This thorough analysis of the upcoming home-and-home games between the Clippers and the Blazers from citizen BlazerLoverinLosAngeles (the handle says it all) needs to be on the front page for all to see. Steve
Before I begin, I have to confess. I was a Blazers fan before I was a Clippers fan, and of the two, I'm pulling for the Blazers this weekend. But although the Blazers were my first NBA love, the Clippers are definitely my second. And of the two, the Clippers will likely make it further into the playoffs (possibly at the expense of the Blazers). So go, Clips, at that point!
Having made my loyalties clear, I still think I can be fairly unbiased here when I say the Clippers should not underestimate the Blazers. That would be their downfall.
The key factor here is Chris Paul's possible absence on Saturday. Without Chris Paul and in Portland, it's hard to see how the Clippers can pull out a victory. The Clippers have one of the best benches in the league, and as you've probably read and as I would readily admit, the Blazers have one of the worst. But the Blazers starters are good. REALLY good, when they choose to play the defense they showed in their last against the Pacers.
Chris Paul should be MVP this year. He's fantastic. Our rookie (who is everyone's mid-season pick to be Rookie of the Year) Damian Lillard had a tough time defending Chris Paul in their last meeting. But Lillard, like Paul, has a high basketball IQ. This guy doesn't celebrate after his victories. Lillard studies tape religiously, and learns from it. So whatever you did to contain him the last time will not be as effective this time. This guy pays attention and learns lessons from every opponent he faces. So Saturday with no CP3, advantage Blazers. With CP3? Advantage: Clippers, but not by much.
I love Blake Superior. I have since the first official NBA game he played, which just happened to be against the Blazers. As hard as I was rooting for my team, I was captivated by Blake's athletic play. WHO IS THAT GUY, I asked. (I was a new NBA fan myself so I hadn't followed the draft and didn't know, at that point, he'd already missed a year due to injury.) Right then and there, I started paying attention to the Clippers, and quickly became a fan. The reason I loved the Blazers became the same reason I loved the Clippers. Both teams show genuine heart and grit, willing to fight back from tough deficits. So I predate CP3. I'm not just a bandwaggon latecomer!
Aldridge is a better power forward than people realize. He is not only good, he's incredibly consistent. You won't get an exciting game from Aldrige. But you'll always get production. Even on his worst nights, he's in double digits. Most nights, he's well above 20 points. I was going to give the advantage to the Blazers here, but honestly, Blake just keeps getting better and better, so this is a tough call. Advantage: Too close to call.
Caron Butler vs. Nicolas Batum. I'm sure you all heard about what most people - including a lot of Blazer fans - thought was an inflated contract for Batum. The Timberwolves offered $45 mil, and the Blazers matched. But Batum, under new coach Terry Stotts, with the freedom to be himself now, has earned every million. And while his shots can be hot or cold, his defensive is typically very strong. He's also becoming quite the playmaker. He's had nearly as many assists or more at times than Lillard. And Batum is loooong. He's 6'8", but his wingspan is over 7'! He's one of the few forwards in the league who has successfully contained Kevin Durant. So while Caron and Batum are both excellent shooters, Batum's sheer length and multifaceted options can provide an advantage here. Caron has averaged 8.5 PPG (per ESPN). Batum has been averaging 18.1. Advantage: Blazers.
Willie Green vs. Wesley Matthews. They have about the same rate of steals, and both can be hot or cold shooters on any given night. But Matthews really worked on his game privately all last summer, and he's not the same guy he was a year ago. His streaks come more often and last much longer. Green averaged just over 8 PPG for the last 10. Matthews? 16.4. Advantage: Blazers.
So you're asking wow, if the Blazers are so good, why have they not been doing better? Two answers: No center. No bench. Clippers have DeAndre Jordan, who I think is another underrated player. Sure he doesn't put up big points. But he puts up BIG presence, great blocks, and he can finish at the rim when the ball finds him. Portland's center right now isn't even a center, although he's doing a remarkable job playing out of position: J.J. Hickson. Hickson has become one of the top rebounders in the league, can fly, dunk and hit some longish jumpers. But Hickson has a bad habit of traveling - doesn't make up his mind fast enough which way to go at times, and that can cost us. He can get overeager and pass a ball out of bounds. Love the guy for his hustle, heart, and sacrifice. He plays center because he wanted to be a starter, pure and simple. And he's earned it. But this one is clear. Advantage: Clippers.
Let's not go through the bench. It's too great for the Clippers and too sad for the Blazers. I have to confess a small grudge against Jamal Crawford. He was a real whiner on the bench when he was in Portland, hurting team morale. Glad he's found a better situation and glad he's not a Blazer this year. The Blazers should have left him on the bench. Instead, they tried to make him a starter. I hope the Clippers never make that mistake. Trust me. It doesn't work. He's a shooter. That's it. Let him do that. Mega-advantage: Clippers
The bench, truly, is how the Clippers will win, if they win, and they probably will at Staples Center. But the Rose Garden is another animal, and if the Blazers play the same defense they played against the Pacers, wow, this could be a much tougher game for the Clippers than they might be expecting.
There is one Portland bench player worth watching: our Center-in-Training, rookie Meyers Leonard. He's fun to watch, and growing with each outing. He missed a few games due to injury, but his first game back was perfect. He made all his shots in a few minutes, got some rebounds, and he's an excellent free-throw shooter. He can also shoot some threes, amazingly enough, for a seven-footer!
In any case, I'll be in hog heaven all weekend. My two favorite teams, playing each others, all weekend! If there's a gathering of locals somewhere in LA to watch, let me know. I want in!