each player still need to add to their offensive arsenal?
FLYNT: For both players, I think the answer is not depending on one dribble moves as much. Blake would probably be better off learning to put the defense off-balance before even using his dribble and then going right to the rim on one move, rather than his current tendency to sometimes over-dribble or take too much time before attacking. I don’t know JaVale’s game nearly as well as I know Blake’s, but he seems to have pretty good rudimentary post skills. The issue is that he doesn’t attack right off the catch and that he counts on his hook shot (as Blake leans on his jumper) too much.
PERMUTT: For Blake, the most important thing is for him to learn how to read pick-and-roll situations. In New Orleans, David West (pick-and-pop) and Tyson Chandler (hard roll) both were at their best. Blake has the potential to succeed against all types of defense, and if he learns to consistently react based on the rotations, he will be even more dangerous. JaVale needs to learn how to read all situations, as well as develop some post moves with shorter, more controlled movements. JaVale seems to want to emulate Blake’s more polished and creative post-moves but may be better suited keeping it simple, where he can still be successful because of his length.
MOBLEY: For JaVale, it is all about getting stronger and putting on what Mark Jackson used to call, “that grown man weight.” The moves McGee has (not counting catching alley-oops from John Wall) involve hook shots and dribbling to the basket from the perimeter. With more strength, he would get deeper post position, and THEN dunk on everyone. Griffin, much like Dwight Howard last year after working with Hakeem Olajuwon, has the full repertoire at his disposal, he just needs more repetition to get comfortable. And like Howard, Griffin needs to become a better foul shooter so teams really fear him in the post. Karl Malone’s averaged 50-percent from the free-throw line over the first two season of his career. Over the following 17 seasons, it never dipped below 70-percent. That should be Griffin’s focus as well.
#3) The Wizards will not get get blown by 26 points this time around because…
FLYNT: Chauncey Billups is injured and Randy Foye is the one starting in his place. More Randy Foye is bad for the Clippers and good for whoever their opponent is, which is his former team.
PERMUTT: The Wizards won’t get blown out by 26 points again because they aren’t that bad. They will also be playing with confidence from two straight road wins. The Wizards top five offensive players (Wall, Young, McGee, Booker and Crawford) have all had monster games in the past week. Confidence is more important than freshness with this team. They may be tired coming off of the Portland win, but they will at least believe in their own abilities. Expect a lot of spectacular highlights from this game on both sides; even if the game isn’t that close, everyone wants to be on the Batum-side of plays like this.
MOBLEY: They will get blown out by at least 27, and there’s no shame in that–not this time around. The Wizards played with confidence last night, which was easy to do when your team shoots 60-percent from the field and 52-percent from three-point land. But the Wizards will be playing for the second consecutive night, and the chances are high that mental and physical fatigue will lower those percentages considerably. Not to mention, the Clippers have been off since Monday, and they will most likely still be smarting from that close loss in Dallas.