Two days after facing the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Maccabi Tel Aviv is set to play the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center on Tuesday night.
The Clippers who are 4-2 thus far this preseason are looking to bounce back after a loss to the Lakers on Sunday. The team is also in rebuilding mode yet again after finishing this past season 19-63, tied for the second worst record in the NBA.
Although they have historically been a lower-tier NBA team, the Clippers have one of the most exciting young rosters in the league that could be primed for a playoff run this season if they can build their team chemistry up. Needless to say, their roster could pose many matchup problems for the blue and gold.
The Clippers are led by all-star Baron Davis at point guard, big men Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman, star youngsters Al Thornton and Eric Gordon who may be the best young players in the NBA at their respective positions and Blake Griffin, the first overall pick in this year's draft. Additionally, the squad added depth this offseason with the acquisition and signings of veteran backups Sebastian Telfair and Rasual Butler.
While it is preseason and rosters are therefore not set in stone until tip-off, Maccabi may not know what personnel will be suiting up for the Clippers until game-time. Here is a list of points Maccabi will need to focus on if it is to have any chance of knocking off an NBA team in North America for just the second time in history, regardless of who is on the court for the Clippers.
Protect the Ball
One of the most positively glaring differences between the Knicks and Maccabi was the team game that Maccabi plays. It is no secret that when it comes to basketball as a team sport, the Euroleague reigns over the NBA. Maccabi needs to use this to its advantage making sure their passes are crisp and on point, without being careless with the ball. The team turned the ball over 23 times versus the Knicks, leading to 25 Knick points, while only forcing 12 New York turnovers. This is a stat that needs to change drastically if Maccabi is going to have any chance in this game.
Maccabi scored 46 of its 91 points in the paint on Sunday with big-men Maciej Lampe and D'or Fischer combining for 33 points and 23 rebounds. On the flipside, the team was horrible from behind the arc, shooting a measly 7.1% from the three point line, converting just one of fourteen attempts. Maccabi needs to establish an inside-outside game in order to take some of the load off of the big-men who grew sluggish on the defensive end as the game wore on. Alan Anderson once again led Maccabi with 20 points, but they came off of 35% shooting from the field, including zero of six three point attempts. He, along with the rest of the team, will need to get their perimeter shooting down against the Clippers. While it is just as unhealthy to live and die by the three, Maccabi lost to the Knicks by 15 points, or five three point shots.
Penetrate and Dish/Drive
Maccabi was at its best on Sunday when it was aggressive with guards driving to the hoop and either dishing the ball inside to D'or Fischer or Lampe, or kicking it back out for a mid-range jump shot. This should be harder to do against the Clippers, with all-star Baron Davis defending the point and shot blocker and rebounder extraordinaire Marcus Camby or newbie Blake Griffin clogging up the middle. However, it is imperative that Maccabi sticks with this system. In addition to spreading the floor and allowing greater passing lanes on offense, it was effective in controlling the pace of the game against New York. By dictating the tempo and allowing for more options on offense, Maccabi was able to shoot 50% on two-point attempts against the Knicks. While the Knicks are not known for their defense and ranked 28th out of the league's 30 teams in points allowed, the Clippers ranked 25th and actually finished the season with a worse defensive ranking than the Knicks. This should bode well for Maccabi on the offensive end, which brings us to defenseâ€¦
No difference was as glaring on Sunday between the two squads as Maccabi's failure to play defense on the interior. The Knicks scored at will inside, making up for what they lack in team passing by owning the offensive glass. Although the Knicks only grabbed four more offensive boards than Maccabi, the Knicks had 20 second-chances on the offensive ends. There were literally numerous times where Maccabi would have three or even four men under the basket, and the sole Knicks player would grab the rebound down low. While some of this is due to the strength, size and athleticism of the Knicks, any basketball fan worth his weight can tell you that rebounding is not about size as much as it is about technique and positioning. After all, 1.6-meter guard Muggsy Bogues managed to average three rebounds a game for his career. Although Maccabi will have the same matchup problems inside versus the Clippers that it had against the Knicks, proper positioning and the aggressiveness to go for the ball will go a long way in fixing the problems Maccabi faced in the paint on Sunday. This will also ease the strain on the perimeter defense that was evident as Maccabi defenders often failed to closeout, or charge and get in the face of Knick shooters on the perimeter. Let's not forget that the Knicks shot exactly 50% on two-point attempts as well.
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Tonight's game against the Los Angeles Clippers will not be easy. They are an NBA team that is bigger, stronger and better than a Maccabi Tel Aviv squad that is not expected to win the game. However, if Maccabi learns from its mistakes against the Knicks and focuses on correcting some key fundamental errors, they may just have what it takes to steal a win in the City of Angels.