The Big Picture
Basketball is finally back for the Clippers who, after watching all the other teams in the league get their season going over the past two nights, will get the show on the road in Portland.
Early season games have ramifications of a narrative nature more than anything else. As much as they are an opportunity to get ahead in the standings, there are so many presumable adjustments and alterations to come throughout the season that it is often difficult to glean anything too definitive from what happens on the court. Between game plans, trades, injuries, and myriad other variables, no early game promises to reveal anything more than a winner and a loser.
What is absolutely and undeniably at stake is the chance to get on the right foot with the rest of the world, be it fans, media, or even front office types. Just take a look at the Warriors embarrassing loss to the Spurs on opening night. Months of accumulated fear for the new super team seemed to turn into laughter over the course of a few hours because of a sputter out of the gate (unfortunately for all, Golden State is very much for real and nobody will be laughing for very long). A season opener is a great chance to get people talking about the things that a team wants to be hearing. So what narratives are at stake?
While these teams already faced off in the preseason (in what turned out to be surprisingly great preseason television, culminating in a Jamal Crawford game-winner), tonight’s matchup will serve as the Clippers de facto revenge match after the Blazers got the best of them in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Expect that to be the narrative buzzed in by the TNT crew, as well as the countless onlookers in the NBA twittersphere.
Beyond revenge, this will be the first chance for the Clippers to show that they are in the league’s upper echelon by putting on a strong demonstration against a projected playoff team in the non-contender weight class. If Los Angeles can breeze through the game, a lot more optimism will be invited into the picture for a team that seems to be constantly prescribed a big asterisk labeled “Playoffs, tho.” Losing the season opener to the team that most recently booted them from the playoffs would pretty much guarantee an immediate resurgence of the asterisk.
It may just be one game, but it is a game that could go a long ways towards shutting people up (especially on national television). That’s enough to make it a crucial showdown for the Clippers.
The Trail Blazers got their season started on Tuesday night with a victory over the upstart (albeit injury-riddled) Jazz. That was a showdown between two teams looking to forge a path from “good” to “really good”, or perhaps even “really, really good.”
Portland surprised the world last season by putting themselves not only in the playoff hunt, but also in the second round when most people expected a down season following the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge. With several offseason additions and virtually no turnover, the Blazers roster is in a position to build on last season’s surprise success.
Perhaps hungriest for upward momentum is Damian Lillard, who has put his name in the ring of MVP hopefuls to start the season, both with his talk and his walk. After directly stating his intention to win the award, he kicked off the season with a 39-point outburst on Tuesday. Notably, he has averaged only 16.5 points per game (which is a small number for him) in his prior showdowns against Chris Paul. If Lillard really wants to get the MVP voters thinking, it would help to top his career-high of 27 points against CP3 on national television.
Clippers fans probably don’t need to be reminded about how this series went last season, but we’ll briefly review. They faced off with the Blazers four times in the regular season, winning the final three affairs before meeting up again in the playoffs. The Clippers won the first two games at home before being stunned by the Blazers in four consecutive losses to end their season sooner than had been hoped for. Now let’s move on to forgetting about that.
Both of these teams are fighting for something similar this year. The Blazers are looking to prove that they can hang with the real contenders, while the Clippers are trying to show the world that they are one of those contenders. As one would expect, this means that the Clippers have more to lose in this matchup (from a narrative perspective). Anything worse than a comfortable victory will begin to raise questions of “well, what about when it’s the Warriors?”
Speaking of those questions, the Blazers are also an interesting team to square off with because of how closely defending Lillard can resemble defending Curry, particularly in the need to give him as little space as possible as he darts around the court both on and off the ball. While he is not the same caliber of shooter as Curry (who is?) and he does not have the same level of support as the reigning MVP (who does?), a bevy of good looks for Dame D.O.L.L.A could be as ominous a sign for the Clippers as any final score.
For the Clippers, it won’t be the stars that necessarily merit the most intrigue for fans. The struggles of the bench unit were often the undoing for this team last season, and so a few adjustments were made, most notably the additions of Speights and Raymond Felton. If these guys are able to make their presence felt and returning players are able to be efficient (we’re looking at you, Austin Rivers), it will go a long way towards legitimacy.
As always, you are encouraged to share your thoughts in the comments below, by tweeting @ClipsNationSBN, or tweeting yours truly @NoelyHoops.