The jury is still out whether the Clippers have put together a playoff caliber team or just a NBA fantasy roster. They have talent but the question is whether they have the chemistry, defined roles and enough shots and minutes to keep their roster happy. The Clippers are currently 4-2 going into their game Tuesday night at Portland. They have the best record in the Pacific Division but have played a very light schedule so far in this compressed 66 game schedule. The Clippers will be playing their first back to back game when they face the Heat on Wednesday night.
The Miami Heat our off to an 8-1 start to the 2011-12 season and have the best record in the NBA. They have three games left on their five game road trip and will be also be playing back to back games versus the Clippers. Dwayne Wade has been out of the Heat lineup for the past week and has still not been cleared by the Heat training staff to return to the floor. The training staff is still not sure what is causing him so much discomfort in his left foot. He is questionable for not only tomorrow’s game against Golden State but also their game on Wednesday night versus the Clippers.
Keys for Clippers:
Defense: The Clippers have amassed a tremendous offensive roster but the have not shown that they have the individual or collective talents to be a hard nosed defensive team. Defense starts with the ability contain the ball on the perimeter and keep it out of the paint. Chris Paul is a tremendous basketball player but he has not shown the ability to keep the quick, jet like point guards out of the paint. Paul has tremendous hands and instincts but needs to improve his ability to contain the ball 1-1. Recently Brandon Jennings torched him for 21 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. He exposed Paul for his inability to defend quick, jet like point guards. Billups is currently starting at the 2G and although he has been a tremendous defensive player throughout his career, he has never had to guard the premier shooting guards in the league and at his age and height this will be a big challenge all year for him and the Clippers. Caron Butler has always been a tough defender who is not afraid of defending the best perimeter players in the NBA. Griffin works on the defensive end but needs to improve in every facet on the defensive end. He needs to guard better 1-1, get involved in blocking shots and rebound at a higher level. DeAndre Jordan is a big time shot blocker but does not totally understand defensive schemes and responsibilities. Jordan has a tendency to fade in and out of the game at both ends of the floor.
The Heat will tax the Clippers defensively in two areas: transition defense and points in the paint. The Clippers must have great balance offensively and sprint back and load to the ball in transition. The Heat are tremendous in the open court with James and Wade (if he plays) finishing on the break. If the Clippers are not disciplined in this area they have no chance of defeating the Heat. Secondly the Heat are dominating opponents in points in the paint. With the ability to post James and get him paint points and the Heats 1-1 abilities of James and Wade the Heat are overpowering opponents. The Clippers must defend the perimeter and keep the ball out of the paint and they must have a scheme to deal with James post ups. If they cannot control the paint the Heat will easily win this game.
Rebounding: The Clippers have not only struggled defensively but also on the glass. They are currently last in the NBA in rebounding after six games. The Clippers are averaging 35.3 rpg and have a minus 7.5 differential against their opponents. It is imperative that the Clippers have a much improved effort on the glass versus the Heat. The Heat have a long and athletic frontline with Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Lebron James. In addition Lebron James is capable of attacking the glass and he must be boxed out. The Clippers must get a big effort from Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Brian Cook,Reggie Evans and Caron Butler on the glass in order to defeat the Miami Heat.
Blake’s Growth: The Heat our not only a playoff team but also a title contender. They understand scouting reports and can carry them out to every detail. Blake Griffin is a tremendously talented power forward. He is currently sixth in the NBA in scoring at 24.7 ppg. However he has a fatal flaw to his offensive repertoire. He cannot shoot the 12-18 foot jumper with the consistency needed to be a complete player. If he could shoot that shot it would totally open up his drive game and make him a devastating pick and pop player. Griffin passes up wide open shots because he does not trust his jump shot. Instead he drives into traffic and gets himself into trouble and it leads to bad turnovers. The Heat will play off Griffin and bait him into shooting his jump shot. There will be very few lob dunks versus the tremendous half court defense of the Heat. Griffin must eventually improve his jump shot so that he can have a more diversified game and have more success verus the top defensive teams in the NBA.
Offensive Potential: The jury is still out if Vinny DelNegro can maximize the offensive potential of this team. He has been blessed in both Chicago and now in LA to have two of the best point guards in the NBA. However that can be a curse also because he needs to diversify his offense and maximize the abilities of not only Paul but Griffin, Billups, Butler and Williams. What made the Dallas Mavericks so difficult to defend last year in the playoffs was not only the tremendous talent and shooting ability but their ability to move the ball, share it and make the extra pass. Vinny Del Negro must get his team to do this versus the stifling half court defense of the Miami Heat. If the Clippers are too predictable offensively and the Heat can lock in on their half court offense it will be a long night for the Clippers. This will be a challenge for the Clippers all year long. DelNegro must grow his offense little by little and find ways to get all of their players involved and maximize their abilties. He must attempt to use all types of pick and rolls, post ups and catch and shoot players to make them a bit less predictable.
Zone Defense: The Clippers must continue to work on their man to man defense in order to become a playoff team. But in the mean time do not be surprised if the Clippers do not utilize a zone defense versus the Heat. The Clippers have Dean Demopolous on their staff and his specialty is teaching the match up zone defense. Look for the Clippers to utilize the zone to stop the penetration of James and Wade and force the Heat into taking perimeter shots. The Heat have struggled with the zone at times not only last year but early in this season. The Clippers may not be able to stay in the zone for a long time, but they may utilize it at various times of the game to stop momentum and make the Heat make shots. With a long back line of Jordan, Griffin and Butler it will be difficult for the Heat to score along the baseline and on the boxes. If Paul and Billups can limit dribble penetration up top the Clippers may be able to limit the effectiveness of the Heat offense.
Keys for the Heat:
Post James early and often: Lebron James has come back better than last year. He has remodeled his game and he has become an unstoppable offensive force. James is the leading scorer in the NBA at 30.2 ppg. In addition he is shooting (.601 fg%). Lebron is on the same page as his coach and teammates. He talks about defensive stops and fundamental offensive basketball. The biggest change that James and Spoelstra have brought to the Heat playbook is the emphasis on posting James and getting him touches closer to the box. James is currently shooting (58-74 .784%) in the paint. There is no one in the NBA that can match up to James and stop him on the block. In contrast James is currently shooting (31-72 .430%) on mid range shots and he is (0-2) from behind the three point arc. Look for Spoelstra to post James early and often versus the Clippers. The Heat understand spacing and have diligently practiced how to handle double teams of James. If and when the Clippers bring the double team look fro the Heat to space the court properly, dive bigs to the rim and find Shane Battier, Dwayne Wade, and Mario Chalmers on the perimeter.
Defense wins championships: Since Pat Riley took over as the coach of the Heat this team has been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA year in and year out. Defense is the mantra of the Miami Heat. Erik Spoelstra preaches defense every day, and it it is the emphasis of every practice. The Heat held the NJ Nets to only (.337 fg%) this past Saturday and have held their last three opponents all below (.400 fg%). The biggest bonus of the Heat defense is that it triggers their transition game. When the Heat get stops, and rebound the ball they get out in the open court. The Heat are built to run and with their speed and ability to finish in the open court their defense is the key to their ability to get easy baskets. The Heat are currently scoring 21.1 points on the fast break. This is almost a 7 point improvement over last years average of 14.2 ppg on the break. Look for the Heat to lock in on Blake Griffin and Chris Paul and make a statement versus the LA Clippers. When they get stops look for them to run the court, attack in the open court and finish and get to the free throw line all game long.
Offensive precision: With little preparation due to shortened training camps and exhibition season the Heat have taken advantage of the continuity of their roster. The Heat are currently and offensive juggernaut. They lead the NBA not only in scoring but in FG %. They have tremendous offensive familiarity and chemistry. They know exactly where everyone is on the court on every offensive set. The worst thing for the Clippers coming into this game is that the Heat our getting better and better. They have two of the best 1-1 players in the NBA. James and Wade can beat any opponent on a give night by themselves. They have a capable big man in Bosh who can get 20 points when needed. Spoelstra has utilized his two point guards Mario Chalmers and rookie Norris Cole splendidly. Battier has the potential to kill the Clippers if they decide to double the Lebron James post ups. The Clippers are a weak defensive team at this point in the season. The Heat will push the ball in transition and take advantage of the undisciplined Clippers. They will take advantage of the Clippers and tax their pick and roll coverages, they will post up James and take advantage of any double teams, and they will wear down the Clippers by continuously attacking the paint. The Heat our averaging 50 points in the paint in 6 of their 9 games and I look for them to get the ball into the paint over and over again against a weak Clipper defense.