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Clippers-Blazers preview: Don't blow it now

The Clippers took control of the race for home court advantage with their win in Memphis. But they still have to win their last two games, starting tonight against the Blazers.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

April 16th, 2013, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Damian Lillard
Chauncey Billups SG Will Barton
Caron Butler SF Victor Claver
Blake Griffin PF J.J. Hickson
DeAndre Jordan C Meyers Leonard
Advanced Stats (through games of April 15)
91.1 (19th of 30) Pace 91.4 (18th of 30)
110.6 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.1 (13th of 30)
103.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 109.3 (26th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (groin) probable
LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle) questionable

Nicolas Batum (shoulder) out

Wesley Matthews (ankle) questionable

Nolan Smith (knee) out

Elliot Williams (Achilles surgery) out

The Back Story:

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

-- January 26, 2013 in Portland | Blazers 101, Clippers 100 | Recap | Box Score

-- January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles | Clippers 96, Blazers 83 | Recap | Box Score

    The Big Picture:

    The Clippers cleared a big hurdle on Saturday, winning on the road to take control of the race for home court advantage in the playoffs. But their work is not done yet; a loss in either of their final two games could undo the good work they did against the Grizzlies. Both Denver and Memphis won last night, so the LAC must win tonight to stay ahead of the Grizzlies and to stay in reach of the Nuggets (though third place is looking far less likely after Denver's last second win in Milwaukee). It's the final home game of the year and a TNT game, so there should be plenty of energy in the building -- let's just hope the Clippers don't take the Blazers (who may be without three starters) too lightly. The Clippers already had their 'bad' loss the the Blazers this season, blowing a nine point lead in the final two minutes in Portland in January. They're only allowed one such loss, so they better not lose this one. Chauncey Billups will probably make his return to action tonight after missing 11 of the last 12 games with a groin injury. The Clippers have won five straight and seemed to be getting into a good groove with Willie Green starting at the two -- let's hope that Chauncey's return doesn't throw off the chemistry. Perhaps more than Green, it's Eric Bledsoe we should be watching tonight. Bledsoe had played beside Chris Paul in the fourth quarter in each of the last two wins -- is that going to happen when Billups is in uniform?

    The Antagonist:

    The Blazers were 33-36 a little over three weeks ago on March 22.At that point they were just 2.5 games out of eighth place in the Western Conference and still fighting for a playoff spot. They've lost 11 in a row since to crash out of the race in a big way. It wasn't anything in particular that the Blazers did; until recently they were relatively healthy and they were playing about the same. They just happened to lose to eleven straight good teams fighting for playoff positioning. In fact, counting the Clippers tonight, the Warriors tomorrow, and the three games that preceded their losing streak, the Blazers are closing the season against 16 consecutive playoff race opponents (Dallas has since been eliminated and either the Lakers or Utah will end up missing out, but when Portland played those teams they were still in the race). That's just a really rough way to end the season. After teams are eliminated from contention, players stop playing through the minor injuries, and the Blazers were without three starters against Denver on Sunday. Nicolas Batum has missed six straight games with a shoulder issue, Wesley Matthews has missed three straight with a sore ankle, and LaMarcus Aldridge missed Sunday's game also with an ankle problem. All three of them could be back for this game -- or they could all be out. They're all game time decisions. With all the injuries, the Blazers had three other rookies join soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard in a four rookie starting lineup. There's actually something very worrisome about not knowing whether you're going to face a couple of stars in Aldridge and Batum or a whole bunch of rookies you barely know. The Clippers need to come out strong no matter who shows up and take care of business.

    The Subplots

    • [Note by Steve Perrin, 04/16/13 11:47 AM PDT ] Blazers injury updates. As of today, Batum is officially shut down for the rest of the season, and Aldridge and Matthews are being called questionable for tonight's game. It's hard to imagine they'll play if they are in any way hurting -- there's just no incentive for them to play, so let the rookies get some more game experience.
    • Comparison of key metrics. The Blazers have been pretty dreadful on defense this season, ranking 26th in defensive efficiency. The Clippers are fourth in offensive efficiency, so hopefully that means a lot of scoring for the Clippers tonight.
    • TNT game. This game is on both TNT and Prime Ticket. I'll have Ralph and Mike on the DVR of course, and that's the one I'll watch for sure. But I'm also curious to hear what the TNT crew has to say after the Clippers big win in Memphis on Saturday. Will Charles Barkley give the team any credit? Probably not.
    • The race. Denver's game in Milwaukee last night was the Clippers best chance of catching the Nuggets. Down three, Monta Ellis made a four point play to give the Bucks the lead at home with 12 seconds remaining. But Ty Lawson immediately answered with a go ahead bucket, and J.J. Redick's three pointer rimmed out at the buzzer. The Nuggets have won four one point games in the last four weeks. The Clippers have only won one one point game all season. Memphis also won last night. The Clippers have to win tonight to keep pace, and they can assume that both the Nuggets and Grizzlies will win on Wednesday as well. Anything is still possible from third place to fifth place, but the Clippers just need to win, in which case they'll probably have open at home against the Grizzlies.
    • Rookies. The Blazer rookies could be scary, partly because they're rookies. Obviously Lillard is the real deal. Young center Meyers Leonard has looked very good at times this season. Will Barton had a huge fourth quarter against the Dallas last Sunday and is really making the most of his late season minutes. Spaniard Victor Claver has struggled, but will play with energy. These guys are getting their chance, and they're not going to mail it in. If the Clippers come out flat assuming they can just show up and beat a group of rookies, they could be in trouble. Sure, this game shouldn't present a problem, but those games have gone south on more than one occasion.
    • DeAndre Jordan. Jordan had a huge game against the Blazers earlier in the season and he had a huge game Saturday in Memphis. Against a front line of Hickson and Leonard, or even Hickson and Aldridge, he has a massive physical advantage. I expect the Clippers to go to him early in this one.
    • Paul/Bledsoe. It's taken all season for Vinny Del Negro to give the Paul/Bledsoe backcourt significant burn, and it resulted in comeback wins in New Orleans and Memphis. It might be that VDN liked those matchups for a small backcourt -- Eric Gordon is not the biggest shooting guard, and the Grizzlies were playing Jerryd Bayless at the two. If that's the case, the 6'6 Barton might be a deterrent tonight. But hopefully VDN is figuring out that he needs to have difference makers on the court. Paul will obviously be there, but Bledsoe is another one of the Clippers' difference makers. Having Billups back might also change this dynamic. Partly because he's Chauncey Billups, Del Negro has played him down the stretch in several games -- but frankly, I'd rather see more Bledsoe.
    • Minutes. The Clippers are beginning a back to back, flying up to Sacramento after the game to face the Kings tomorrow. Ideally they'd love to have an easy time with the Blazers, rest the starters in the fourth quarter, and be completely fresh for the Kings. Ideally.
    • Blazers future. The Blazers have to feel great about getting Lillard with the sixth pick in June. Thomas Robinson, Dion Waiters and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were also chosen before him. Along with Aldridge and Batum, they form a nice point-wing-big trio. Whether they are more than nice -- whether they are great, and enough to build a contender around, remains to be seen.
    • Blazers on the road. The Blazers are 11-29 on the road this season. This is their final road game of the season, so hopefully they're looking at 30 road losses.
    • Three point shooting. The Blazers are not shy about taking three pointers. They are fourth in the league in three point attempts. However, they are below average, 20th in the league at .353, in three point percentage. When the Blazers beat the Clippers they made 11-25 three points. Lillard will take a bunch and when Luke Babbitt comes in he'll hoist them as well, but if Batum and Matthews are out the Blazers lose two of their best three point weapons. Will Barton is just 8-62 from beyond the arc on the season, so pretty much let him shoot.
    • Connections. Former Clippers assistant coach and interim head coach between Mike Dunleavy and Vinny Del Negro, Kim Hughes, is now an assistant in Portland. 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:

      Janie Runaway -- Steely Dan

      Let's plan a weekend alone together
      Drive out to Binky's place
      The sugar shack in Pennsylvania
      Or would that be a federal case?
      We'll take the big red - the blazer - it's nice inside
      And guess who's coming along for the ride

      Who has a friend named Melanie
      Who's not afraid to try new things
      Who gets to spend her birthday in Spain
      Possibly you - Janie Runaway

      You know how certain bands annoy you because all their songs sound alike? I mean, how many Arctic Monkeys or Linkin Park songs do you need, if you can't really tell the difference between them? Well, I figured out a while ago that the whole "all their stuff sounds the same" criticism is only a problem if you don't particularly like the sound. Because lots of people dislike Steely Dan for that reason -- and yes, they have a particular sound. But it's such a great sound, you know?