NBA

Rants and Raves: Clippers get closer

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Going into the Clippers' 103-95 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday, L.A. had won five of its past six. Even though they did come up short, the Clippers battled Utah on even terms through three of the four quarters, thereby demonstrating that the latest edition of this historically forlorn franchise now has a viable future.

With Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Al-Farouq Aminu getting most of the frontcourt minutes, the Clips’ bigs are young, athletic and eager to compete.

With his sure hands and bouncy hops, Griffin has become the NBA’s newest dunk-o-maniac. He racked up 30 points and 12 rebounds against  Utah. Many of L.A.’s offensive sets are centered around him, primarily because he’s such an alert and unselfish passer. Otherwise, Griffin’s power spins are extremely effective post-up moves.

If only the rookie could shoot — he was 3 for 8 from the free-throw line and, before sinking a meaningless last-minute trey, 0 for 2 on his jumpers. Indeed, if Griffin is more than one dribble away from the basket, his offensive repertoire is severely limited. That said, he’s still a monster in the lane.

Griffin plays hard on defense, but he has little to show for his efforts.

Jordan, a terrific shot-blocker coming to the ball from the weak side, had seven swats. But when his opponent turns and faces, Jordan doesn’t quite know how to react. As a result, Al Jefferson torched him for 31 points, leaving me to wonder why he was never double-teamed.

Aminu has a nice stroke — he went 3 for 6 from the outlands — and can jump to the moon. There isn’t much razzle or dazzle in his handle, but the rookie can zip his way through the smallest opening in any defense.

Other major players included Baron Davis, who often over-handled but looked to pass (nine assists) more than to shoot (3 for 6). Although he’s still tricky with the ball, Davis’ explosiveness is a thing of the past because of his chronic injuries. These days, he’d best serve the team as a backup point.

Young Eric Bledsoe is the presumed point of the future. He’s certainly quick enough to play there, but he makes too many rookie mistakes with the ball — forced passes, poor clock management and general confusion. Bledsoe also has to demonstrate he can knock down open jumpers.

The Clippers' future would be brighter if either Bledsoe grew up in a hurry or the team could procure a veteran point guard who has more zip in his legs than Davis.

Eric Gordon is a shooter who can pass instead of being a passer who can shoot. Instead of routinely creating his own scoring opportunities, he needs to come off of weak-side screens. Still, Gordon is the only reliable shooter on the team.

Ryan Gomes is little more than a serviceable backcourt player.

At the start, the Clippers showed terrific ball and player movement. High screen/rolls, baseline snakes and a few handoffs. That’s why they led 31-23 after the first quarter. But then Jerry Sloan ordered his subjects to play a zone defense and the game turned.

The Clippers stopped moving, were hesitant in their passing and wound up taking too many perimeter jumpers. Even when the Jazz reverted to a man-to-man defense after the intermission, L.A. couldn’t get out of its jump shot-oriented rut. Their stagnant offense was a major reason why the Clippers tallied only three buckets in the third quarter and were outscored 30-13.

What the Clippers sorely lack is a versatile, low-post scoring threat. Injured Chris Kaman theoretically fills the bill, but his presence in the pivot would push Griffin two to three dribbles from the rim and negatively impact the merry dunkster’s impact.

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At the other end of the court, the Clippers never successfully coped with the perpetual curls and cuts resulting from Utah’s weak-side and cross-lane screens. Also, L.A. collapsed so furiously on the visitors’ ball penetration that kick-out passes created numerous uncontested jumpers.

In sum, the Clips are young, willing and perhaps two players and two seasons from being able to compete for 48 minutes with the NBA’s elite squads.

RANTS

So Shaq was fined 35 Gs for questioning the decisions made by Bob Delaney’s crew that fouled him out in 11 minutes the other night. No surprise there because Shaq has been victimized by Delaney’s nit-picking calls throughout his career. In Orlando, L.A., Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and now Boston, Shaq has hardly been able to scratch himself without Delaney tooting him for a foul. The NBA hasn’t seen this kind of bias since Earl Strom relentlessly picked on Rick Barry.

Has Michael Jordan done anything to promote the on-court fortunes of the Charlotte Bobcats? Perhaps M.J. would better serve the franchise by confining his activities to playing golf, gambling in casinos and advertising underwear.

Marcin Gortat is a highly overrated player whose flaws are minimized when he plays minimal minutes. With more daylight available to him in Phoenix, look for Gortat to be in constant foul trouble.

Earl Clark is a throw-in on the deal and has no idea how to play team-oriented ball.

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Since Vince Carter would rather initiate his scoring opportunities from a dead stop, he’ll have some trouble adjusting to the constant movement required by the Suns' free-wheeling offense.

Jason Richardson can hit open 3-balls and also score on turn-around jumpers in the low post. But he plays no defense and plays offense only when the spirit moves him. Perhaps playing for a legitimate contender will rouse his chops on a nightly basis. In any case, J.J. Redick plays better without the ball, is a more reliable long-distance dialer and plays better position defense.

Is Rashard Lewis still in the league?

RAVES

Mickael Pietrus is a mistake player whose misplays were extremely noticeable and costly in the Magic’s slow-down game plan. In Phoenix’s speedball offense, however, his errors will hardly be noticed. But his defensive prowess and ability to knock down open treys will prove to be valuable assets.

While he tries to get familiar with his new mates, Gilbert Arenas has been guilty of over-passing and forcing shots. But he will eventually prosper as Orlando’s sixth man because his primary responsibility will be to score. Plus, he fully understands the Magic is unalterably Jameer Nelson’s team. The downside of Arenas’ game is the lack of explosiveness caused by his perpetual injuries.

Look for Hedo Turkoglu to get makeable shots by trailing fastbreaks and positioning himself behind the 3-point arc on either wing. Moreover, he’ll thrive on Nelson’s kick-outs, the necessity of opponents to double Dwight Howard and on high screen set to his left. This latter arrangement suits Turk best since his pet move is to dribble left and then pull up. Getting him the ball in a screen/roll situation will also maximize his ability to make judicious passes when moving left.

VOX POPULI

Once again, LeBron James has made a fool of himself. After suggesting that the NBA dismantle several of its weakest teams, his attempt to spin his comments was even weaker and more ill-advised. His claim to not know the meaning of “contraction” reminds me of what one coach had to say about his star player: “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear.’ Unfortunately, there are a lot of other words he doesn’t know the meaning of.”

Here’s an email I recently received that provides the most suitable response to LBJ that I’ve read:

Hey there, Charley, I’m a longtime reader of your columns who’s based in the UK, who loves the game and has to stay up into the small hours to watch it! I just wanted to make a point about LeBron’s opinion about how much the NBA would be improved by eliminating some of the weakest franchises. Apart from the obvious drawback of putting a lot of players and coaches out of work, LeBron seems to think that fans only want to watch the "star players." While this may be true for some people there are plenty of fans who actually enjoy the total game. As for me, I like watching the hustle players, the role players and the energy guys just as much as the All-Stars. I appreciate Nocioni taking a charge as much as a Josh Smith dunk or LeBron pinning a layup against the glass. Watching the "lesser names" have their moment in the sun makes me feel that the game is for everyone, not just the billionaires. Whose heart wasn't warmed when Sundiata Gaines pulled off that buzzer beater last year? Take that away and what do you have? An ego league full of shoe salesmen.

Keith Thomson,
Maidenhead, England

Tagged: Clippers, Magic, Suns, Jazz, Baron Davis, Al Jefferson, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe

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