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Clippers-Trail Blazers preview: It's getting serious

Losers of three straight and once again playing without Chris Paul, the Clippers badly need a win in Portland tonight. It won't be easy -- the Blazers are always tough in the Rose Garden.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

January 26th, 2012, 7:00 PM
The Rose Garden
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Eric Bledsoe PG Damian Lillard
Willie Green SG Wesley Matthews
Caron Butler SF Nicolas Batum
Blake Griffin PF LaMarcus Aldridge
DeAndre Jordan C J.J. Hickson
Advanced Stats through Jan. 25
91.9 (11th of 30) Pace 91.2 (21st of 30)
109.8 (4th of 30) ORtg 104.6 (15th of 30)
101.4 (5th of 30) DRtg 106.5 (20th of 30)
Chris Paul (knee) DTD
Elliot Williams (Achilles surgery) out
Chauncey Billups (Achilles surgery) out
Sasha Pavlovic (plantar fasciitis) doubtful
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

  • November 8, 2012 in Portland | Clippers 103, Blazers 90 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are have lost three straight games with Chris Paul either hobbled or sitting out. Paul will likely be out again tonight in Portland, so the Clippers either need to figure out how to win without him again, or get prepared to start battling Memphis and Golden State for the third seed rather than battling San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the first seed. When Paul first missed time with his sore knee, the Clippers reeled off three straight road wins, looking great in the first two and good enough for the win in the third. But since Paul tried to return and aggravated the knee against Golden State, the Clippers have struggled. It's understandable -- take the best player off of any team and they're going to have some problems -- but with the Spurs and Thunder rolling along, the Clippers are in danger of losing touch with the conference leaders. Blake Griffin in particular needs to step up and lead the first unit during Paul's absence. Griffin was strangely passive in Thursday's loss in Phoenix, perhaps owing to a tweaked ankle, though he is expected to be OK for tonight's game. This is the first game of back-to-back meetings between these two teams; they'll play again Sunday in STAPLES Center.

The Antagonist:

The starting five for the Blazers is quite good (depending on your view of J.J. Hickson). LaMarcus Aldridge was just selected to his first second All Star game; Nic Batum signed a huge contract over the summer and is a prototype versatile small forward; Wes Matthews is a solid shooting guard; and Damian Lillard is the odds on favorite to win Rookie of the Year midway through the season. As for Hickson, he's had a history of putting up big games against the Clippers. The bench on the other hand is another matter. The Blazers, maybe because of the huge drop off from their starters to their reserves, have been very streaky. Not much was expected of them this season, but a 12-3 run from mid-December to mid-January put them solidly into the Western Conference playoff race. Then they came crashing back to earth with six straight losses. They ended that streak Wednesday against Indiana and are well rested for the Clippers.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Blazers are overachieving to be .500. They allow two more points per 100 possessions than they score, which is the resume of an 18-24 team, not a 21-21 team. The Clippers remain in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency, despite three straight losses.
  • Blazer Fan FanPost. Be sure to check out the FanPost by citizen BlazerLoverinLA, who happens to follow both the Blazers and the Clippers. He provides the types of insights you can only get from someone who follows the team closely.
  • Overtime dominance. The Blazers have won more overtime games this season than any other team. They were 5-0 before finally falling in OT for the first time last week in Denver. A 5-1 record in overtime is a statistical outlier for a team with a 21-21 overall record. In fact, they're OT record goes a long way toward explaining how they are .500 despite giving up more points than they score. If you figure those OT games are a coin toss and they should win half of six games that finish tied after 48 minutes, the Blazers record makes more sense.
  • Starter minutes. As you might expect from a team with a terrific starting five and no bench to speak of, the Blazers have been riding their starters hard this season. Batum, Lillard and Aldridge all play 38 minutes per game or more, and are all in the top 15 in the league in minutes per game and total minutes played. Matthews plays over 35 minutes himself. They are the only team in the league with four players averaging 35 or more minutes. By contrast, the Clippers are led in minutes per game by Paul, who plays 33.5.
  • Bench discrepancy. The difference between the benches of these two teams could not be more stark. The Clippers are first in the NBA in both minutes per game from bench players (21.6) and in points (41.5). The Blazers are LAST in the NBA in both of those categories, getting just 16.5 points per game from their reserves in an average of 13.5 minutes per game.
  • Crawford. Jamal Crawford had a dismal season in Portland last year and he is pretty much hated there. He can definitely expect to hear a LOT of boos when he checks in tonight. He's had a great bounce back year for the Clippers, playing as well as he has since he won the Sixth Man Award in Atlanta in 2010. The fact that he's playing well in L.A. will no doubt make him even more despised in the Rose Garden.
  • Jordan. DeAndre Jordan had a season-high 21 points on 8-10 shooting in the Clippers win over the Blazers back in November. Hickson is really a power forward, not a center, and not big enough to handle DJ. But Jordan hasn't had a game close to that one since the last time he was in Portland. With Paul out and the first unit struggling to score efficiently, it would be great to get a boost from Jordan in this one.
  • Aldridge vs. Griffin. The marquee matchup in this game will be between the two All Star power forwards. Along with Kevin Love and David Lee, each of them would like to be considered the best young power forward in the NBA. For my money, it's Griffin, but I'm no doubt taking his limitless ceiling into account in that assessment. Aldridge is a terrific player, there's no question about that, and he will present problems for the Clippers tonight. Unfortunately, these two probably won't defend each other. Jordan will most likely draw the defensive assignment on Aldridge, fighting length with length. Hickson will likely guard Griffin on the other end, saving Aldridge to focus on scoring.
  • Connections. Jamal Crawford played in Portland last season. Ronny Turiaf and Nicolas Batum were teammates on Team France in the London Olympics (and at other times as well). Clippers assistant coach Bob Ociepka, often credited with helping improve the team's defense, was an assistant in Portland for two seasons. Blazers general manager Neil Olshey left a similar post for the Clippers to take the job in Portland.
  • Get the Blazers perspective at Blazer'sEdge.
  • Lyrical reference:

    The Jean Genie - David Bowie

    A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
    Strung out on lasers and slash back blazers
    Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
    Talking bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
    New York's a go-go and everything tastes right
    Poor little Greenie

    Bowie is one of those things that I missed when it was happening. I mean, I had the Let's Dance album of course, but I'd already missed, what, like 50 albums by then. So then what do you do? Do you spend hundreds of dollars backfilling your CD collection and get everything? Do you wimp out and get a couple of compilations and call it enough? And it's Bowie, so there are entire personas you have to cover like Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke. In the end, I didn't do anything -- I just listen to Bowie on soundtracks and Pandora and elsewhere, and I love everything I hear, but I don't really own any Bowie because it's kind of overwhelming.