It gets said to the point of redundancy, but it is also a necessary caveat when discussing any preseason game: it doesn’t matter who wins or loses until the regular season begins. With that said, tonight's showdown between the Clippers and the Trail Blazers will be the rematch everybody’s been waiting for. Following last year’s first round playoff ouster for Los Angeles at the hands of Damian Lillard and Co., expect a viciously hard-fought affair of bloodsport. Only one side will be able to leave the Staples Center claiming themselves as victors, the other relegated to eternal shame.
In reality, the beginning of the Los Angeles Clippers 2016-17 Revenge on Portland Tour will be the regular season opener on October 27th. That game will also be nationally broadcast on TNT and, being a game that actually counts towards each team’s record, will surely be hyped up as the true kickoff of the rematch. That doesn’t mean we can’t all get pumped up for a little preseason spat, even if for no other reason than to start preheating the blood for that regular season boil we’re all anticipating.
Given the girth of retained minutes from last year’s roster for the Clippers, there isn’t much to watch for regarding potential ebbs and flows in the rotation; training camp additions Xavier Munford and Dorell Wright have been waived, Marreese Speights will probably end up taking a large chunk of the leftover minutes from Jeff Green’s departure to Orlando, and that’s pretty much that. Potential injuries aside, fans should largely know which players they’ll see getting run in the regular season.
The more captivating aspects of tonight's game will involve player progression. Though Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford have been struggling a bit with their shot percentages so far, nobody should see this as an actual cause for concern given the tremendous reliability of those players. The same cannot be said for Austin Rivers, who is shooting an abysmal 20.7 percent from the field through three games. Preseason numbers can be marred by all sorts of irregular influences, but fans have reason to worry when that sort of inefficiency is being put on the court in such significant volume (9.7 shots per game) by a player with a reputation like Rivers’.
Don’t think Doc Rivers will suddenly subside in his vigorous quest to turn Austin into a star(ting caliber player, at least. Mercifully). If anything, expect the often-criticized-but-never-shaken shooting guard to be fed the ball even more until some formula can begin to turn into reasonable output for him. To his credit, his field goal percentage has increased in each of his four seasons in the league, including a reasonable mark of 43.8 percent last season. Still, I feel inclined to remind you that he is hitting at less than half that rate to start the preseason.
It’s not the worst triumvirate of wing defenders in the league, but the combination of CJ McCollum, Evan Turner, and Allen Crabbe shouldn’t put up significant resistance on the perimeter. Glass half-full: Little Rivers will have a decent opportunity to get things back on track. Glass half-empty: if he doesn’t, he’s fallen off the rails to start the season.
In a more positive development, Blake Griffin has hit half of his three-point attempts so far (on only four attempts, but let’s try to focus on the sunshine rather than the shadows). His shot attempts have been on a pilgrimage away from the hoop throughout his career, and reports have said he is looking to take that journey out past the three-point line this season. This isn’t advice that ever fails to keep folks entertained, but be paying attention to Griffin on offense.
On the Blazers end of the court, Meyers Leonard and free agent addition Festus Ezeli will both remain out due to injuries. One underrated storyline this could give way to is an opportunity for one of the Clippers’ rookie big men to shine. Brice Johnson (who, if you ask Mike Wilbon, is better than Ben Simmons) and Diamond Stone have been given nary a chance to shine so far in the preseason. Johnson is out indefinitely with a herniated disk in his lower back, but Stone will be available. Extended run against Blazers backups Noah Vonleh and Ed Davis could provide a bit more insight into his game for fans and coaches alike. Perhaps Doc Rivers is keeping Stone on the bench because he knows full well that the rookie is not ready to do anything constructive on the court, but what is the preseason for if not giving coaches the opportunity to try things that they can’t afford to do once the games start mattering?
So, what should we be watching for tonight? Let’s run that whole thing back (I only ever speak for myself, but I am a Powerade person until those commercials are off the air):
1. This is the rematch of the century, or the prelude to the rematch of the century, or just a rematch of a playoff series. You can decide for yourself which lens you’d prefer to view it through.
2. Can Austin Rivers get the ball to go into the hoop at a more respectable rate?
3. Will Blake Griffin knock down another shot or two from beyond the arc?
4. Is Diamond Stone going to see extended time on the court?
That does it for the Clips Nation primer on what to watch for tonight against the Trail Blazers. Have any questions, comments, or pressing concerns of your own? A great way to share those sentiments would be to comment below, or tweet us @ClipsNationSBN, or reach yours truly by tweeting @NoelyHoops.