Maine Red Claws (13-8) vs. Austin Toros (11-9)
7:30PM Friday, January 15, Portland Expo, Portland, Maine
Friday night the Red Claws face off against the Austin Toros in the Expo as the Armor-Claws rivalry winds down, for now.
As you might have deduced from the team colors and location, the Austin Toros are associated with the San Antonio Spurs. They are, in fact, wholly owned by the Spurs – one of three D-League teams to be owned by their NBA counterpart. This ownership model is on the rise: in 2006, the Lakers-owned L.A. D-Fenders became the first such team; in 2007, the Toros were bought by the Spurs; and in 2008, the Tulsa 66ers were bought by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Last Saturday, the Red Claws copied not only the schedule but the results of the previous weekend: After defeating the Springfield Armor at home, they lost 100-96 at the MassMutual Center. Just as they were in Friday’s victory, the Claws were plagued by poor shooting from downtown, nailing just 23% of their three-pointers. Tony Bobbitt led the way with 31 points; Trey Gilder was impressive as well, with 25 points. After spraining his ankle Friday night, Alexis Ajinca did not play in Saturday’s loss, and is listed as day-to-day. Thursday night at the MassMutual Center, the Red Claws played another disappointing game and, amazingly, lost again to Springfield. Ajinca played in the Thursday night game, while new NBA assignee J.R. Giddens knocked in 23 points in the loss. The Red Claws are, no doubt, thrilled not to play the Armor for almost another two months.
The Austin Toros, though they are mired in the middle of the D-League pack, have some talented players. Led by Malik Hairston (a Spur assignee), Alonzo Gee and Curtis Jerrells, this game could prove to be a tough one for the Claws. Hairston, selected just after Bill Walker in the 2008 NBA Draft, was only recently sent back down by the Spurs (January 14) after playing two games with the Toros in December. He’s scored at least twenty points in each of his D-League appearances. Gee briefly drew interest from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009, but didn’t stay long.
Altogether, the teams match up well offensively. It is the defense where one can really tell the difference: Maine’s is one of the best in the league, while Austin’s is somewhere in the middle. So, to get a win tomorrow, the Red Claws will have to continue their usually-excellent defense against a top offensive team. The Claws should focus on disrupting the Toros’ offensive rhythm, forcing Jerrells into his usual shoot-first-pass-later mode, and shutting down one of the Toros’ other top scorers. The quality of Maine’s defense could well be the difference-maker in this match-up.