Tonight, the 8-3 Los Angeles Clippers come to Brooklyn to take on the 6-4 Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. The Nets are coming back from a 1-2 west coast trip. There's more than enough storylines to go around for this game: Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams in the battle of the NBA's best point guards in 2010 (sorry D-Will), Blake Griffin and Kris Humphries always go at each other, Brook Lopez & DeAndre Jordan are two opposite forces at center... It figures as a really interesting, good game.
Joining me to talk about tonight's matchup is Charlie Widdoes, Clippers expert, Brooklyn resident, and blogger for the incomparable ESPN TrueHoop Los Angeles Clippers blog Clipperblog. As usual, I'll ask Charlie three questions burning on my mind about his Clippers franchise, and in turn Charlie gets answers to three of his own questions about the Brooklyn Nets.
Charlie on the Los Angeles Clippers
Devin: The Clippers have looked like one of the best teams in the NBA thus far. Has this team played at, above, or below your expectations?
Charlie: They sure have. They've far surpassed my expectations, but mostly because it doesn't seem so fluky. Sure, Jamal Crawford is going to come down to earth, but we know that playing with Chris Paul yields open looks for wings.
I considered the Clippers to be one of the most talented teams in the league before the season, but figured that their coach and lack of front court depth would cost them a top-4 seed in the West. But the young guys (especially DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe) have really stepped up and the defense has become formidable --which seemed impossible last season-- thanks to relentless energy and the aforementioned Jordan and Bledsoe making their mark.
The way they have dominated teams like the Spurs (twice), Lakers, Heat and Bulls has given me reason to believe that they can win it all, provided they can stay healthy.
Devin: Why is Willie Green starting?
Charlie: What an interesting question. Hadn't thought about this one before.
No really, it's all we (or at least I) talk about. The fact that the Clippers are playing this well while Green plays about the same minutes as Bledsoe has to be the 8th Wonder of the World.
Both Vinny Del Negro and Chris Paul feel more comfortable with a veteran, more prototypical 2 like Green starting. To his credit, he does stretch the floor. And they are winning, so as most Clipper fans will tell you, it's not the right time to gripe.
That said, I imagine we'll look back at this time and marvel at the fact that the 22-year old stud who is the team's (hell, maybe the league's) best defender and 13th in the entire NBA in PER is playing backup minutes.
Devin: How do you expect the Clippers to attack the Nets offensively?
Charlie: The Clippers' attack has been varied but somewhat predictable thus far. The starters will run a similar Paul-Griffin high pick and roll offense to the one they ran last year, but with the new wrinkle of Jordan's competent post game, especially his right-handed jump hook.
Perhaps the biggest difference between last year and this year, though, is the activity on D, which leads to more running than we'd expect from a Chris Paul team, and the offensive contributions from the bench. Crawford has been out of this world, and Bledsoe and Barnes are so aggressive, both cutting off the ball and on the offensive glass, that opposing benches never have time to catch their breath.
What makes this team potentially special is that everyone knows their role, and the result has been quality looks aplenty, and matchup nightmares for teams that can't handle the Clippers' size, depth and athleticism.
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
Charlie: By offensive (6th) and defensive (21st) rating, the Brooklyn Nets fit the profile of the 2011-12 Clippers. Have they performed to your expectations so far?
Devin: If anything, they've underperformed. They've had some huge up-and-down swings to get to this point -- and oddly, some of those "ups" came in losses and "downs" in wins -- but in the aggregate, they've played a little worse than I expected. The 6th-21st ratio does seem about right if they'd played a regular schedule, but they've had the easiest in basketball so far. They've allowed teams to hang around, particularly in the third and fourth quarter. Brook Lopez has looked great, and the bench has performed well in stretches, but not everything has "clicked" yet.
Charlie: So proud of Reggie Evans becoming the first player penalized by the anti-flopping rules. Has he been everything you hoped for?
Devin: Everything and more. Reggie can't score, is a passable defender (making him this team's best big defender, outside of perhaps Gerald Wallace, who's barely played), and is completely unreliable as an offensive option. But when a shot goes up, that dude chases EVERYTHING. Even as someone who has seen Evans play in spurts and knows what he brings, the amount of energy he exerts chasing rebounds is uncanny.
Of course, Evans aka Flail Boy Magic Mr. Floptastic had to be the one to make history. This doesn't bode well for his paycheck -- and he's only got four more warnings/fines before he starts missing games -- but Evans sold a call to get a call in a close game against the Los Angeles Lakers. I know it's a detriment to the game and an insult and how dare he and all that jargon, but I'm sure Evans would gleefully write a check for $5,000 if it meant a victory. (Wait, they lost? Oh well.)
Charlie: I can't tell: are the Brooklyn Nets deep? How should the Brooklyn faithful feel when the bench takes the floor against Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes and Co.?
Devin: They are deep, in weird ways: they fit significant roles, but fluctuate between wildly effective and complete duds. The Nets have one of the best second-quarter margins in the league though, primarily because of that second unit. C.J. Watson's value comes in wreaking havoc defensively, creating fast breaks, and hitting his threes. He's had five effective games and five stinkers. Reggie Evans brings the same energy every night, but doesn't always translate to effectiveness. MarShon Brooks has barely cracked the rotation, but has done his Swag Sleeves thing and scored in bunches when he has. (Although he abandon the calf garments in Wednesday's Golden State game, leaving me at a loss.)
And of course -- OF COURSE -- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the incomparable, the Saber-tooth Tiger of the bench mob, the man who shredded the Picture of Dorian Gray, and the inventor of palindromes, the one, the only: Jerry Stackhouse.