I had a chance to trade off emails with the eloquent and loquacious Steve Perrin over at Clips Nation regarding the Heat Vs. Clippers matchup tonight. Who's the biggest threat in the west, and how can the Heat slow down CP3 and Blake Griffin? Read on for a little insight.
Steve (CN): From his introductory press conference in LA, new coach Doc Rivers has been talking up the defensive potential of both of his big men, but especially Jordan. For the past few seasons under Vinny Del Negro Jordan's confidence had been systematically worn down -- benched in the fourth quarter, pulled from the game for any mistake -- by the end of the season, he's always looking over his shoulder, waiting to be taken out. Rivers has done everything he can to instill a sense of confidence in Jordan by touting his potential to be a top line defender, even Defensive Player of the Year at some point. While DPOY is not realistic based on Jordan's work in his first five seasons in the league (far from it) he does have an elite combination of size, length and athleticism -- and he has been much better. He's probably never going to be the Kevin Garnett that Rivers really wants in his defensive schemes, but Jordan has embraced the challenge of being the man on defense, and the early results are encouraging.
Blake Griffin DUNKS ON Spencer Hawes & DeAndre Jordan FOLLOWS UP (via LobCityClipps)
Contrary to popular belief, Griffin is continually improving -- with a couple key exceptions which I'll get to. As for improvements, he's a much better playmaker, consistently able to find the open man. LeBron James and Josh Smith were the only forwards in the NBA who averaged more assists than Griffin last season. He also has a few more moves he can use in the post -- though he still has work to do there certainly. And his jump shot is better, though again, not good enough. Griffin still needs to make more of a commitment to defense and to rebounding. His rebounding in particular has declined each season he has been in the league, and the boards could be an Achilles heel for the Clippers this season if he doesn't do his part.
Kevin (HHH): I watched the offensive explosion that the Clippers put down on the Rockets. How can the Heat keep LA under 110 points?
Steve: If Chris Paul comes into the American Airlines Arena in the same groove he's been in the last three games, it won't be easy. With Paul feeling good and being aggressive, the offense is generating great looks on almost every possession. Sometimes teams are just on super-hot shooting streaks -- and sometimes offenses are generating great shots. For the Clippers right now, it's much more the latter. They've shot well, but they're making makeable shots (except for Jamal Crawford, who always makes tough shots).
Having said that, the Heat may be about as well equipped to deal with the Clippers right now than anyone else. With shooters spreading the floor and Paul sucking help defenders into the lane, about the only way to defend the Clippers right now is to be in two places at once -- to help down to cut off Paul's driving lanes, while also recovering to those shooters, without leaving the roll man or the weakside lob open. Simple right? But if any team can do it, it's the collection of athletes and length the Heat have. When Miami's defense is clicking, it can feel like James and Battier and Wade are in two places at once -- and they'll need that.
Who donnit? (HHH): What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the Clippers roster?
Steve: Well, it takes neither a basketball genius nor a Clippers expert to point out that they can score. They were fourth in offensive efficiency in the league last season, and by upgrading their starting wings with floor spreaders in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, they clearly got better offensively. They also upgraded on the sidelines, where Rivers and top aide Alvin Gentry have installed offensive schemes that clearly illustrate just how unimaginative the Clippers were last year under Del Negro. Also, as you well know, it's a superstar league, and having that ultra-elite player makes a huge difference -- Chris Paul is that guy for the Clippers, and has been better than ever through four games.
The easy answer for weakness is defense, but I hope that's going to improve. On the young season, Rivers has committed to teaching his schemes hoping for a long term benefit, as opposed to making expeditious adjustments game-by-game to stanch the bleeding. Fingers crossed that they start to catch on at some point. For a much more specific weakness, the bench is almost completely devoid of a quality NBA big to back up Griffin and Jordan. Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins and Antawn Jamison are the reserves over 6'7, and they're a motley crew. Of the three, Mullens, who is still just 24 and has great size and surprising skills, is getting the first crack at a spot in the rotation. There's a chance he'll develop into a passable NBA big, but the Clippers are certainly on the lookout for their Chris Andersen type mid-season acquisition.
Kevin: What can you tell me about Reggie Bullock - what does he bring to the table?
Bullock looked really good in Summer League. He's got a very nice shooting stroke and he had no problem stepping out to the NBA three point line. He's a smart player who has the tools to be a solid NBA defender. One key thing about Bullock is that as a freshman he played on a North Carolina team that featured five first round draft picks in the following draft -- so he comes to LA already knowing how to be a role player surrounded by talented teammates, which isn't always true of first round picks. He definitely needs to work on his handle which is very shaky for the NBA level, but he looks ready in almost every other way. Unfortunately for him, the Clippers' wing rotation is deep -- Willie Green started 60 games for LA last season but has yet to get off the bench this year. But the Clippers feel like he can be a solid rotation player in the near future.
1-The H3atles-6: Including the Clippers, rank the four teams most likely to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
That's a tough question because there are six really good teams in the West -- not to mention Minnesota who have looked good so far. In fact, if Minnesota does turn out to be good, that means that only the top seed out west is going to have what you might term an easy matchup in the first round.
The Clippers and the Spurs are my two "I don't see how they fall out of the top four" teams because while every team has flaws, I think it's less likely for their flaws to be fatal.
In my opinion, the Warriors and the Rockets got better this summer; the Grizzlies more or less stayed the same and the Thunder got worse. But does any of that movement actually represent a change in the hierarchy? I'm going to say the Grizzlies will NOT come out of the West -- Prince and Randolph are another year older, and I just don't see where the scoring is coming from going forward. I'm tempted to leave the Thunder off my list because it seems to me the loss of that third scorer in Kevin Martin is going to hurt them more than anyone seems to think -- but they've got the best player in the conference, and the best player in the conference will give them a chance to reach the Finals. And I love the Warriors -- I think a healthier Bogut is going to have a big year for them. So that leaves the Rockets out -- Harden and Howard probably need some more time together, and the roster around them needs some tweaks to make more sense.
HHH would like to thank Steve for his thoughtful and complete answers to our questions. To read what I had to say about the HEAT, check this out at Clips Nation. Tune back in here shortly for your game preview, and of course, the GameThread goes live one hour prior to tipoff.
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