Clippers at Portland - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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4-2
6-2
Rose Garden
January 10, 2012 7:00 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Raymond Felton
Chauncey Billups SG Wesley Matthews
Caron Butler SF Gerald Wallace
Blake Griffin PF LaMarcus Aldridge
DeAndre Jordan C Marcus Camby

Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers and Trail Blazers meet for the second time in 10 days. The Clippers won the first meeting in LA, building a 17 point lead through the three quarters and then hanging on against a furious Portland comeback down the stretch. The Blazers are undefeated at home in five games, and will be looking to avenge one of their only losses of the season. The Clippers on the other hand haven't lost ALL YEAR (OK, it's only three games), so something has to give.

The Antagonist:

The Blazers are a completely different team in the post Brandon Roy era. After being the slowest team in the league for years (Portland's pace was 30th in the league for the last three seasons and never higher than 26th in the Nate McMillan era) suddenly the Blazers are playing at a, well, blazing pace. Their 95 possessions per 48 minutes currently ranks them as the third fastest team in the league. It's a testament to McMillan's use of his personnel. Raymond Felton, Wes Matthews and Gerald Wallace have all joined the Blazers since summer 2010, and all are thriving at the faster pace. The fact that the Blazers are off to such a strong start in the season following Roy's retirement and more than two years since Greg Oden last played NBA basketball is definitely one of the more compelling stories of the early NBA season.

The Subplots:
  • Portlandia. I've just recently discovered this sketch comedy show on IFC. I doubt that the people in Portland are really like this, but I like to think they are. Last week, Fred and Carrie headed to SoCal (that's what they called it, SoCal) and when they got there, they screamed... "Oh, my eyes, my lily white skin! What's that thing in the sky? Where are the clouds to block out the sun?" I laughed. It was funny.
  • Speaking of Oden. Oden and the Blazers quietly renegotiated his contract after his latest health setback. Portland had extended the $8.9M qualifying offer to make the former first overall pick a restricted free agent, but the parties then agreed to a one year, $1.5M deal for this season. Why would Oden sign off on $1.5M when his QO was close to $9M? Probably because he knew he was done for the season (again) and that if he forced Portland's hand, they'd simply rescind the QO. That would have put him in the position of finding a different team to take a chance on him as an unrestricted free agent, which would have shined a spotlight on his ongoing health issues, something he and his agent undoubtedly did not want. So he remains a Blazer, gets a little more than the minimum, and continues to rehab to hopefully play in the NBA again some day.
  • Rebounding. The Clippers are currently the worst rebounding team in the NBA, and it's not particularly close. Portland on the other hand is the best defensive rebounding team in the league and an above average offensive rebounding team. Reggie Evans, with a game and a few more days of practice under his belt, will help with the rebounding tonight, but the entire team had better commit to the task or they'll get buried on the boards in this one.
  • Clippers offense. The Clippers offense is currently second in the NBA at over 109 points per 100 possessions - and that's while shooting the worst free throw percentage in the league! Kevin Arnovitz argues that the Clippers offense is very much about "showing up" - by not turning the ball over, the Clippers give themselves a chance to score most trips down the court. They also have a bunch of guys out there who are capable scorers. Something will have to give in this game though, as Portland has the fourth best defense in the league, allowing less than 98 points per 100 possessions.
  • Home/Road Records. Obviously there's a significant home court advantage in the NBA, but it seems more extreme than ever this season, particularly in the West. There are six Western Conference teams with zero road wins so far this season, and only one with a winning record on the road. Among the teams without a road win are traditional West powers like San Antonio, Dallas and the Lakers. Meanwhile, there are four teams that are undefeated at home. Portland is one of the unbeaten home teams, so this will be a difficult test for the Clippers.
  • Still leisurely. We keep talking about it before every game, but the Clippers continue to have the least busy schedule in the NBA - but a wide margin at this point. Through the games of Monday night, the Clippers have played just six - while every other team in the league has played at least eight. The Lakers and Thunder will be playing their 11th games tonight as the Clippers play their seventh. As has seemed more or less standard so far, the Clippers had two days off since Saturday night's win over Milwaukee to prepare for this one.
  • Start of back-to-back. That leisurely pace will being to change, as the Clippers play their first back-to-back of the season tonight in Portland and tomorrow night at home against Miami. Portland likewise has another game Wednesday night, home against Orlando.
  • Time to prove something. The Clippers season so far has been unsurprising. The team is 4-2, but only one win was against a playoff team from last season (the first Portland game). Meanwhile, the two losses came against the teams with the two best records in basketball last season. So the Clippers have won the games they were supposed to win, lost the ones they were supposed to lose. The next three games (at Portland and then home to Miami and the Lakers) will go a long way to establishing how good this team is. They've had the extra practice reps afforded by the leisurely start to the season, they've got Billups back and Reggie Evans healthy for the first time, so they should be about as strong as they're going to be. Three straight wins in these games would indicate that this is a team to be reckoned with in the west; three straight losses would indicate that the hype was premature. Something in between means something in between.
  • Who played center on Noah's Ark? According to Swami Raffo, the Blazers centers both "appeared in the Bible". I'm not sure if he's referring to the new or the old testament, but I do know that Kurt Thomas (39) is the oldest player in the NBA and Marcus Camby (turning 38 in March) is the fifth oldest. How they hold up as the season wears on will be integral to Portland's chances.
  • Rhino sighting. In addition to Camby, former Clipper Craig Smith is now a Blazer. I miss the Rhino. If you ask me if I'd rather have Brian Cook or Craig Smith at the vet's min, I think you know what my answer would be. Smith is beginning to find a place in McMillan's rotation. After barely playing in the first four games, he has averaged 13 minutes in the last four.
  • Home Sweet Home for Crash. Gerald Wallace has been beyond enigmatic for the Blazers this year. He's been unstoppable at home, averaging 21 points while shooting 65%, and completely worthless on the road, scoring less than 5 points per game and shooting 16%. He's been even more invisible in the two Portland losses, going 0 for 5 with no points in the first meeting against the Clippers, and 0 for 6 with one point against the Suns. That one point performance came a day after he'd scored 31 against the Lakers.
  • Small forward riches. Of course, even if Crash isn't clicking, the Blazers can just bring Nicolas Batum off the bench. In a league with a seeming dearth of quality small forwards (the Clippers have been looking for one for years and may finally have found him in Caron Butler), the Blazers have two of the best in the game. Batum does everything well - and he comes off Portland's bench!
  • Del Negro vs. McMillan. OK, so we can agree that McMillan is the better coach. But who came out on top when they met each other as players? Del Negro and McMillan were in the NBA together for a decade, and went head to head 24 times as pros. McMillan's teams had the better record at 15 wins versus 9 losses, but Del Negro more than doubled Nate's scoring average at 10.6 versus 5.2.
  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/10/12 9:00 AM PST ] DAJ on LMA. Citizen TPan brought this up in the comments, and it deserves it's own bullet. The first game changed in the second half when the Clippers switched their defensive assignments and put DeAndre Jordan on LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge's length was killing Griffin, but Jordan was able to counter it with plenty of length of his own. LMA had 13 points in the first half, but only six in the second. He had only two in the third quarter that the Clippers won 25-16. Jordan on Aldridge should be the defensive assignment from the opening tip tonight. Camby is shooting 28% on the season and can more or less be ignored.
  • From the Urban Dictionary (who knew the Jail Blazers era was so apropos?):

    blazer

    n. Someone who smokes marijuana 24/7 and is known for it, another word for Pothead

    Friend number 1-Andrew Y is the biggest Blazer I know.
    Friend number 2-Oh my god i know, i heard he goes to rehab.

  • Get the Blazers perspective at Blazer's Edge.
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