By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 27, 2013
If you asked New Orleans Hornets fans to list the most memorable game they witnessed during the abbreviated 2011-12 season, it’s likely many would pick a 97-90 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on March 22, 2012. Just over one year later, the Clippers will make their first visit to New Orleans since that eventful Western Conference clash, facing the Hornets in a Wednesday meeting. The Hornets are seeking their fourth straight victory, after beating Boston, Memphis and Denver in the past week.
Last season’s lone Clippers at Hornets game was tremendously entertaining, filled with highlight-reel Clipper dunks; a high-scoring first half that finished with L.A. up 58-54; playoff intensity; and a fourth-comeback by the Hornets that allowed them to prevail. It was also Chris Paul’s first game back in New Orleans, after he had been traded to Los Angeles in December 2011.
Jason Smith was ejected from last season’s March 22 contest due to a hard second-half foul he committed on Blake Griffin, which resulted in a two-game suspension for Smith (Smith apologized for the play). The 7-foot New Orleans reserve was on the court on Nov. 26 of this season, however, when the Hornets posted a 105-98 win on the Clippers’ home floor. Smith helped paced the visitors with 17 points off the bench, while fellow sub Austin Rivers contributed 14 points and six assists. Greivis Vasquez provided an early-season glimpse of his impressive improvement, racking up 25 points, six rebounds and 10 assists. Unfortunately for NOLA, Smith has been ruled out for the season due to a shoulder injury; Rivers is unlikely to play again in 2012-13 due to a broken right hand.
With revenge on their minds, the Clippers returned the favor a few weeks later, downing the Hornets by a 93-77 final margin on Dec. 19, also in Los Angeles. Griffin led a balanced Clippers offense by scoring 18 points, while four other players reached double digits. Paul had a double-double at 10 points and 12 assists.
The Hornets and Clippers will hold their fourth and final meeting of 2012-13 here in New Orleans on April 12.
Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Anthony Davis vs. Blake Griffin
In a rare meeting of former No. 1 overall draft picks, it will be compelling theater to watch Davis’ stellar defensive play against Griffin’s explosive offensive moves and athleticism. In the Dec. 19 contest, Griffin outscored Davis by the narrow margin of 18-16.
Given the success of the Clippers over the past two seasons, it’s easy to forget that not long ago, they were considered an NBA laughingstock. From the 1997-98 through 2010-11 seasons, the Clippers made the playoffs just once, often finishing at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings. During that 14-year period, Los Angeles suffered through numerous excruciating seasons, including records of 17-65, 9-41, 15-67 and 19-63. Since arriving in Los Angeles in 1984, they’ve only been to the playoffs five times. That’s all changed recently, however, with the Clippers taking over as the best team in Los Angeles, a title long held by the Lakers. The Clippers are currently locked in a tight race for third place in the Western Conference, with Memphis and Denver. Each team would like to avoid finishing No. 5, which means opening the playoffs on the road, instead of having homecourt advantage.
Point guard Chris Paul’s value to the Clippers has been evident since the day he was acquired – he’s the driving force behind the franchise’s turnaround. His importance to Los Angeles was also demonstrated during a recent stretch in which he was injured. After the Clippers began this season with one of the NBA’s best records, they’ve gone just 6-6 in the dozen games Paul missed. They were 41-16 in the first 57 games he played this season.
On the rise
DeAndre Jordan drew nationwide attention recently for the ferocious dunk he had over Detroit guard Brandon Knight, a slam some NBA players labeled the “dunk of the year.” Although Jordan is known by many fans for his high-flying work around the basket, he’s actually improved greatly at some of the more subtle aspects of the game, including low-post scoring. Alas, he is barely shooting above 40 percent from the foul line.
The Clippers may be the deepest team in the league, making it a challenge to get everyone enough minutes on the court based on their talent. Wing defender Matt Barnes has been outstanding off the bench and is surprisingly the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Explosive shooting guard Jamal Crawford is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, while Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom, Willie Green and Grant Hill are all capable of big games.
On the sideline
In his third season at the helm for the Clippers, head coach Vinny Del Negro has quietly directed the club’s rise from non-playoff team to legitimate Western Conference contender. A guard during his playing days, he’s a former San Antonio teammate of Monty Williams.
Did you know?
Hornets players Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu began their NBA careers with the Clippers, after being chosen as 2008 and 2010 lottery picks, respectively.
|Players the Clippers want shooting free throws in a close game…||If the Clippers need a three-pointer, three of their best options are…|