I started my old ClipperNation blog last May 4, during the playoffs. Since then, in almost exactly six months, on the old blog and here at ClipsNation, I've posted 168 times (a pretty big number when you consider that over 5 months of that was the NBA off-season.)
When the Clippers play the Blazers tonight at Staples, it will be the first time in my blogging career that they have played a team OTHER THAN the Nuggets or the Suns. Weird, huh? I'm not sure I'll have anything to say if neither Carmelo Anthony nor Steve Nash is around.
The Blazers are off to a surprising 2-1 start, with a road win over Seattle and a last second win over Minny sandwiched around a loss to the Warriors. In both victories, they were trailing in the 4th quarter - pretty good start when you consider that winning close games is usually the last thing a young team learns to do.
Zach Randolph has gotten off to a good start, averaging 23 points and 9.3 rebounds in the first three games. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who remembers the Randolph who averaged 20-10 3 seasons ago. When he's healthy, in shape and motivated (and by most accounts, he's all three this season), he's a monster. Dave at Blazer's Edge figures he's Elton with more range and less defense. Seems like a fair assessment. He looks big and soft and slow, but he's actually got a very quick first step, and he can really score the ball.
After Zach and center Jamaal Magloire, Portland is currently relying on a group of young, inexperienced players. Jarrett Jack, Brandon Roy and Ime Udoka have each started all three games this season. Including those 9 starts, those three have now combined for 13 career starts (Jack started 4 games at the end of last season). Then they bring guys like Martell Webster (19), Travis Outlaw (22) and Sergio Rodriquez (20) off the bench. Did I mention that this team is young and inexperienced?
But not without talent. There's the aforementioned Randolph, and Brandon Roy has played exceptionally well as a rookie. Webster and Outlaw were both picked out of high school, and both have buckets of skills. Rodriquez could be the starting point guard by the end of the year - he's a flashy Spaniard who won a Gold medal at the Worlds this summer. He was 6 years old when Magic and Larry and Michael played in the Barcelona Olympics, and he plays with a flair and a passion worthy of those guys.
The Blazers are currently a bit size-challenged, which is not a good thing to be when you're facing the Clippers. Joel Przybilla, Raef LaFrentz and Rookie LaMarcus Aldredge are all out of tonight's contest, which leaves them with Outlaw (6'9" 210) as the first 'big' off the bench. Not good. And unlike the Suns, they don't have the penetrators and the shooters to force the Clippers to go small. Look for Kaman and Brand to go off against Magloire (who is an OK defender) and Randolph (who is not).
It will be interesting to see what kind of intensity the Clippers bring to tonight's contest. After 15 straight against the Nuggets and Suns, it's been a long time since they played anything other than a playoff game or a re-match of a playoff game - those should be relatively easy to get up for. The worst team in the Western Conference, with a banged up front line? That's a different story. Look for the Clippers to come out flat.
But if the Clippers are expecting to win 50+ and challenge in the West, these are the games you simply can't lose. Flat or not, they have to take care of business tonight.
Former Clipper Darius Miles remains persona non grata with the new feel-good Blazers. He hasn't made it to the active list (officially it's his knee), and he would be gone tomorrow if the Blazers could find anyone to shallow the $35M left on his contract.