Clippers Vs. Trail Blazers - Game Preview - L.A. Looks to Keep on a Roll

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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29-21
24-27
STAPLES Center
March 30th, 2012 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Raymond Felton
Randy Foye SG Wesley Matthews
Caron Butler SF Nicolas Batum
Blake Griffin PF LaMarcus Aldridge
DeAndre Jordan C Joel Przybilla

Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Three games into a five game homestand, the Clippers have won all three, all by double digits. Prior to this string of decisive victories, the Clippers had not won even two in a row by double digits all season. Just one week ago, the team was reeling from a stretch of 12 losses in 19 games, ending in their first three game losing streak of the season. But suddenly they're playing better, having fun again, and well-positioned to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and to make a run at the Lakers for the Pacific Division title. With the Lakers loss to the Thunder last night, the Clippers are now just a game behind their rivals in the loss column -- with the rubber game in their three game series looming next Wednesday. Finishing this homestand strong is the first order of business. Portland is a poor road team, with the second worst road record in the NBA, playing the second game of a back-to-back. If the Clippers can play with the focus and energy we've seen throughout the last three games, they should be able to tie their season-long winning streak of four tonight.

The Antagonist:

The Blazers made the difficult decision on Trade Deadline day two weeks ago to blow up the current team and start collecting assets for the future. They traded away two starters, receiving a mix of young players and draft picks in return. So Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace are gone -- Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn are in. They also fired their coach and waived Greg Oden, the former first overall draft pick on that same day. Big changes. The real prize for the Blazers from their trades was New Jersey's 2012 lottery round pick (top 3 protected). Surprisingly, Portland has gone 4-4 since the trade. Or maybe it's not that surprising, when you consider that they still have All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and exciting wing Nicolas Batum. Wesley Matthews, Raymond Felton and Joel Przybilla round out a not too shabby starting five and Jamal Crawford comes off the bench. Not bad for a team starting over. Felton and Crawford have been massive disappointments and won't be back next season, but they are not without talent. The last thing the Clippers want to do is take these guys lightly -- that has never ended well this season for LA.

The Subplots:
  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Your Fearless Leader.
  • The Questionable Blogger. Once again we reached out to BlazerDave from the SBNation Blazers blog Blazersedge. Be sure to read his answers to my questions if you haven't already.
  • Key Blazers Metrics:
    Pace: 91.2 (18th of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 105.2 (11th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 104.4 (14th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.0 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 107.9 (6th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.8 (19th of 30)
    The defense has been much better the last three games.
  • The Billups effect. The Clippers have won five straight at home, after losing five of seven before that. It is no coincidence that Chauncey Billups returned to LA and has been with the team in all five of their recent home wins. The Clippers are undefeated with Billups in his role of mentor/assistant coach/cheerleader.
  • Season series. With a win tonight, the Clippers will win the season series with the Blazers 3-1. The last time the Clippers won the season series with Portland was in 06-07.
  • Western Conference Playoff Race. The Clippers received help from the Heat and the Thunder last night when those teams beat the Mavericks and Lakers respectively. That gives the Clippers a full game cushion on the Mavs for the fourth spot, and brings them within 1.5 games (one in the loss column) of the Lakers. For scoreboard watching tonight, you've got Denver at Charlotte, Memphis at Houston (at least one of them will lose), Dallas at Orlando, and Sacramento at Utah. So for tonight, every good citizen of Clips Nation is a fan of the Bobcats, Magic and Kings (and the Rockets I guess, but both those teams are in the race, so it doesn't much matter). Realistically, the Magic are the best bet to come through, and another Dallas loss would definitely be nice.
  • Joel Przybilla. Przybilla signed as a free agent with the Blazers during the All-Star break. He'd spent three months prior to that in semi-retirement. Less than three weeks after he signed, the Blazers got out the dynamite and blew up the team. One wonders what Przybilla thought about that. When he signed, they were 18-16 and fighting for a playoff spot. Now, not so much. Then again, by trading Camby they made Przy the starting center. Still, it's not exactly what he signed up for.
  • Flynn and Thabeet. Flynn and Thabeet were high lottery picks in the 2009 draft, the same draft that produced Blake Griffin. In fact, Thabeet was taken second, directly after Griffin. They've had their fates tied for a while now -- they each arrived in Houston at the 2011 trade deadline, and then were shipped to Portland in the same trade package a year later. Amazingly, even though teams keep acquiring him presumably to take a look, Thabeet still can't get off the bench. He played 27 minutes total in a year in Houston, and has only play 7 minutes so far in Portland. The Blazers won't exercise their option on him next season -- it will be interesting to see if any team will take a chance on him, but as of now he's looking like the biggest draft bust ever. Flynn was a full time starter as a rookie in Minnesota (where apparently he was so much better than Ramon Sessions that the T-Wolves just dumped Sessions), but injured his hip prior to his second season and hasn't been the same since (not that he was particularly good as a rookie). He's gotten the backup point guard minutes for the last two games in Portland.
  • Batum. Nic Batum will be a restricted free agent this summer. Centers Brook Lopez and JaVale McGee will command a lot of attention, as centers always do, but of the perimeter players, only Eric Gordon will generate more interest in free agency than Batum. He's impossibly long, a terror on defense, can attack the rim and makes xx% of his three pointers. He has all the tools to be a star, but has been inconsistent in Portland. It will be interesting to see if Portland chooses to match a big dollar offer sheet for Batum or if they decide to spend their money elsewhere.
  • ESPN Game. This game is on national TV on ESPN. The Clippers were on TV a lot early in the season, but have been mostly absent from the national stage in the middle part of the season -- which is just as well, since they've played so badly. No reason for the rest of the country to see those games. Of their remaining 16 games starting tonight, 3 will be on ESPN, 1 on TNT and 2 on NBA-TV.
  • New Coach. The Blazers' new coach is one of the least likely stories around. He'll turn 33 in July, making him the youngest head coach in the NBA. Backup center Kurt Thomas, who happens to be the second oldest player in the league, is almost six years older than him. He was hired by the Blazers in 2005 as a video intern, worked his way up to video coordinator, then assistant coach, and now he's in the first seat. When Canales was in college, he sent Erik Spoelstra a letter every week for a year asking him for a job as a video intern with the Heat (Spoelstra had come through the ranks of the team's video department himself); he got an interview with the Heat, and though he didn't get the job, Spoelstra recommended him to the Blazers. In a league dominated by former players (where a guy like Mark Jackson can get a head coaching gig without ever coaching at any level) Canales is a new breed -- never even played college ball, just an obsessively driven student of the game.
  • Luke Babbitt. In the 2010 draft, the Clippers were looking for a small forward. There were four getting attention, and all four ended up being drafted between 8th (where the Clippers picked Al-Farouq Aminu) and 16th (where the Blazers took Luke Babbitt). Gordon Hayward of Utah and Paul George of Indiana have settled into starting jobs on their teams, and Aminu has been in the rotation in LA and now New Orleans -- but Babbitt has been at the end of the bench for two seasons. Last night in Portland's win over the Hornets, Babbitt had his best game as a pro, scoring a career high 16 points in 17 minutes. He made 4-6 three pointers (the Blazers as a team made 12 in the win).
  • J.J. Hickson. Also finding new life in the Portland rebuild is J.J. Hickson. Drafted in 2008 six spots ahead of Batum, he was once so highly regarded in Cleveland that his name was discussed as the centerpiece in a proposed trade for Amare Stoudemire. Hickson fell out of favor in Cleveland and was traded to Sacramento -- where he was waived a month ago. The Blazers picked up off waivers, and he's been the first big off the bench for four games now, averaging about 13 points and almost 24 minutes per game.
  • Last game. The last time these teams met, in February in Portland, was just before the San Antonio game that started the Clippers mid-season malaise. But really, despite the fact that L.A. beat the Blazers that night, you can trace the poor play of the team at least back to Portland on February 16. The Blazers were playing without their heart and soul Aldridge, and both teams were simply terrible. Chris Paul finally showed up in the fourth quarter to lead a late comeback win. The Clippers clearly took the Blazers lightly without Aldridge in that game -- they'd be wise not to take them lightly now.
  • Shooting woes. There are 12 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 40 games and averaged at least 24 minutes per game). Two of those regulars are from Portland and two are from the Clippers, the only two teams in the league with more than one now that Derek Fisher is no longer a Laker. Felton (.395), Crawford (.383), Foye (.387) and Butler (.395) all miss a lot of shots.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    blazer

    n. Very good looking woman.

    Did you peep that blazer by the bar?
  • Get the Blazers perspective at Blazersedge.
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