NBA @ 2: Clippers Winning Without Williams
The Los Angeles Clippers dismantled the Mavericks on Monday night in Dallas 94-75 to improve to 32-21, tied with the Orlando Magic with the sixth best records in the league.
It was the Clippers’ sixth straight win, a feat they literally haven’t accomplished in 20 years.
The Mavs were without both Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom but the Clippers too were short-handed on Monday with Chauncey Billups out for the season and Mo Williams currently sidelined with a toe injury.
Before Billups tore his Achilles’, the Clippers were 15-7 (68.2%). After a difficult March, the team has climbed to 17-14 (54.8%) absent the former NBA Finals MVP.
While that may not be a surprise given Billups’ pedigree, the team’s current six-game win streak has been the six without Williams. For the season, LA is 24-20 (54.6%) with Mo and without 8-1 (88.9%) without.
Williams is the team’s third highest scorer (fourth if Billups is included), at 13.6 points per game on 42.9% shooting (38.5%) from three.
On seven-different occasions, Mo has scored over 20 points off the bench for LA . . . the Clippers winning four.
Williams isn’t expected to be out much more than another week. Time will tell if there’s any significance to the team’s success without Mo.
The injury has opened up time for second-year guard Eric Bledsoe who has slowly worked his way back into form after offseason knee surgery. Recently acquired shooting guard Nick Young, while shooting just 38.2% from the field, has quickly become a crucial bench player in Williams’ absence.
The team has been forced to rely on starters Chris Paul and Randy Foye even more and both have delivered.
Williams is an aggressive scorer for the Clippers, second only to Blake Griffin in shots per minute.
Given Griffin’s 54.0% from the field, he should be leading the team in field goal attempts (currently 0.43 per minute). Williams, at his 42.9% (good but not great) has taken 0.42 shots per minute.
Defensively, the team appears to have more balance with the Paul/Foye/Bledsoe/Young combination. Perhaps just adding the 6’7″ young into the mix has been more of the catalyst than the switch from Williams to Bledsoe. The Clippers had been undersized all year in the backcourt, even with Billups.
While Foye is listed at 6’4″, he must have been been wearing lifts that day. Coach Vinny Del Negro likes to run a three-guard lineup but with Paul (6’0″), Williams (6’1″) and Foye at small forward, the Clippers just gave up too much height.
Mo, upon his return, will still be a valuable weapon for the Clippers. He’ll need to temper his shot rate to fit more into the team concept. LA wants to play fast but their biggest weakness all year has been defense.
Williams may push the tempo too aggressively, looking more his shot (3.1 assists per game) than he did last season (5.6). His role has changed significantly from a year ago when he started 22 games for LA after the Baron Davis trade, but Mo’s version of instant offense of the bench may be overkill.
It’s been a difficult adjustment for Williams this season. He’s admitted to letting the emotion get the best of him at times, although he denies it’s impacted his play on the court.
After this season, Williams has an option to stay with the club for $8.5 million. He may instead opt out and look for a long-term deal elsewhere.
This was one of the primary reason the Clippers waved off trade suitors who were trying to poach Bledsoe before the deadline.
From a salary cap perspective, it may be best for LA to put that salary earmarked for Williams into retaining free agents like Billups, Foye, Young, Kenyon Martin and/or Reggie Evans.
The Clippers will host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, a meaningful matchup with the Clippers just a game behind (although the Lakers play on Tuesday night as well).
Wednesday night’s winner will own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“Silk” a Hall of Famer
Former Los Angeles Laker (and Clipper) Jamaal Wilkes was finally named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Wilkes was a key part of the early “Showtime” Lakers winning three titles with the team (and a fourth in 1975 with the Golden State Warriors).
“Anyone who truly knows and loves the game of basketball surely recognizes what a special and gifted player Jamaal Wilkes was,” said Lakers Owner Dr. Jerry Buss in a prepared statement. “A rare combination of selflessness and grace, Jamaal made the game look effortless. It’s easy to forget that Jamaal averaged 20-plus points during our 1980 and 1982 championship seasons. Many also don’t recall that he scored 37 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the decisive Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals. He was overlooked by some because he put the team first, the individual second and let others shine. It is now time for Jamaal to shine, and we congratulate him on this long overdue and much deserved honor.”
Jamaal won Rookie of the Year in 1975 and was named to three All-Star Teams. He also won two NCAA titles at UCLA.
The Lakers have retired seven numbers, limiting the list to Hall of Famers (Magic Johnson – 32, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 33, Jerry West – 44, Wilt Chamberlain -13, James Worthy – 42, Elgin Baylor – 22 and Gail Goodrich – 25).
Look for the Lakers to schedule a retirement ceremony next year for Wilkes’ 52.
Raja Bell Out Indefinitely/Jazz Still in Playoff Mix
The Utah Jazz announced that veteran guard Raja Bell will be out indefinitely after receiving “a hyalgan injection to the [left] knee.”
Bell has started in 33 games for the Jazz this season (but has missed 21 games) while averaging 6.6 points a game on an efficient 47.9% shooting from the field and 40.5% from three.
Raja has been searching for an answer to his knee troubles, even considering microfracture surgery as the last resort. The hope is he’ll find a pathway back this season but the prognosis is unclear.
The Jazz are currently ninth in the Western Conference at 28-26, just two losses behind the sixth-seeded Dallas Mavericks. Utah is battling to overtake at least one of the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Mavericks. The Phoenix Suns (28-26) are just one game behind the Jazz as well.
With just 12 games left, the Jazz still play the Rockets, Mavericks and Suns (twice).
A win over Houston would even the season series, passing the tiebreaker on to conference record. The Jazz would need to win both games over Phoenix to own the tiebreaker. Dallas has the edge over Utah if both teams finish with the same record.
The Jazz have been struggling to stay healthy at two-guard with Josh Howard done for the season with a bone chip in his knee.
Second-year guard/forward Gordon Hayward has established himself as a regular starter for the team, averaging 11 points a game on 44.2% shooting from the field.
Meanwhile starting point guard Devin Harris sprained his ankle last night in the Jazz’ win over the Portland Trail Blazers, sitting out the second half.
The Jazz will host the Suns on Wednesday night. Additionally they’ll be tested on Sunday/Monday with back-to-back games against the San Antonio Spurs.
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