Never-Ending NBA Preview: Flight of the Griffin

The NBA season is upon us… or at least it would be if this lockout were not going on. Nobody is quite certain when the NBA season will start. But if the collective bargaining agreement gets figured out soon, we will see a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year’s NBA Blog Preview (don’t worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).

Los Angeles Clippers
Last Year:
32-50
Last Year vs. Magic: Lost 94-85 in Los Angeles; Lost 101-85 in Orlando
This Year vs. Magic: Feb. 6 in Orlando
Magic Connection: Brian Cook (Player, 2007-09)

Getty Images/DayLife

The Previews: Steve Perrin/Clips Nation

Much like the 2011-12 season, the griffin is a mythical creature. The griffin was a creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Both those creatures seem to be the rulers of the land and the sky respectively.

Clippers rookie Blake Griffin was certainly all that last year. Griffin’s raw athleticism astounded NBA fans as they watched this do-everything power forward spin and fly his way to an easy Rookie of the Year Award and an appearance at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Griffin averaged 22.5 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game. Those numbers do not state the impact he had on the Clippers roster, on the Clippers psyche and on YouTube.

Yes, Griffin was an absolute freak of an athlete. But what got lost was the fantastic all around play he displayed. There were the gaudy points and rebounding numbers but also a very solid 54.9 percent true shooting percentage, 3.8 assists per game and 21.9 PER. Remember, Griffin is just a rookie.

And the Clippers as a whole are an extremely young team.

Injuries kept the Clippers from realizing their full potential — whether it was Baron Davis‘ early season injuries or the struggles from Eric Gordon to get over his injuries or Chris Kaman‘s never-ending battle with his body. Los Angeles forged on, as any young team is apt to do. And even with all the bumps in the road and youthful mistakes, the Clippers were still a team you could not take your eyes off of.

That is the power of Blake Griffin.

Nobody is quite sure what kind of player can be. Some would say he can play more like LeBron James as a ball handler, but his post game is too good. Could he be more like a young Kevin Garnett? He would have to improve his range. The potential seems limitless.

The Clippers will be continuing to hope they can develop Griffin.

 

AP Photo/DayLifeAround him they hope that the mix of Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Mo Williams will supply the Clippers with enough talent to get some wins and maybe compete for a playoff spot. Those guys are enough to make the Clippers interesting for sure. Gordon is one of the most underrated young players in the league — he averaged 22.3 points per game on a 50.6 percent effective field goal percentage in 56 games last year — and should continue to improve as a shooter and scorer in this league.

 

Still, they are the Clippers. There is a lot of talent at the top of the roster, but very little elsewhere. Clips Nation is overly concerned with filling out the small forward role int he starting lineup. But outside of the starting lineup and sixth man second-year guard Al Farouq-Aminu, improving point guard Kyle Lowry and promising young center DeAndre Jordan (who will be a free agent… whenever free agency starts) there is not a lot else of consistency.

Really, the Clippers are a bundle of talent with a lot of promise. They are going to threaten teams, but they are not quite a complete team. Eric Gordon is the only player you really trust to hit threes. While Blake Griffin is a budding star, all he is is budding. Meanwhile, Williams’ presence will continue to hamper Lowry’s growth.

And that is not what Los Angeles needs right now. The Clippers have to want to get out from under Williams’ contract (much like they did with Baron Davis… without giving up the lottery pick that became Kyrie Irving) and free up some minutes for this young group to make mistakes and develop. That is where this Clippers team is at.

With some smart management, Los Angeles could be taking the Oklahoma City track. But even with new rules, is anybody thinking Donald Sterling is going to manage this team smartly? Neither did I. That is a disappointing statement because there is talent on this team. Now they just need to put the pieces together, learn how to play defense and play.

Then Griffin and his team will really take flight.

How the Clippers will Beat the Magic: It has been a long time since the Clippers have beaten the Magic. There is definitely a chance a team can overlook the Clippers. That uniform can do weird things to a team’s focus. But Los Angeles has also been host to some strange outings from Orlando. For some reason when the red and white is on the floor at Staples Center, the Magic’s eyes light up. So the key for the Clippers, first and foremost, in this matchup is to keep the pressure up on the Magic and make them fight. That means there has to be a concerted effort to get out to 3-point shooters and turn Orlando into drivers. There has to be a more concerted effort to limit and test Dwight Howard on the offensive end. And I think the big key is to try and get out on the break even before Howard gets set defensively. With the athletes Los Angeles has, that should be possible. But getting fast break points is not easy on Orlando. Stan Van Gundy‘s strategy is to send his players back and to ignore offensive rebounds.

How the Magic Will Beat the Clippers: Really, by sticking to the game plan. Dwight Howard has had some very big days against the Clippers. For his career, he averages 18.4 points per game and 13.4 rebounds per game. Last year alone, Howard put up 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds per game in the two games with the Clippers. There have been even bigger games in the past too. Kaman is just slow footed to take on Howard and DeAndre Jordan is young. Maybe one day the Jordan-Howard matchup will develop into a stellar low-post rivalry. But that remains to be seen with Jordan’s development. Orlando has the advantage inside with Howard. And the Clippers are not great defensively. So really, the Magic have to keep to their game plan and be thinking about attacking to pull this one out.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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