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Clippers-Blazers preview: Revenge served cold

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The Clippers can pull into a virtual tie with the Blazers for the third spot in the West with a win tonight in their final game prior to the All Star break. After losing a heart-breaker in Portland in December, L.A. would like nothing more.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

February 12th, 2014, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
17-9 East 17-4
19-9 West 19-12
22-4 Home 19-6
14-14 Road 17-10
12-12 .500+ 13-11
24-6 .500- 23-5
7-3 L10 5-5
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Damian Lillard
Jamal Crawford SG Wesley Johnson
Matt Barnes SF Nicolas Batum
Blake Griffin PF LaMarcus Aldridge
DeAndre Jordan C Robin Lopez
Advanced Stats
97.91 (9th of 30) Pace 97.91 (8th of 30)
108.5 (3rd of 30) ORtg 108.6 (2nd of 30)
101.8 (8th of 30) DRtg 105.3 (21st of 30)
J.J. Redick (hip) out
Mo Williams (personal) probable

Joel Freeland (sprained MCL) out

The Back Story (The Blazers lead the season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

12/26/13 Portland Blazers 116, Clippers 112 (OT) Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers haven't played a big game -- a game against a top opponent that they needed and were reasonably likely to win -- essentially since the last time they played the Blazers, back on December 26th. And even then, a victory wasn't overly likely given that the Clippers were playing the second game of a back-to-back. That game went into overtime when Nic Batum hit a late three pointer, and the Clippers eventually lost. Since then, the games they've played against the top teams in the league have all been while Chris Paul was hurt, and almost always on the road on a back-to-back. So they could be forgiven for losing to Indiana and San Antonio and Miami. This one is a different story. A win tonight and the Clippers essentially pull even with the Blazers in the standings (Portland would remain ahead in winning percentage). Given that Portland held a five game lead over the Clippers after that December game and that the Clippers have played 18 of the 23 intervening games without Paul and a bunch more without Redick, if would be pretty remarkable if the Clippers could catch the Blazers before the All Star break. In the first game with Paul back after his long absence, the Clippers were simply awesome in posting a franchise-record 45 point lead over the Sixers -- but then again, that was against the Sixers. The level of competition will be very different in this one, but if the Clippers have the same level of energy, it may not matter.

The Antagonist:

The Blazers are 5-7 in their last 12 games. They had the NBA's best record at 24-5 after winning that overtime thriller against the Clippers the day after Christmas -- they are 12-11 since. But guess what? They're more or less the same team. They were never as good as a 24-5 record would indicate -- an unsustainable record in close games and a cushy soft schedule to start the season skewed their record upward. And they're probably better than a 12-11 record would suggest since (though their net rating in this 23 games is indeed zero). At any rate, this remains a very dangerous team. Their starting lineup is terrific, and while their bench is a bit of a problem, they've been able to rely on their starters all season. (They are the only team in the NBA to have the same starting five in every game.) After a tough loss in Portland against the Thunder last night, and facing a Clippers team looking for a measure of revenge, the Blazers will definitely have their work cut out for them.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers and Blazers play at a nearly identical pace and are within a tenth of a point of each other in offensive efficiency this season (only the Heat are better). Neither is as good defensively as they are offensively -- but the Clippers are still top 10 in the league in defense while the Blazers are bottom 10.
  • Redick out. We've suspected for a while that the Clippers would not be at full strength until after the All Star break. However, it was supposed to be Chris Paul missing time rehabbing his separated shoulder. Paul returned on Sunday against the Sixers, but J.J. Redick will miss his third straight game tonight with a balky hip. When Redick bruised his knee a few games back, he played through that -- but the tendency of the body to compensate threw him off, and now he's struggling with some nerve damage in his hip, causing him to have what he describes as a "noodle leg." He's considered day-to-day, and it'll be better when it's better -- everyone is hoping he'll practice next Monday and play against the Spurs on Tuesday. We've already witnessed Redick's impact on the Clippers offense -- it seems more than a little unfair that we have to wait still longer to see the starting backcourt together again.
  • 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 -- and he'll have something to say about it tonight. Paul outscored Lillard 34-14 the last time these teams played, and that's no accident. Whether Paul, in just his second game back from an extended absence and limited to 23 minutes on Sunday, is sharp enough to do that to Lillard again remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure he's going to try.
  • Crawford. Redick's absence isn't felt so much in the first unit as in the second unit. The Willie Green experiment -- moving Green into the first five -- was a bust, and the Clippers have played very well with Jamal Crawford starting. But Crawford's scoring is sorely missed when the starters are out of the game. Doc Rivers will probably give Crawford a lot of minutes in this one in order to keep his scoring on the floor even when Paul and Griffin are out.
  • 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 -- an observation to which some Blazer fans objected, arguing that Portland was in fact somehow uniquely qualified to win the final minute of games that they hadn't secured over the course of 47 minutes. Since December 26th, the Blazers have lost six close ones -- which either indicates a regression towards the mean in thosee coin toss games, or that the Blazers have somehow lost their close game super-powers.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge. LaMarcus Aldridge will play in his third All Star Game on Sunday and makes regular appearances in list of MVP candidate. He's averaging career highs in rebounds and points per game, but while the rebounding is very real and very good, the scoring increase has come at a significant cost to his scoring efficiency.
  • LaDamian. Am I the only one who somehow gets Aldridge and Lillard's first names mixed up in my head and wants there to be a guy named LaDamian on the Blazers? Are we allowed to have couple names in the NBA? If Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are TomKat, can Aldrige and Lillard just be LaDamian for short? "LaDamian combined for 46 in the first meeting with the Clippers." Would that makes Chris Paul and Blake Griffin Chriffin? It would be easier to do a one-name for Blake and Cliff Paul -- Cliffin.
  • Joel Freeland. 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. On a team with limited options off the bench, Freeland had become the first big. Last night against the Thunder he sprained his MCL and is out 4-8 weeks. In his absence, the Blazers will rely more heavily on Thomas Robinson, the 2013 lottery pick who is on his third team in just his second NBA season. Another second year pro, Meyers Leonard, will come into the rotation as the backup center.
  • Mo Williams. Mo Williams has been the Blazers leading scorer off the bench this season. He has missed the last games to be with his severely ill sister. It seems as if sis is doing better, and it is possible that Williams will be back in the fold tonight to face his former team.
  • C.J. McCollum. Rookie C.J. McCollum broke his foot in training camp and missed the first 35 games of the season including the first meeting between the Clippers and Blazers. The LeHigh product (go Mountain Hawks!) was arguably the best rookie at the Las Vegas summer league last July (it was an admittedly terrible year for rooks) and has slotted in very nicely since making his season debut, particularly in Williams' absence the last three games. He has scored 34 points in the last two games, but he's a combo guard like Williams, and his minutes will no doubt come down some if Mo is back in the lineup.
  • 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. New Clippers Hedo Turkoglu originally agreed to terms with the Blazers back in 2009 when he first left Orlando, but then changed his mind and left Toronto. You think they don't like him Toronto? They REALLY despise in in PDX.
  • Get the Portland perspective at Blazer's Edge.
  • Shakespearean reference:
    Romeo and Juliet -- Act III, Scene 3 -- Friar Laurence
    Go, get thee to thy love, as was decreed,
    Ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her:
    But look thou stay not till the watch be set,
    For then thou canst not pass to Mantua;
    Where thou shalt live, till we can find a time
    To blaze your marriage, reconcile your friends,
    Beg pardon of the prince, and call thee back
    With twenty hundred thousand times more joy
    Than thou went'st forth in lamentation.
    Go before, nurse: commend me to thy lady;
    And bid her hasten all the house to bed,
    Which heavy sorrow makes them apt unto:
    Romeo is coming.