Saturday, November 3, 2007

Opposing View: 11/3 at L.A. Clippers

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we turn to Clipperblog's Kevin Arnovitz, who follows the Clippers and the rest of the NBA with the keen eye of an analyst and incisive writing. For more on the Clippers, check out and's Pregame Report.

With Elton Brand out indefinitely, what do the Clippers have to do to return to the postseason?
With Brand on the shelf, a postseason berth is highly unlikely - but nothing's impossible. Mike Dunleavy prefers a structured offense, which makes sense with this squad. But preferring structure and maximizing it are two different things. With Brand absent, Dunleavy will have to find shots for a team that - Corey Maggette excepted - can't create its own.

Chris Kaman will have to perform nightly like he did in the opener Friday night against Golden State, when he went for 26 & 18. Maggette will get more shots and more points, but he'll have to maintain his trademark efficiency. With no Elton to feed on the left block, the graying platoon of Sam Cassell and Brevin Knight at the point will have to be creative. Cassell, Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas - the Clips' only pure shooters - will have to be more prolific than they were last season when the Clips finished near the bottom of the league from the perimeter. Finally, the Clippers will have to get something out of their heralded rookie, Al Thornton.

Brand's injury seems to put a lot more pressure on Kaman. Can he step up?
In the preseason and, again, Friday night, Kaman appeared more agile, more confident, and more focused than at any time last season, which is encouraging. And with Brand out, Kaman is the sole shot-blocker on the floor for the Clips, and will have to control the paint defensively for the Clippers.

Thornton is getting a lot of hype. What can we expect this season and beyond?
Thornton can take most NBA threes off the dribble and has a knack for finding the open driving lane [which explains his 53% shooting percentage at FSU in a tough defensive league]. He has a consistent shot from 20 feet and a lightning quick release. His defense needs some work, both on the rotation and against quicker forwards. Dunleavy seems determined to play the rookie at the PF against smaller opponents, and we've seen Thornton working on some post moves, something he didn't do - largely because he didn't have to - in college. Whether the Clippers can get him good looks in the halfcourt remains to be seen. Right now in the Clippers offense, Thornton often gets banished on the weak side with nothing much to do. Once he hones his instincts for the pro game, he'll learn how to fill space and get himself some looks off the ball.

Which of the 500 potential combinations on the wing (that's an approximation) do you prefer?
Ahhh, yes. I like Dunleavy's decision to start Quinton Ross & Maggette together. With Brand out, Maggette is truly the only player on the Clips' roster who can get a shot anytime he wants, which makes him indispensable. With Cassell at the point, the Clips desperately need a defensive patch on the perimeter, and Ross is as good as they come in that capacity. Cat Mobley might prove to be a solid second unit scorer - and more nights than not, he'll finish the game for the Clips at the two.

What's one thing we don't know but should about the Clippers?
Play-by-play man Ralph Lawler has broadcasted 2,200 games for the Clippers - over 1,600 of them consecutively. In any other market, he'd be regarded as one of the premier voices in the game, but in Los Angeles, he's existed in the long shadow of fellow Bradley U graduate, the late Chick Hearn. Ralph's amiable fatalism is an essential companion to every Clipper fan's slog through a season.

(Editor's Note: Wholeheartedly agreed on Lawler, who is one of the best in the business. He and Michael Smith are a joy to hear on League Pass. Plus, Lawler bears a striking resemblance to my grandfather.)