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3 In The Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview Vs. Clippers

At one point in time I was a big fan of the Los Angeles Clippers. I think they were probably my second favourite club after the Raps. They had a young and athletic team, a penchant for acquiring Duke players (Brand and Maggette) and I even had a Darius Miles jersey!

(Yes, I realize that may have just put half our our readers off this blog for good…)

But the team just never could put it all together.

Injuries of course were always a factor…but so were substance abuse policy violations, cheap ownership, boneheaded GM decisions and style over substance on the court.

Hence you have the team Peter Vescey refers to as “his Paper Clips.”

This year has been perhaps the worst yet as the team has suffered injury after injury and is still trying to get key players back from horrific injuries that occurred before this season even began!

To top it off, in recent weeks we’ve been hearing rumours of in-fighting in the Clippers organization and recently I asked Kevin from Clipperblog about this and more in our weekly edition of “Blogging with the Enemy.”

1) RaptorsHQ: From the media we’re hearing lots of different things in Clipperland; Dunleavy and Sterling aren’t on the same page, Cassell seems to have one foot out the door, Brand will opt out of his contract, Maggette will eventually be traded, Livingston is being fitted with Robo-cop like joints…the list goes on and on. What’s the actual state of Clipperland and what do you see the team doing come this offseason? (Free agents, draft etc.)

Clipperblog: There’s certainly some friction, though DTS has historically demonstrated that he won’t pay coaches not to work, so I don’t think an imminent Dunleavy departure is in the cards. Cassell might pursue a mutually agreeable buy-out with the Clips. But I can’t see Elton opting out of a lucrative contract coming off a devastating injury. Maggette won’t be traded, if for no other reason than the cap space is far more valuable than whatever the Clips could get in return. Livingston is a big question mark, yes. During the off-season, I expect the Clips to let Maggette walk, which would free up the 3 for Al Thornton. They’ll need to find a quality combo guard to replace Cassell, and will likely opt for a PG in the draft.

2) RaptorsHQ: Chris Kaman seems to the lone bright spot on the team this season. Are Kaman’s numbers a case of “there aren’t many other options unless we decide to play Powell a lot,” or has the Ka-Man really taken the next step as an elite center in the league?

Clipperblog: I think his improvement is tangible. For one, he’s in the best shape of his career, which has made him even more agile. Second, he’s learned how to anticipate and recognize double teams. His rebounding stats are likely inflated, but you can’t frown on a guy’s numbers just because there isn’t a legitimate power forward alongside him to help out on the glass.

3) RaptorsHQ: Clippers at Raptors – what do you see as the keys for LA to steal one at the Air Canada Centre?

Clipperblog: That’s a tough one. Chris Bosh is a match-up nightmare for any team, and particularly for the Clips, who alternate Tim Thomas and Al Thornton at the 4. I’ve been really impressed by the Raptors’ defense. Moon does a great job of staying in front of guys, which will be a deterrent to Maggette. Calderon is very serviceable, too, so Cassell might have trouble posting him up — which Sam loves to do against opposing points. The only possible advantage the Clips will have on the offensive end is Kaman vs. the Raptors’ bigs. When Chris gets going, his footwork makes him a very deceptive force to a C/F who’s not familiar with his repertoire.

A big shout out to Kevin for that info and his discussion of Kaman leads us into the first of our three keys:

1) Keep Kaman in check. Last time these clubs met the Raptors did a nice job of making Kaman work for each shot. Not many easy put-backs and dunks, no lay-ups off of pick and rolls, etc, etc. They need to do that again tonight. Toronto has issues with points in the paint and if Kaman gets going early it could open things up for the rest of LA. Bargnani therefore must do a number on Kaman keeping him off the glass. On the other end, I’m hoping to see Andrea, who has been red-hot of late, take it to Kaman aggressively from the tip. Kaman can’t (and won’t want to) guard Andrea on the perimeter so it’s imperative that Bargnani help set the tone for this game early.

2) Make the Clippers shoot jump-shots. A huge factor in Toronto’s win in Los Angeles was that they prevented the Clippers from getting too many drives to the basket. LA’s most dangerous offensive weapon Corey Maggette in particular was frustrated, and launched 3-pointer after 3-pointer, not his usual style. I’ll be looking tonight to see Jamario Moon and other Raptors’ defenders keep Maggette and co. on the perimeter shooting contested shots. While LA has hardly been a juggernaut this year, they still have a number of guys who can go off on any night. The team gave the Celtics a good run on Wednesday night and Toronto can’t afford to assume this is an automatic W.

Toronto would rather see Al Thornton taking shots like these tonight then getting to the rim…
3) Use TJ’s momentum. And that brings me to my final key. Toronto has a chance to put this one away for good if they jump on LA early and often. We saw this against Miami and Toronto has the shooting ability to do it again tonight. In particular, the home-crowd should be fired up with TJ’s return so the Raptors need to use this energy to their advantage.

Explosive Wing Commits To Division 1 Catamounts

Becoming the sixth Canadian to move on to an NCAA Division I scholarship in the last month, Harouna Mutombo has declared that he will skip his final year of high school eligibility in Ontario after committing to Western Carolina University.

The 6’4” 190-pound Mutombo is an explosive wing, capable of exploding off the dribble to finish above the rim with power or use his great length and bounce to completely neutralize opponents on defence. He has deep three-point range on his jumper and can fill several roles and stat lines with rebounds, steals, assists, blocks, and points.

“What made Western Carolina stand out was definitely the [Southern Conference] – a great Mid-Major conference,” said Mutombo.

“Another aspect was how much of an impact would I have. That was the main question I asked about each school recruiting me. Western Carolina just seemed like a great fit. They had been recruiting me since the [All Canada Prospect Camp in July] and they followed me to Vegas with [head coach Larry Hunter]. I thought that showed how much they were interested in me.

“Another thing was getting my degree. According to Fortune Magazine, Western Carolina is ranked #1 in Business Entrepreneurship, which is the field that I will be going in.”

Coming off a Gold Medal performance at the OFSAA AAAA provincial championships last year, the Pickering, Ontario native graduated and qualified through the NCAA Clearinghouse before the start of the current school year. He plans on enrolling in the second semester at the Cullowee, North Carolina-based school and redshirt the 2007-08 season.

“I will get a feel for the program, practice with the team, know what I have to work on in the summer, know the plays, really get my feet wet, and when September ‘08 comes around, I will have a good chance to play for the team,” added Mutombo.

Harouna received considerable attention from other NCAA D1 programs – Stony Brook, Davidson, Long Island, Denver, Virginia Tech, and Central Connecticut State – but nothing compared to the Western Carolina Catamounts.

“Coach Hunter is changing this program around. Western Carolina is in a nice city and the community really loves the basketball program, so I can’t wait to be a part of it.”