March 22, 2012

Two teams involved in one of the most significant offseason NBA transactions meet for the first time since their December 2011 deal. Thursdays Western Conference tilt marks the return to New Orleans of five-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul, the most accomplished player in Hornets franchise history. The 6-foot, multitalented floor general played the first six seasons of his pro career with the Hornets after being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. During that timeframe, Paul moved to the top of the list in several all-time Hornets statistical categories, including triple-doubles (12) and average assists per game (9.9). Hes also the only player in Hornets history to have finished as a runner-up in the leagues MVP vote (Paul took second place in 2007-08 behind Kobe Bryant).

From a Hornets perspective, Thursdays game is the first opportunity for center Chris Kaman and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu to play against their former Clippers teammates (fellow ex-Clipper shooting guard Eric Gordon also was included in the December trade, but Gordon is currently sidelined by a knee injury). Kaman spent the first eight seasons of his NBA career in the city of Los Angeles, a tenure that was highlighted by a 2006 trip to the Western Conference semifinals. Aminu played one season for the Clippers, after being chosen with the eighth pick of the 2010 NBA Draft.

In addition to the three players New Orleans acquired in exchange for Paul, the Hornets also received a first-round pick in the upcoming 2012 NBA Draft. After a complicated series of trades, the pick conveyed to New Orleans from the Clippers will be based on how the Minnesota Timberwolves finish this season. The T-Wolves are currently in 11th place in the Western Conference; if the Wolves miss the playoffs, it will result in the Hornets having a total of two lottery picks.

Intriguing matchup: Center, Chris Kaman vs. DeAndre Jordan
Jordan was Kamans backup for the first three seasons of Jordans NBA career, but the Clippers re-signed Jordan to a lucrative free-agent deal during the 2011 offseason, paving the way for Kaman to be traded. The battle of big men is a study in contrasts: the 6-foot-11 Jordan is an outstanding leaper who scores a large chunk of his baskets around the rim, while the 7-foot Kaman is a skilled mid-range shooter who also possesses an array of crafty post moves.


For years known primarily as the other team in the city of Los Angeles, the long-suffering Clippers have given the big-brother Lakers a run in the race for first place in the Pacific Division this season. The Clippers have only finished with a winning record once in the past 19 seasons, but are on their way to breaking through for a rare playoff appearance and possible homecourt advantage in the opening round of the postseason. The Clippers actually were the frontrunner in the Pacific for the first two months of 2011-12, but a recent surge by the Lakers dropped their fellow Staples Center tenants into the No. 2 standings spot. The revitalization of the Clippers began with the pivotal acquisition of Chris Paul, whos brought his trademark ability to run an offense and make the players around him better. The Clippers also made a series of other key veteran additions, morphing from a roster filled with inexperience to one that is battle-tested at several positions. One of the most athletic and exciting teams in the league, the Clippers frequent alley-oop dunks mostly authored by power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan earned them the nickname Lob City prior to the start of this season.

What's new
The current Clippers squad bears very little resemblance to the one that last played in New Orleans during the 2010-11 season. Of the 10 Los Angeles players whove logged the most minutes this season, five of them are new members, including Paul, small forward Caron Butler, combo guard Chauncey Billups, power forward Reggie Evans and power forward Kenyon Martin (Billups is out for the season with an Achilles injury). The newest Clipper is shooting guard Nick Young, who was acquired on the day of the March 15 trade deadline in a deal with the Washington Wizards. Although Young came off the bench in his Sunday debut with L.A., hes expected to eventually join Paul in the starting backcourt.

Clippers star
The Clippers have two invaluable current Western Conference All-Stars, Paul and Griffin, but it wasnt until Paul joined the club this season that L.A. made the leap to bona fide playoff contender. As was the case during his time with the Hornets, Paul has brought outstanding playmaking to the Clippers, averaging over eight assists per game. Hes also continued to show an ability to take over games in crunch time, recently powering his team to come-from-behind escapes vs. the Rockets and Pistons. Paul is having another stellar shooting season, with above-average percentages across the board (49/39/86 from the field, three-point arc and foul line, respectively).

Clipper on the rise
Griffin, who turned 23 on March 16, dazzled basketball fans around the world during the 2011 All-Star weekend when he won the leagues dunk contest, capped by a flying slam in which he leaped over a car. Now in his second NBA season, Griffin has shown an improved all-around game, with expanded post moves and a more accurate jump shot. Hes averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, while continuing to show up on the highlight reel on a nightly basis.

On the sideline
After consecutive 41-41 records and playoff appearances as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, Vinny Del Negro took over the Clippers in 2010-11. As a player, Del Negro spent 14 seasons in the NBA from 1988-2002, including being a teammate of both Dell Demps and Monty Williams on the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs.

Did you know?
The Clippers franchise began play as the Buffalo Braves in 1970 before moving to San Diego in 1978 and then to Los Angeles in 1984. During their 33 seasons in California, the Clippers have only won one playoff series. They defeated the Denver Nuggets in the 2006 Western Conference quarterfinals, behind the large contributions of Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, Cuttino Mobley and Chris Kaman.

Players the Clippers want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Clippers need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through March 19)
Mississippi native has been superb off bench in 2011-12.
The starting shooting guard until Young takes over.
Over 80 percent in each of his seven NBA seasons.
Name Career three-point percentage (through March 19)
Drilled seven treys in win at San Antonio on March 9.
Played his first four-plus seasons with Wizards.
Has steadily improved since 28.2 percent as rookie.

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