When the Knicks played the Clippers back in November, they managed to survive Blake Griffin’s 44-point coming out party and eked out a 124-115 win at Staples Center. Danilo Gallinari and Amare Stoudemire combined to score 70 points, and the Knicks completed a three-game California sweep. A lot has changed since then, so in advance of Wednesday’s rematch I interviewed Breene Murphy of Clipperblog.com to get the scoop on what to expect from L.A.
Knickerblogger: When the Clippers lost to the Knicks on November 20th, their record dropped to a season-low 1-13. Since then, the Clippers have gone 18-18 (as of this week) and have turned some heads with wins over San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. How has this team changed since they last played New York?
Clipperblog: At the time of the Knicks and Clips first game, the Clippers were without Baron and Kaman, and both had been severely underwhelming in their early season play. Bledsoe and Aminu showed sparks, but the Clippers lost 12 of their first 13 games before losing again to the Knicks. But then Blake erupted, turned Mozgov into a worthless prop (although I see signs of Mozgov’s recovery) and while the team didn’t win, there was a resiliency and an identity that evolved.
It’s not quite as strong and balanced right now without Eric Gordon [out several weeks with a wrist injury]. But for a while, the Clips had Blake on the inside, Gordon on the outside, Baron Davis setting the table for everyone, which even made DeAndre Jordan a viable offensive option. Bledsoe’s quick improvement and Aminu’s three point shooting off the bench gave them a spark and they played extremely well with the suddenly loud Clipper home crowd.
However, right now the Clippers have Randy Foye at shooting guard with Gordon out. He’s been surprisingly effective lately, averaging 16 points in the last 7, but he’s still a downgrade from Gordon.
Also, DeAndre has been struggling in the last few games, Aminu’s shot has fallen off a cliff and other than the new 2 PG lineup with Baron, Bledsoe hasn’t had the same impact as before.
Basically, the Clippers are an up and down outfit this year.
Knickerblogger: We’ve all seen Blake Griffin’s highlight-reel dunks, but what else has he done for the Clippers this year to earn himself an All-Star selection?
Clipperblog: Everyone that watches the Clips has made the joke that Blake has made Baron care again, doesn’t that say it all? I do think it’s partly the dunks, because bringing excitement to the Clippers is no small feat, and the team has always needed this kind of positivity. But he’s also just a good all-around player. He has a simple, effective post game, he handles the ball well in transition (just ask Gallo), he passes well (the only PF that averages more assists is Boris Diaw), his shot isn’t great but it’s functional, he’s the hardest worker on the team and he has a resiliency that the team feeds from. He’s way more than the Clippers thought they would get in the first year and he’s looking like a future MVP. That’s how good he is. I don’t mean to say he’s perfect, his defense and his free throw shooting are pretty terrible, but he’s a cornerstone player that has made the entire Clipper Organization think positively. Consider that last statement.
Knickerblogger: Is there a player on the Clippers besides Griffin that we should keep an eye out for? Has anyone stepped up to fill the void of Eric Gordon?
Clipperblog: Foye has done admirably filling in for Gordon, but Gordon is the type of player that the Clippers can’t replace. Gordon is their crunch time scorer, their best defender and the player that the Clips look for big buckets down the stretch, so his injury is brutal for this team, especially on an 11 game road trip where momentum shots in the third and fourth quarters can salvage some wins. As for the players outside of Blake and EJ, there is a cadre of young talents. DeAndre Jordan is still inconsistent but he’s only 22. He has an amazing athletic ability, that allows him to block and dunk well. He still finds himself out of position and over eager on defense and he has no post game at all, but he complements Blake very well because he doesn’t require touches. Also, he’s a surprisingly good outlet passer.
Al-Farouq Aminu has been fascinating. After shooting 27 percent from three in college, he came out making everything. He’s come back down to earth quite a bit (35.5 percent now). But there is still the potential of his three point shooting ability, his great rebounding for a small forward and he has the hands to get steals and blocks. Also, he is so much fun to watch on the fast break where he’s wildly in control, sort of.
Eric Bledsoe is the player on the team that has the most upside other than Blake and EJ (Eric Gordon). Bledsoe is as fast as any player in the league and will make some of the most amazing athletic plays you’ll see (even if some are called fouls). This comparison will sound somewhat ludicrous considering the jump that Westbrook has made in the last months, but before that I thought Bledsoe shared some similarities. Both are uber-athletic guards that came from elite programs, played out of position (Wall took Bledsoe’s PG time, Collison took Westbrook’s), and can play hard nosed defense. I think that Bledsoe showed a lot of growth in his time starting, but has leveled off since then. Although, some of that that could have described Keyon Dooling at a point in his career, too. So expectations are tempered.
Clipperblog Insider Point #1: The Clippers start out hot in the first, they go cold in the third. If they’re losing, they’ll make a run in the fourth. It’s annoyingly predictable and not nearly as effective as Clipper fans would like. If the Knicks are down at the half, I don’t think the Knicks fans should fret, because I know I don’t feel comfortable.
Clipperblog Insider Point #2: Watch for the alley-oops. The Clippers love them. What makes them different with the Clippers is that they are so predictable, and can be, because Blake and DeAndre are so much more athletic than the players that guard them. Blake and DeAndre just get behind their defender, point up, and then jump for a Baron/Bledsoe/Foye pass. It happens at least a couple times a game, often on fast breaks.
Clipperblog Insider Point #3: In line with the fastbreaks, Aminu is fascinating on the run. Sometimes he threads 3-4 players for a layup, sometimes he gets a charging foul. But he never runs in a straight line and it’s always exciting, often times it’s funny.