If there were a way to corner the market on disappointing losses this season, the Los Angeles Clippers would have already done so by now. They blew another fourth quarter lead against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night and now must rebound by traveling up to Oregon to play against the Portland Trail Blazers. As much as the Blazers’ record reads 4-9, they’re a lot better than said record would indicate. Portland is coming off of their own tough loss – an overtime defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets when they were leading the whole way and then forgot to intentionally foul at the end, which allowed Corey Brewer to hit a running one-legged three to tie it up.
Both squads were playoff teams last season, but both underwent a massive facelift this offseason. The Clippers added a plethora of new faces that we’ve talked about ad nauseam. The Blazers, on the other hand, had to watch LaMarcus Aldridge walk away in free agency and he eventually signed with the San Antonio Spurs. Portland chose to rebuild rather than reload, and that’s been part of their issue this season. They opted to trade Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson, as well as sign Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis. They’re a young squad, but not a squad to be taken lightly by anyone.
To no one’s surprise, Portland’s leading scorer is non-other than their dynamic point guard Damian Lillard. He’s currently averaging 25.1 points per game on 43.2 percent shooting, including 37.3 percent from beyond the arc. Lillard is also sporting 6.7 assists per game and 4.1 rebounds per game. His backcourt mate C.J. McCollum has been almost as brilliant. McCollum’s averaging 20.3 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting overall and 37.1 percent from three. They’re one of the most lethal backcourts in the entire league right now. And, a night after dealing with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Clippers now must face a backcourt that might be a slightly lesser doppelganger than that duo up in Oakland.
One of the funny subplots to every single Clippers season since the arrival of Chris Paul has been that the team always starts off 8-5. The last four years with Paul at the helm have been no different. With the team already off to a 6-5 start this year, they almost seem right on pace to repeat their past endeavors. To get to that 8-5 start for a fifth straight season, the team will need to play brilliantly on the second night of a back-to-back, and then turn around and beat the Toronto Raptors on Sunday afternoon. It’s definitely possible, but the odds look pretty bleak for another 8-5 start.
Beating the Blazers will not be easy, though. With J.J. Redick’s status pretty much up in the air and doubtful, the Clippers will need an “all hands on deck” approach to pull this game out. The Blazers whip the ball around the court as well as anyone, and you can thank head coach Terry Stotts for that. If there’s a definitely bright side for the Clippers in this matchup, it’s that they won’t have to play against Meyers Leonard. Last season, the center was the only player in the NBA to post a 50-40-90 shooting split. Yes, that’s right, not even Curry could match Leonard’s prowess last season as a shooter. Without him, it limits a little bit of Portland’s floor spacing and could make a tough night a little easier for the bigs of Los Angeles.
There’s no telling how this game will actually transpire, but the Clippers would be wise to feed Blake Griffin the ball early and often. Portland has a slew of big men capable of being adequate defenders, but no one really with the physicality to matchup with Griffin – outside of Mason Plumlee, probably. The Clippers must get Griffin the ball in optimal scoring spots and allow him to go to work. He’s shooting 65.4 percent inside 8 feet, 48.1 percent from 16-to-24 feet, and has become an absolutely dominant low post player. Getting Griffin engaged early should be the plan.
What should not be the plan, however, is allowing guys like Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce to be negatives on both ends of the court. It’s understandable that Doc Rivers wants spacing with his starting lineup. Then again, what’s not understandable is the explanations as to why he’s sticking with Pierce and Crawford as a tandem. They’ve been a horrible group together all year and continue to be. The fact the head coach can’t adequately assess that situation is pretty baffling at this point in time. Loyalty only goes so far.
This will be a supremely tough game. Teams don’t just stroll into the Moda Center on the second night of a back-to-back and walk out with wins that often. The team will need to come out fired up early and ready to roll, or else this game will turn into a Portland transition-fest. The Blazers love to shoot jumpers, but they do attack the rim off of dribble penetration quite a bit in order to drive-and-kick. It’ll be up to the Clippers’ perimeter defenders to stop that. If not, it’ll be a long night. We might see what the team is made of this evening.
|2015/2016 NBA Regular Season|
|November 20, 2015 | 7:00 PM (PDT)|
|Moda Center (Portland, Oregon)|
|Prime Ticket, CSNNWHD, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM|
|Win-Loss Breakdown (2015-2016 Regular Season)|
|Chris Paul||PG||Damian Lillard|
|Jamal Crawford||SG||C.J. McCollum|
|Paul Pierce||SF||Al-Farouq Aminu|
|Blake Griffin||PF||Noah Vonleh|
|DeAndre Jordan||C||Mason Plumlee|
|Advanced Stats (2015-2016 Regular Season)|
|100.63 (9th of 30)||Pace||97.92 (23rd of 30)|
|106.0 (3rd of 30)||ORtg||102.1 (9th of 30)|
|104.9 (24th of 30)||DRtg||104.5 (22nd of 30)|
|J.J. Redick (Out) Back||Meyers Leonard (Out) Shoulder|