Clippers at Portland - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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18-9
16-14
Rose Garden
February 16, 2012 7:30 PM
TNT, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Raymond Felton
Randy Foye SG Wesley Matthews
Caron Butler SF Nicolas Batum
Blake Griffin PF Gerald Wallace
DeAndre Jordan C Marcus Camby

Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers met the Trail Blazers twice in the first two weeks of the season. Tonight they meet for the third of four meetings this season. Back then, the Blazers were off to a hot start, and the Clippers were trying to establish that they were for real. But the teams' fortunes have reversed to some extent, with the Blazers struggling since the last meeting, and the Clippers playing well. The Clippers are likely catching two huge breaks tonight: (1) The Blazers are playing the third game of a back-to-back-to-back after a nail-biter in Oakland last night and (2) LaMarcus Aldridge is "doubtful" for this game with an ankle sprain. Which could of course just be a trap for the Clippers, who lost to the Cavaliers last week when Kyrie Irving didn't play and LA came out flatter than a crepe. Hopefully the memory of that unfortunate loss just eight days ago will be fresh enough that the Clippers can avoid another poor effort tonight. Portland and LA have split their two games this season, with each team winning at home. How can the Clippers reverse that trend tonight and get a road win? Well, it starts with Chris Paul, who scored 17 in the win and 11 in the loss. The Clippers remain 12-0 when Paul scores 17 or more.

The Antagonist:

The Blazers were 7-2 after beating the Clippers on January 10 -- they are 9-12 since. Some of that is because they've had more road games in that losing stretch, and they remain very tough to beat at home (11-4). Then again, there was originally a feeling that the Blazers would have to experience a pretty big drop off after the retirement of Brandon Roy and with yet another set back in Greg Oden's recovery -- maybe they were just overachieving in the first two weeks of the season, and this is more like who they really are. Aldridge has been spectacular, and if he's out of this game it's a huge loss for them. Gerald Wallace and Nic Batum have been solid as well -- but the guard play has been extremely disappointing. Ray Felton is shooting a frigid 37% on the season, 21% from deep. Jamal Crawford is below 39%. Meanwhile, Wes Matthews is way off the numbers he put up his first season in Portland -- last year he looked like a steal, a deceptively good free agent signing. Now he's looking a little overpaid. Portland got a win last night in Oakland without Aldridge, but lost at home to the lowly Wizards the night before, on the night Aldridge was hurt.

The Subplots:
  • Q&A. I exchanged some questions in advance of tonight's game with Dave from Blazersedge. His answers to my questions are terrific and insightful. Check Blazersedge for my boring and obvious answers to his questions.
  • The Aldridge factor. There are a couple of potential pitfalls for the Clippers in this whole Aldridge thing. The obvious one is that they just take the Blazers too lightly, come out with no energy, and the Blazers jump on them behind their home crowd. The other is that Aldridge decides at the last minute to play, after the Clippers have assumed he would not, and that gets in their head. Regardless, let's not pretend it's not good news for the Clippers' prospects in this game that Aldridge is out. I love and support the Blazers -- but I just think it's best not to risk long term injury here. He should definitely wait until at least Saturday. I'm just thinking of the team.
  • Without Aldridge. Without Aldridge against the Warriors last night, Nate McMillan slid Gerald Wallace over to the four and started Nic Batum at the three. Batum had actually been inserted into the starting lineup the game before, at shooting guard, and Felton was benched. But without Aldridge Felton was back among the starters. One wonders if Wallace, always a bit of a tweener, has the size to contend with Griffin. They may put Camby on Griffin, assuming that DeAndre Jordan can't hurt them too badly. Former Clipper Craig Smith will probably see more minutes off the bench as well.
  • Wallace. Wallace was one of Portland's heroes in last night's win over Golden State. He scored 24 points, making all four of his three pointers. Two of those threes were in the fourth quarter and were crucial to Portland's comeback. Wallace is shooting 28% from behind the arc on the season, so it's unlikely he'll have a similar outburst from deep tonight, but Portland will clearly rely on him to score more if Aldridge is out.
  • Minutes. With Aldridge out, Wallace and Felton played 39 minutes last night and Batum played 36. Griffin and Paul played just 34 and 33 respectively in LA's win over Washington. This could end up being significant, with the Blazers on the third game of a B2B2B and the Clippers potentially weary as well.
  • Three point shooting. As a team, the Blazers are shooting .316 from three point range on the season. That is 23rd in the NBA, which tells you that there are a lot of teams missing a lot of threes around the league this year, if there are seven teams worse than that.
  • Getting ahead of myself. The team should definitely not be looking ahead, but I'm going to. The Clippers have four games before the All Star break: @ Portland, San Antonio, @ Golden State and Denver. With Aldridge out, all four look winnable on paper -- if they can do so they'd go into the break with a record of 22-9. San Antonio on Saturday is particularly big -- the Spurs are the hottest team in the league riding a nine game winning streak and already resting up for the Clippers. The Clippers need to take some momentum of their own into that game.
  • Shooting woes. There are 20 regulars in the NBA shooting under 40% from the field on the season (I'm defining regular as a player who has played at least 20 games and averaged at least 24 minutes per game). Three of those regulars are from Portland, the only team in the league that has that many. Felton (.368), Crawford (.386) and Marcus Camby (.391) just don't make a lot of shots, which is problematic when those guys are in your top seven players. Heck, Matthews is barely better at .411.
  • Rebounding. It's sometimes interesting writing a new preview, reading what I wrote in the last preview and seeing what has changed. The Clippers were the worst rebounding team in the league back on January 10, a fact that some people were pointing to as a huge potential problem and a reason the team couldn't ultimately contend. That was after 6 games, so yeah, it might have been an overreaction. Today,the Clippers are a +2.5 rebounds per game compared to their opponents, which is the sixth best differential in the league. They are above average in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin as the first bigs off the bench (as opposed to Brian Cook and Ryan Gomes) clearly are part of that improvement.
  • Defense. The Clippers team defense has also been a problem this season, and is also improving -- but slowly. At 105.2 points per 100 possessions, the Clippers are a still a below average defensive team, 22nd in the league. Again, they're much better than they were, and Martin in particular helps there. But it is the one are where the Clippers have to continue to make improvements if they a serious about contending.
  • From the Urban Dictionary (who knew the Jail Blazers era was so apropos?):

    blazer

    n. An official of any small amateur or semi-professional football (soccer) club in the UK. They are often, but not exclusively, elderly, haughty and completely out of touch with the club's supporters.

    As Vice Chairman, Clive felt he was an important and respected figure at the club. The fans just sniggered at the pompous old blazer.

  • Get the Blazers perspective at Blazersedge.
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