The Big Picture
The Clippers bounced back admirably from their shellacking at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, trouncing the shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans without the help of Blake Griffin. Chris Paul had the Pelicans seeing stars with his historic night (20 points, 20 assists, no turnovers), which seemed to buoy the team’s spirits after what can only be described as a disheartening showing against the Dubs. They’ll look to carry the momentum from Saturday night into the final game of their home stand before heading east for three on the road.
Though the Clippers got back to their winnings ways, there’s no denying their recent struggles: their defensive dominance has waned (though they still find themselves second in the NBA in defensive rating) and a bench unit that once ranked as one of the top five-man units in the league has fallen off substantially. A win against the Trail Blazers would go a long way for a team that now finds itself mired in the middle of the Western Conference playoff outlook, tied with the Houston Rockets with the third best record in the conference.
There has been a lot of talk about the Clippers’ packed early season schedule that left them with little practice time and inevitably tired legs. However, the worst of it is behind them and the squad enjoyed multiple practices and only two games in the past week. Let’s hope that the extra rest helps the Clips look less sluggish on both ends, as uncharacteristically sloppy turnovers on offense and slow rotations on defense have reared their ugly heads several times during the team’s recent swoon.
The Clippers will be without the services of Austin Rivers, who suffered a mild concussion thanks to the elbow of Terrence Jones in Saturday’s game. Thankfully, it seems likely that Raymond Felton will be back from his two-game hiatus for family reasons, a return that will mitigate the impact of the younger Rivers’ absence on the second unit.
Portland comes into this game reeling. They’ve lost three in a row and have blown fourth quarter leads to the Grizzlies and Pacers in each of their last two games. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been stellar, but the supporting cast, led by disappointing offseason addition, Evan Turner, continues to underwhelm. They still are without the services of once-Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu, and while he’s close to returning from a back injury, it looks as though he’ll be inactive for tonight’s game. That’s bad news for a defense that is just one notch from the bottom of the list when it comes to defensive rating. Maurice Harkless, who has been a revelation for a team in need of efficient role players, returned from an ankle injury, but did not make much of an impact against the Pacers. They’ll need him to play much more like he did the first time these two teams clashed (23 points, 8 rebounds, 67% from the field) if they want to keep pace with the Clippers.
Their road ahead is brutal with match-ups against the Thunder, Warriors, Spurs, and Raptors looming. They’re currently sitting in the eight-spot in the Western Conference, and while they likely are safe above teams like the Lakers and Nuggets, this stretch may make their grasp on a playoff spot just a bit more tenuous. They need every win they can get and they’ll definitely show up ready to scrap for a victory over a Clippers team that they’ve made clear they don’t much care for in the past.
- While this matchup may not yet be considered a full-fledged rivalry, it’s no secret that the teams don’t quite get along. Clippers-Blazers tilts are notoriously chippy and I see no reason to believe that this game should be any exception. The teams combined for four technical and flagrant fouls in their first game of the season and if tonight’s game is close, expect plenty more fireworks.
- Blake Griffin got the night off to rest a sore knee against the Pelicans, but he should be fully healthy and ready to go tonight. He has performed remarkably well against the Blazers so far this season (24.5 points, 13.0 rebounds per game), as a result of his ability to simply overpower Portland defenders in the post. Ed Davis may be able to provide more of a challenge than Harkless or Noah Vonleh, but the Blazers defense will surely have their hands full.
- Damian Lillard’s struggles against the Clippers have been well documented, and the last matchup did nothing to help shift that perception. CP3 & Co. limited Dame Dolla to just 8 points on 1/10 shooting, a far cry from his season average of 27.8 points per game. By aggressively picking him up early in the half court, the Clippers seem to have found the secret formula to taming the Blazers’ dynamic point guard: force the ball from his hands and dare everyone else to beat you. Get ready for another long night courtesy of the Clippers defense.
Hey, the Decemberists are from Portland. Here’s one that I’m dedicating to Chris Paul in honor of his 20/20 game - aptly titled, “Make You Better.”