Preview: Washington Wizards at Los Angeles Clippers, March 23, 2011, Game 64

The Wizards (17-52)  travel to STAPLES Center in Los Angeles tonight to take on the 27-44 Los Angeles Clippers. Washington is not only fresh off of laying down a sub-par effort in a blowout loss, but in their last game against the Clippers they were outplayed at home. The Wizards have every reason to be motivated for tonight’s game, even though they will again be underdogs to a more talented team.

A look a the Clippers’ record does not yield thoughts of superiority, but they are a long way from the team that started the season 1-13. The addition of Mo’ Williams has balanced out the roster just in time for the return to health of Eric Gordon. Charlie Widdoes, from ESPN TrueHoop affiliate, Clipperblog (and from our interview earlier) gives us a preview of what to expect from the Clippers:

In tonight’s game, the Wizards will see the Clippers at as close to full strength as they have been all year.  Eric Gordon is back, Chris Kaman is back, and things are beginning to click with this new unit since the  trade of Baron Davis for Mo Williams.  One of the biggest advantages that Williams brings to the lineup is his ability to space the floor, preventing teams from focusing entirely on stopping Blake Griffin.  With Gordon, of course, that gives the Clippers two outstanding shooters.  Look for plenty of Gordon/Griffin pick-and-rolls on the wing, with shooters spaced along the perimeter and DeAndre Jordan lurking near the hoop to collect lob passes and put-backs if the D helps off of him.

The key for the Clippers will be to dominate the boards (they are 7th in the league in rebound rate behind Griffin and Jordan) and limit turnovers (2nd in the league in turnover rate).  Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu have shown glimpses of what they can become, but both are still prone to playing out of control, and will have to limit the mistakes.  Bledsoe, in particular, has taken his game to a new level of late and he has shown a tendency to elevate his play against his former college teammate, Wall, so that should be fun to watch.

I always look forward to the DeAndre/Javale match-up, if for no other reason than the freakish athleticism and potential both offer.  Javale is a bigger part of his team’s offense, and it’s a good test to see how DeAndre is able to stay disciplined on defense while paying attention to Wall’s penetration.  On offense, he has developed a frustrating tendency to disappear if his teammates don’t make an effort to involve him, so keep an eye on that.  If he is engaged, he can be quite a force as a rebounder, shot blocker and dunker.  If not, you may not even notice the 7-footer with arguably the most impressive physical attributes for a big man aside from Dwight Howard.

The recipe for the Wizards will be much of the same as last night. Charlie mentions the Clippers’ prowess on the boards, but while the Wizards are usually a fair offensive rebounding team themselves, because they are missing players like Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis who can make plays in the front-court, the other Wizards are not likely to have easy opportunities on the offensive glass . They will to allow Wall to penetrate the D to create seams in the coverage, and try to avoid settling for long, contested jumpers.

I mentioned in the recap of the Portland game that how they respond to last night’s disappointing effort will be of major interest, so I will be looking at their body language and their hustle, particularly how they react if Griffin causes the crowd to erupt after one of highlight-reel plays. They needn’t get too down or too carried away; nor should they get caught up in trying to match the flash of the home team. They will need to exercise discipline on both ends – by avoiding “ball-watching” when it goes down to Griffin, as he can make them pay for taking their attention off of the other guys. They will also need to maintain contact with their 3 PT shooters, Gordon, Williams, and to a lesser extent Aminu, and Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes off of the bench.

Washington can match LA’s effort and youthful athleticism and energy. Will they match their effort? Will they remain disciplined? Can they avoid the turnovers and rebounding disparity of the previous game? If they submit affirmative responses to these questions, they will redeem themselves from last night’s underwhelming performance.

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