|2015/2016 NBA Preseason|
|October 22, 2015 | 10:30 PM (PDT)|
|STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA|
|Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM|
|Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015 Regular Season)|
|Chris Paul||PG||Damian Lillard|
|J.J. Redick||SG||C.J. McCollum|
|Lance Stephenson||SF||Moe Harkless|
|Blake Griffin||PF||Meyers Leonard|
|DeAndre Jordan||C||Mason Plumlee|
|Advanced Stats (2014-2015 Regular Season)|
|96.96 (10th of 30)||Pace||96.5 (12th of 30)|
|109.8 (1st of 30)||ORtg||105.5 (8th of 30)|
|103.0 (15th of 30)||DRtg||101.4 (10th of 30)|
Gerald Henderson (Out) Hip
Al-Farouq Aminu (Doubtful) Hamstring
Building Off a Blowout Win
The Clips improved to 2-3 this preseason with Tuesday night's 130-95 drubbing of the Golden State Warriors. Even though it was a relatively meaningless game (and Stephen Curry was out), it was still a welcome sight for the club following three consecutive miserable efforts against Toronto and Charlotte (twice). The bench actually looked like something resembling a cohesive unit, which was something we hadn't really seen to this point. L.A. poured-in at least 30 points in each quarter in a game that was well out of hand by halftime. Tonight's game against the Trail Blazers will be the sixth and final preseason game. Mercifully.
What's New With the Blazers?
What's new with the Blazers? Well, everything. There isn't a team in the league that has undergone as massive a roster overhaul as Portland has from last season to this. They lost four starters from last year (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez) and have a grand total of 10 new players on board. The only remaining players that figure to factor into the rotation this season are Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard and (maybe) Chris Kaman.
Old Friend Alert
Chris Kaman (that's former All-Star Chris Kaman, mind you) figures to eat up some of the backup center minutes behind the likes of Mason Plumlee, and he's the elder statesman on a roster chock full of unproven youngsters. One of those still largely unproven youngsters is former Clipper lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, who came to Portland from Dallas this summer on a lucrative four-year, $30 million deal. Aminu showed tremendous flashes late last season (and in the playoffs) with the Mavs, particularly on the defensive end. He played with tremendous energy and looked like a legitimate contributor, which is something we rarely saw during his limited tenure with the Clips. He's still quite raw offensively (the 31% he shot from three-point range as a rookie is still his career-best), but there's a place in this league for energy guys with decent size. He's missed the last couple of games with a hamstring injury, though, so he may not be playing tonight.
Portland's GM is former Clipper GM Neil Olshey. Olshey did a very nice job in his two years at the helm in L.A. before fleeing to Portland in what was a shocking move at the time. He's done a similarly excellent job thus far with the Trail Blazers, helping them to a pair of playoff berths over three seasons. However, once it became clear that LaMarcus Aldridge wasn't coming back this summer, he effectively hit the reset button and built an entirely new team around Lillard almost immediately. This went from a team with a talented-but-limited core to one with question marks everywhere overnight. The Aldridge-Lillard-Lopez-Matthews-Batum group was solid but it was evident that it wasn't ever going to be strong enough to win a title. Aldridge knew that, so he bolted for greener pastures.
So, with Lillard entrenched as the new face of the franchise, Olshey surrounded him with a bunch of players that haven't been able to stick anywhere else as of yet. Moe Harkless, Ed Davis, Mason Plumlee and Aminu are all still young enough to where we still don't know how good they really can be. In Portland, they'll all have opportunities to flourish.
Behind Enemy Lines
This will also be Portland's final game of the preseason. They're 3-3 to this point and are coming off a 104-102 loss to the Lakers. They allowed a walk-off dunk to Ryan Kelly in that game, if that tells you anything about how things are going for them.
The Blazers finished 51-31 last season, but given the roster overhaul it's almost not even worth mentioning. This is a completely different team. L.A. did win the season series 3-1 last year, though, for what it's worth. Portland has an excellent offensive-minded head coach in Terry Stotts, and it's hard to imagine his team being a complete doormat in spite of all the uncertainty. They're loaded with athletes (particularly in the frontcourt) and Lillard playing sans a red light should make for some fun television. Without Aldridge in the mix, would anyone be surprised if Dame's usage rate skyrocketed into Kobe/Westbrook territory (~35%)?
In Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh, Portland also has a couple of bigs that can stretch the floor. The combination of a preseason injury and a crowded frontcourt severely limited Vonleh's playing time in Charlotte last season, but he figures to leap right into the Blazers' rotation this year. He showed in his one collegiate season that he can hit the three-ball, though it's not been a major part of his repertoire in the NBA quite yet.
After attempting a grand total of 0.15 three-pointers a game over the course of his first two pro seasons, Leonard came out guns blazing in 2014-15. He averaged two three-point attempts per game over the course of 55 games played and hit a stellar 42% of them. It usually takes players years to add shooting range to their game, but Leonard seems to have done so in a crazy short span. In the six preseason games so far this year, Leonard has already attempted 27 triples, connecting on an excellent 13 of them (48%).
Matchup to Watch
Clippers frontcourt vs. Blazers frontcourt
Assuming they both play, Lillard vs. Chris Paul should obviously be quite the contest. But another interesting matchup will be the Clippers' bigs against the Blazers' bigs. I already mentioned the stretchiness that Leonard and Vonleh can bring to the game, which may force Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to defend further from the basket than they'd normally prefer. Mason Plumlee and former Laker Ed Davis are springy, too, and should be able to thrive running the pick-and-roll with Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
One would imagine the PnR will be a larger part of the Portland attack than it was during the LMA era. Aldridge, a world-class midrange player, commanded the ball in the post or on the wings, and would just do his thing. This team is going to take a ton of three-pointers, which is something the Clippers have a history of not defending particularly well. Griffin and Jordan certainly have the mobility and athleticism to stay with Portland's mobile bigs, but it'll be a different challenge than it was when Aldridge was here.
That said, none of the Blazer big men are exactly renowned for their defensive prowess, either. Griffin/Jordan is a nightmare matchup for just about every team in the league, and they should be able to have their way on offense against the largely inexperienced Portland frontcourt.
Stotts has also been starting Leonard and Plumlee together, which leaves the likes of Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chris Kaman on the bench.
Portland's backcourt is paper thin. With Gerald Henderson likely sidelined into the regular season after offseason hip surgery, C.J. McCollum seems the natural fit to slide into the starting shooting guard slot. So the reserve guards are Phil Pressey, Pat Connaughton, Tim Frazier and Allen Crabbe. If you can pick any of those four out of a lineup, congrats! You're a hoops junkie!
*whispers* It's time to get help.
Doc Rivers has been experimenting with the Clips' starting small forward throughout the preseason. Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce and, yes, Lance Stephenson have all started at that spot through the first five games. There's no telling who the ultimate selection will be, but I feel like the best fit is Johnson for that spot. Starting Wes would allow him to bring Pierce off the bench, which accomplishes a couple of things: It helps to limit the veteran's minutes, and brings the reserve group a much-needed scoring punch. Stephenson is likely best deployed as one of the bench's primary ball-handlers, which is the job obviously held by CP3 among the starters. Given the apparent lack of improvement in his dreadful shooting, playing Lance off-ball doesn't serve much of a purpose offensively. Johnson is athletic and has shown that he can hit the three-ball fairly consistently. You really don't need much more out of that starting No. 3 spot, so it seems he'd be the best choice. However, Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times tweeted this afternoon that Stephenson is listed as the starter for tonight's game.
As mentioned in the open, L.A.'s bench performed well in the win over the Warriors. Austin Rivers had what was easily his best game of the preseason. Josh Smith continued his decent form, and even Jamal Crawford looked something like the Jamal Crawford we've seen over the last couple of seasons. Doc may want to be cautious with the starters in an effort to conserve energy (and prevent injury) just ahead of the regular season, so we could see extended minutes for the reserves in this one.
Game Day Beer of Choice
This game is taking place in downtown Los Angeles, but with the Blazers in town, we'd be remiss if we didn't find a Portland beer to commemorate the occasion. Portland is a well-known hipster town, so we'll need something that sounds like it'd wear a beanie in the middle of the summer. Oh look, I've found just the thing!
Ah, yes. This one's called Billy The Mountain, and it comes to us via Portland's own Upright Brewing Company. Just look at that thing. It's more a wine bottle than a beer bottle. Is that really the standard size? Try carrying this guy around casually and NOT looking like a boozehound. Not possible.
But what does it taste like? Here's a description from PDXMonthly.com:
This interpretation of British "old ale" makes use of a rare strain of wild yeast to commingle bright hoppy notes with the earthy, leathery, funky flavors of pinot noir barrels.
Earthy? Leathery? Funky? Sounds Portlandy! Rare strain? "This strain is so rare, you've probably never heard of it" is TOTALLY something someone from Portland would say. I think we've found our brew of choice.
Clippers-Blazers gets underway tonight at STAPLES Center at 7:30 on Prime Ticket. So use both hands and open your gigantic bottle of Billy The Mountain before cheering on the home team. Or, at least cheer for both teams to get through this one completely healthy. That's the main thing we're hoping to get out of this game.