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Los Angeles Clippers at Portland Trailblazers - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
The Rose Garden
January 20th, 2011, 7:30 PM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Andre Miller
Eric Gordon SG Wesley Matthews
Ryan Gomes SF Nicolas Batum
Blake Griffin PF LaMarcus Aldridge
DeAndre Jordan C Joel Przybilla

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

This game shapes up like a grudge match. The last time these two teams met, there were multiple flagrant fouls, an ejection and two suspensions. In particular, it will be the first time that Blake Griffin and Andre Miller are on the floor together since everyone saw that blind side hit Miller put on Blake. Think the TNT crew won't be showing that clip a few times? Think that the Clippers or the Blazers have forgotten? Think again. The game is important too. The Blazers currently hold the eighth and final position in the Western Conference playoff race, but their injury issues make them vulnerable. Meanwhile, the Clippers suddenly, improbably, find themselves on the fringe of the race, only five games behind the Blazers in the loss column, but the hottest team among the six or seven vying for the spot. The Clippers Eric Gordon injured his finger in the first half of the team's win over the Timberwolves last night, and it remains to be seen how that injury will affect him tonight. He played 21 second half minutes last night, and the finger didn't seem to limit him at all as he scored 18 points, but who knows how it will feel today. Still, it seems likely that he'll play through it given that he did so last night in a game the Clippers led by double digits. Griffin will no doubt have some extra motivation going against a Portland team that tried to rough him up last month (in addition to Miller's hit, Marcus Camby committed a flagrant foul on him, and Joel Przybilla gave another very hard foul). Griffin's been on a rampage lately, and there's every reason to suspect that it will continue against Portland's depleted front line. But the real key to tonight's game may be Baron Davis. In that last game, Davis had just returned from injury and had not yet rejoined the starting lineup. The Clippers only started clicking when Davis started orchestrating the offense.

The Antagonist:

You have to feel for the Blazers. When Marcus Camby injured his meniscus against Minnesota a couple games ago, he became the fifth Blazer to require knee surgery this season. And it's just another in a series of multiple seasons with significant injuries. This is why I don't subscribe to the idea of a 'Clippers' curse. If there's a Clippers curse, how do you explain the Blazers? Is there a Blazers curse? Is it a nastier version of a curse, as curses go? The Blazers have suffered an extremely unfortunate series of injuries, and hopefully some day they'll enjoy good team health. That's all there is to that. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that the Blazers have to play the Clippers tonight without their best player (Brandon Roy) and without their two best centers (Greg Oden and Camby). Somehow to this point they've remained afloat, which is quite a testament to the team and to coach Nate McMillan. We'll see how the Camby injury impacts them, but they've managed to win even without their franchise player Roy; in fact, they have a better record this season without Roy than with him. Perhaps it's just knowing where they stand, since even when Roy was playing, he was clearly limited by his knees. LaMarcus Aldridge has been carrying them, having by far his best season as a pro. He has increased his scoring average from a prior career high of 18 to over 21, and has done so while maintaining a solid shooting percentage. He's also getting to the line more frequently. The jump good scorer to leading scorer is a difficult one (which is what makes Eric Gordon's jump from 17 to almost 24 so remarkable). If Roy can somehow return to his prior form, Aldridge's maturation will be the silver lining on the injury cloud. In addition to Aldridge, Nicolas Batum is playing much better after a slow start to the season, Andre Miller remains a productive (if annoying) pro, and their big free agency signing, Wesley Matthews, has admirably stepped into the void left by Roy's absence. But one wonders how much longer they can keep it together with so many key guys hurt.

The Subplots

  • Set those DVRs. If you're like me, you have a season series set up on Prime Ticket for NBA basketball. Tonight's game is exclusively on TNT, so that means (a) no Ralph and Mike and (b) if you want to record it, you may have to set up a special recording. It will be fun to hear what the national TV types have to say about the Clippers in the midst of this hot streak.
  • Different Clippers team. The last time the Clippers visited Portland, they were starting to play well, but really hadn't figured things out yet. It also happened to be just Baron Davis' third game back, and Eric Bledsoe had one of his worst games as a starter. The Clippers missed 17 free throws in that one, and it was too much to overcome. Compared to that game, this is a much better Clippers team, while the Blazers are missing Roy and Camby.
  • The Road to 41. This is exactly the kind of game the Clippers need to win on the road to achieve the goal of winning 41 games. The fact that the Blazers are the primary team they're chasing is just gravy. The Blazers have a winning record, but fall into the group of middle tier teams against whom the Clippers are competing for a playoff spot. A loss isn't a disaster, but a win is a major boon to their quest.
  • Avoiding the sweep. After the Clippers beat the Lakers, C.A. Clark of Silver Screen and Roll had a great line that I wish I'd thought of. He said, "This team [the Clippers] may not make the playoffs, but they look determined to beat all the teams that do." It's not literally true unfortunately - the Jazz have already completed a sweep of the season series this year. But the Clippers have mostly done a good job of avenging losses this season (Hornets, Spurs and Lakers all being examples), and this is their last chance to beat Portland.
  • Motivation. In season's past, with the Blazers being injury-ravaged, I might have worried about the Clippers maintaining their focus in a game like this. In fact, an even more injury-depleted Blazers team beat the Clippers last season. Fortunately, there are myriad factors that should keep the Clippers motivated for this one. There's the Andre Miller angle of course. The game is on TNT. And the fact that they're trying to avoid the season sweep. Finally, as crazy as this 'playoff' idea seemed a week or so ago, if the Clippers win this game, they'll move to within 4 games of the Blazers in the loss column. Four games with 40 games left - suddenly, it doesn't seem so crazy.
  • 1999 Draft. For some reason, Blake Griffin has been particularly adept at getting under the skin of players drafted in 1999. Andre Miller, Lamar Odom and James Posey were all drafted in 1999, and all three of those geezers have yelled at Griffin to get off their lawn so far this season. Is Baron Davis telling Griffin the secret weaknesses of all of his draft class mates? We'll have to wait and see what happens in Dallas next week, when Griffin comes up against Shawn Marion and Jason Terry.
  • Back to backs. The NBA should really institute a scheduling rule that says that you only have to play a back-to-back against another team on a back-to-back; it's ridiculously unfair otherwise. Fortunately tonight both teams are indeed on back to backs. The Clippers played last night in LA, the Blazers were in Sacramento. The Clippers had the easier time, winning by 15 while the Blazers went into Overtime to get their win over the Kings. The Clippers starters all logged low 30s minutes or less; the key Blazers were all in the mid 40s last night by comparison. Of course, the Blazers have the decided advantage of being at home.
  • Lots of good signs. There are just so many good signs for the Clippers lately. Eric Gordon's three point shooting. Baron Davis' shooting percentage. DeAndre Jordan's shot blocking. And pretty much anything and everything in the vicinity of Blake Griffin.
  • Change of pace. After scoring a season-high 126 against one of the highest paced teams in the league (not to mention one of the least efficient defensive teams), the Clippers will feel like they're stuck in mud tonight against the Blazers, the slowest paced team in the league by a wide margin. The good news is that there's a lot of incentive to get out and run against the Blazers - it's when the Clippers are at their best, and it's not like these are the Nuggets or Warriors, trying to suck the opponent into a frenetic pace. So the game may boil down to which team gets to play at the pace they want - will the Clippers get out on the break, or will the Blazers reduce the game to a crawl?
  • Cunningham or Przybilla? In the second half of the Timberwolves game and then against the Kings last night, the Blazers started Dante Cunningham in place of the injured Camby. I can't imagine that they'll do the same thing against the Clippers. Cunningham is an undersized power forward, and the Clippers bigs would seemingly overpower Aldridge and Cunningham. So expect to see Joel Przybilla in the starting lineup tonight.
  • Foul trouble. How this game is officiated will be crucial. The Blazers were very physical with Griffin last game, and one presumes they will be again tonight. If the refs call it tight (and given the level of animosity going in, that's a good guess), it should benefit the Clippers. Of course, neither team can afford foul trouble, as each team is thin in the front court at present. It's pretty close, but I'd have to assume that foul trouble for Aldridge would be a bigger problem for the Blazers than foul trouble for Griffin would be for the Clippers.
  • Defending Aldridge. One thing the Clippers did very well in the last meeting was defend LaMarcus, holding him to just 2 for 10 from the field in by far his worst game of the season. If they can do anything like that against Aldridge this time, the Clippers should win going away. DeAndre Jordan will probably draw the assignment and try to use his length to bother LMA. If DJ can avoid biting on pump fakes and thus stay out of foul trouble, he can do a good job on LaMarcus, as demonstrated in the last meeting.
  • Best Shooting Guards in the NBA. If you were making a list of the best shooting guards in the NBA any time over the last several years, it would probably start with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, and then it might go to Manu Ginobili and Brandon Roy. Well, Roy is essentially out of the conversation for the time being given his injury issues, and Eric Gordon is more or less the next in line (along with Kevin Martin and Monta Ellis). With Kobe and Ginobili in their 30s and Wade several years older than Gordon as well, it seems as if EJ will be one of the leaders at his position for many years to come.
  • Superstar for one game. Cunningham. Forced to play big minutes in the absence of pretty much anyone else over 6'6", it would be just like the Clippers (at least the old Clippers) to give up a big game to Cunningham.
  • Famous Quotation:

    For as the eyes of bats are to the blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature most evident of all.

  • Get the Blazers perspective at Blazers Edge.