Clippers-Blazers preview: Will it matter by game time?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If the Thunder win their game, which ends just before this one begins, then the Clippers will head into the playoffs as the third seed regardless of the outcome in Portland.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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57-24

53-28
April 16th, 2014, 7:30 PM
Moda Center
ESPN, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
21-9 East 23-7
36-15 West 30-21
34-7 Home 30-10
23-17 Road 23-18
25-17 .500+ 20-22
32-7 .500- 33-6
7-3 L10 8-2
Probable Starters
Jamal Crawford Chris Paul PG Damian Lillard
Darren Collison SG Wesley Matthews
Matt Barnes SF Nicolas Batum
Jared Dudley PF Dorell Wright
DeAndre Jordan C Robin Lopez
Advanced Stats
98.40 (6th of 30) Pace 97.48 (10th of 30)
109.5 (1st of 30) ORtg 108.2 (6th of 30)
101.9 (7th of 30) DRtg 104.7 (17th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Danny Granger (hamstring) out
LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) out
Blake Griffin (suspended) out
Joel Freeland (sprained MCL) probable
J.J. Redick (rest) out

The Back Story (The season series is tied 1-1):

Date Venue Final

12/26/13 Portland Blazers 116, Clippers 112 (OT) Recap Box
02/12/14 Los Angeles Clippers 122, Blazers 117 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

We should know just before tip off whether this game matters or not, but there's about a 99% chance that it won't. Oklahoma City is hosting lowly Detroit in a game that will end just as this one is starting, and if the Thunder win then the Clippers will finish third in the West regardless of the outcome in Portland. If the trip up and lose, then the Clippers can steal the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs on the last day of the season. Either way, the game doesn't matter to Portland, who are already locked into the fourth seed and travel to Houston to face the Rockets when the playoffs start this weekend in any event. Doc Rivers has already tipped his hand that health is more important than seeding to him -- the Clippers made a nice run to make it close, but they did so while players like J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford took extra time coming back from injuries. Neither Redick not Blake Griffin are in Portland for this game -- they're both resting in L.A., and while Griffin's is a forced rest imposed by the NBA in the wake of his 16th technical foul of the regular season from last night's Nuggets game, I have a feeling Doc is more than happy to oblige and have the decision taken out of his hands. It will probably all come down to what happens in OKC -- it won't exactly pump up the team to find out that the last sliver of hope is extinguished just before the start of the game -- but the Clippers might also have revenge on their minds given what happened the last time they played in the Rose City, when the lost in overtime after Nic Batum last second three pointer tied the game at the end of regulation.

The Antagonist:

The game may or may not matter to the Clippers -- it doesn't matter one bit to the Blazers. Coach Terry Stotts is giving LaMarcus Aldridge the night off, and although he says he's going to start the rest of his regulars, you can expect that they'll all get plenty of rest. Portland remains a team that is highly dependent on it's starting unit, so if the game mattered, then you'd have to like the Clippers' chances knowing they'd be seeing a lot of the reserves. Honestly, there's not much point in analyzing this game. Not much is going to happen.

The Subplots

  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 04/16/14 12:21 PM PDT ] Guess I should read the game notes. According to the game notes the Clippers sent out just as I was writing this preview, Chris Paul is home in L.A. and did not make the trip. Rest is great -- but isn't Doc going to regret that decision if by some miracle the Thunder lose to the Pistons? Not that the Clippers couldn't win the game anyway, but if the game unexpectedly becomes meaningful, you'd certainly like to have CP3 on the court. It's probably a non-issue.
  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers have finally taken over the top spot in the NBA in offensive efficiency in the final week of the season. Prior to the season, most analysts figured they'd have one of the top two or three offenses in the league, and even with a bunch of injuries to key personnel, they've lived up to their offensive expectations. The defense has been more suspect, but compared to the Blazers the Clippers D is great. Portland is ninth in the Western Conference in defensive efficiency, and next to last among the playoff teams (only Dallas is worse).
  • First round opponent. Obviously the outcome of the Thunder game is important to the seedings as we've discussed. If the Thunder win, the Clippers will get the third seed and will face the Warriors in the first round. Although the Warriors will finish in a tie for sixth if they lose tonight, they own the tie-breaker over both Memphis and Dallas, so they can't drop below six. However, if OKC loses and the Clippers win, they will face the seventh seed, which would be the winner of tonight's game between the Grizzlies and the Mavericks (which is among the most meaningful games on the schedule tonight). That game will also be over by the time the Clippers and Blazers tip off. So, if Memphis wins that game and has secured the seventh seed, and if OKC actually loses, the Clippers would find themselves trying to beat the Blazers in order to reward themselves with a third straight trip into the hell of a playoff matchup with the Grizzlies. Fun.
  • Redick out. With J.J. Redick back in L.A. resting, it is the third time in three games that the Clippers will play Portland without their starting shooting guard. L.A. has hung an average of 117 points per game on the Blazers this season -- without J.J.
  • Paul and Lillard. Chris Paul is ridiculously competitively, very bright and very aware. He knows that Damian Lillard is getting lots of buzz as the next great point guard in the NBA. Paul has outscored Lillard 54-35 in two meetings this season, and that's no accident. Paul is so competitive, that even if the game won't matter for seeding, when he's on the floor facing Lillard, he'll rise to the challenge and want to take it to the youngster. [Note by Steve Perrin, 04/16/14 12:24 PM PDT ] Obviously this is moot now.
  • Close games. When the Blazers beat the Clippers in overtime the day after Christmas, it ran their record in games that were within one possession in the final minute of regulation to 11-1 on the season at the time. I made the point that those outcomes are more or less coin tosses and assumed that the law of averages would catch up to them, which it did -- with a vengeance. Portland's fortunes in close games have almost completely flipped since that night in late December, and now they can't win close ones.
  • Two different teams? The randomness of those outcomes in close games is a big reason that the Blazers' team fortunes have switched so dramatically. Portland was 24-5 after beating the Clippers on the 26th and 31-9 in their first 40 games. They recently went through a 14-18 stretch. Portland is neither as good as that 24-5 start, nor as bad as the 14-18 section (which they bounced back from nicely with eight wins in their last nine games when Aldridge got healthy).
  • LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge has been big for the team this season, but I remain a tad skeptical. He has improved his rebounding dramatically which is great news -- until this season he underperformed in rebounding for his position, but he's been great all year on the boards. But as I've pointed out before, his increased scoring is completely a function of more shots, and his efficiency has plummeted in the process. Of course he'll score more if he shoots more, so why make a big fuss about him scoring more? He was a better scorer before this season in my opinion. His true shooting percentage of .507 is by far the worst of his career and well below the league average.
  • Joel Freeland. Freeland sprained his MCL just prior to the last meeting between these teams and has missed the last 29 games. He's about ready to return to action after nine weeks and is expected to get a few five minute blocks of action tonight. Freeland, the 27 year old Brit who is in just his second NBA season after playing professionally in Spain for many years, had settled into the backup center role for the Blazers prior to the injury. On a team with limited options off the bench, Freeland had become the first big. Getting him back for the playoffs could be a big boost for Portland.
  • Mo Williams. Former Clipper Mo Williams has been the Blazers leading scorer off the bench this season. Portland is so starter centric that their top five scorers per game are the five starters who all average double figures, and Williams is sixth at 9.7 points per game.
  • Durable. Aldridge will miss his 13th game tonight (the Blazers are 7-5 without him this season). The other five starters have started every game together, and Dorell Wright has been the starter in every game that Aldridge has missed. Which is to say that Terry Stotts has used two -- TWO! -- starting lineups this season. That's amazing, and also helps to explain how the Blazers were able to exceed expectations.
  • Connections. Former Clippers assistant and interim head coach Kim Hughes is now an assistant in Portland. Jamal Crawford played in Portland two seasons ago. Mo Williams was a Clipper for a season and a half. Blazers general manager Neil Olshey left a similar post for the Clippers to take the job in Portland. Clipper Hedo Turkoglu originally agreed to terms with the Blazers back in 2009 when he first left Orlando, but then changed his mind and signed with Toronto. You think they don't like him in Toronto? They REALLY despise in in PDX -- he'll get booed every time he touches the ball tonight, which will be funny in such a meaningless game.
  • Get the Portland perspective at Blazer's Edge.
  • Shakespearean reference:
    Hamlet -- Act IV, Scene 7 -- Laertes
    Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
    And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet
    It is our trick; nature her custom holds,
    Let shame say what it will. When these are gone,
    The woman will be out. Adieu, my lord.
    I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze
    But that this folly douts it.
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