With both the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic missing most of their top scorers, perhaps the ugliest game of the year took place at the Target Center Arena, the Clippers outlasting the Magic in an ugly affair 86-76. It’s tempting to try to forget a game this bad (almost 40 turnovers between the two opponents, 35% and 40% shooting, respectively); however, Los Angeles did manage to snap its three game losing streak with their top scorers sitting out. Jamal Crawford (sore shoulder) joined Blake Griffin (strained hamstring), Chris Paul (bruised knee), and Chauncey Billups (foot tendinitis) on the bench to watch a patchwork lineup come away with a victory, taking control of the game in the 3rd quarter on the strength of Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan to secure the win. Here are five keys to the win…
Eric Bledsoe takes command – finally.
With another solid outing, Bledsoe finally emerged and showed some true potential realized. He was aggressive all game long (and we do mean long – he played 41 minutes), scoring 27 points, pulling down 6 rebounds, dishing out 3 assists, and snatching 6 steals. Those are all-star numbers and very few players – period – can dream about turning in such well-rounded performances. If this type of production doesn’t have teams picking up the phones to offer trade packages for E-bled, they simply aren’t watching the same player. Bledsoe was especially deadly defensively against Jameer Nelson, who torched the Clippers for 18 first half points, yet failed to score a single basket in the second half with Bledsoe constantly in his grill.
Lamar Odom – it’s the little things.
OK, so maybe 8 points and 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 steals don’t look like much. You’d be wrong to come to that judgement, however, if you witnessed when and how those statistics were compiled. Odom scored when a basket was needed most, found the open cutter with precision passes at perfect times, and slithered in for rebounds whenever fellow big men were out of position. Odom used his court smarts to simply outwit the inexperienced Magic players and he now seems ready to increase his aggressiveness and take command of the second unit as was hoped when the team acquired him from Dallas.
Without any scoring punch, coach Vinnie Del Negro turned to garbage-time bench player Hollins to see if he could provide some scoring punch, and punch he did. Hollins shot 5-6 and tallied 13 points, by far his best performance of the year and a welcome change to Rony Turiaf, who barely makes layups when right under the basket. Hollins also grabbed 8 rebounds and hit all three of his free-throws and may have earned himself some additional playing time over the coming days – especially if injuries continue to plague the starters.
DeAndre Jordan – monster in the middle.
Jordan has now totalled almost 40 rebounds in the last two contests and owned the paint again tonight. In addition to his rebounding, DeAndre scored on a highlight series of dunks, including one sequence of three in a row. The absence of Griffin, while undoubtedly hurting the team’s chance of winning, has provided an opportunity for Jordan to gain more minutes and polish his skills. Now if only he could hit those free throws…
Just win, baby.
With so many key players out, this game figured to be one butt-ugly 48 minutes. And it definitely lived down to that description. Play was sloppy, turnovers frequent, and missed shots aplenty. Still, the Clippers tattered lineup got things together when it counted most, buckled down, and ground out a win when they could’ve been excused if they came up short. The win now puts them at 2-3 with three games left on their “Grammy trip,” and this victory was badly needed as they head into Miami and New York for what figures to be two extremely tough outings. Good news may be coming, though, with Griffin and Billups expected back, and an outside chance Chris Paul may join them as early as Friday in Miami. If they can perform well after their long layoffs, an upset or two could be a real possibility and a .500 result could be possible. With the Warriors and Grizzlies losing of late and failing to make up much ground, the Clippers could put some distance between them as they play almost the entire month of March at home.