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Clippers-Blazers Preview: Downward Bound

The Clippers return home to try and end a three-game skid against the precocious Trail Blazers.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

2015/2016 NBA Regular Season
Portland Trail Blazers (37-35)

Los Angeles Clippers (43-27)
March 24, 2016 — 7:30 PM PDT
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, CA)
Prime Ticket, KLAC AM 570
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
12-15 East 20-8
25-20 West 23-19
9-4 Division 7-7
22-12 Home 22-12
15-23 Road 21-15
15-23 .500 + 21-18
22-12 - .500 22-9
2-3 OT 4-1
4-6 L10 3-7
Projected Starters
Damian Lillard PG Chris Paul
C.J. McCollum SG J.J. Redick
Al-Farouq Aminu SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Maurice Harkless PF Paul Pierce
Mason Plumlee C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
97.9 (T-17th of 30) Pace 98.2 (14th of 30)
105.8 (7th of 30) OffRtg 106.2 (6th of 30)
105.8 (21st of 30) DefRtg 101.6 (7th of 30)
Meyers Leonard (shoulder) out
Blake Griffin (quad/hand) out
'15-16 Season Series (Clippers lead 2-1)
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
Blazers 102, Clippers 91
Box Score
Los Angeles
Clippers 102, Blazers 87
Box Score
Clippers 109, Blazers 98
Box Score
Los Angeles

The Big Picture:

They're struggling. Period. Losing to Cleveland and San Antonio is understandable, even by 20+. As is last night's defeat in Golden State, even though the Clippers are oh-for their last five against the Warriors. Losing to the remnants of the Grizzlies and Pelicans over the weekend? That's a bad look. Their 4-7 mark in March is also a bad look. The possible causes of this late season swoon are varied. Maybe the team has run out of steam -- several players have carried a larger workload to compensate for Blake Griffin's absence, which will complete its third full month this weekend. Maybe the Toronto blowup had a more pronounced effect on team chemistry than we can reasonably measure. JJ Redick did let on that the team's spirit is waning. Maybe it's nothing more than a brief slump. Maybe they're bored and ready for the playoffs. Maybe Chuck the Condor scares them. Whichever 'maybe' it is, with just a dozen games remaining in the regular season, it may not matter much. Barring something crazy, the Clippers look locked into the 4th seed, with another sure-to-be-brutal first round series against Clippers-East Memphis as their reward. So maybe Doc Rivers should let Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and JJ Redick sit a few extra minutes tonight. Or maybe you believe the Clippers need to build momentum for the playoffs. In that case, maybe they begin tonight.

The Antagonist:

When these two teams last met, the Blazers were little more than a novelty, a rebuilding franchise that had achieved some premature friskiness. They had clobbered the Cavaliers in December and the country collectively cooed, "Aww, the little Blazers are no fun to play against." Then came January. Between January 10th and March 1st they lost just four games, winning eighteen. Damian Lillard was left out of the All-Star Game and sought revenge against, well, everyone. They beat the Warriors by 32 on February 19th, the beginning of an unholy run -- Dame is averaging 29.9 points per game post All-Star. Portland has fallen off in March against a seriously tough and road-heavy schedule, but they're right there fighting for playoff position with Dirk Nowitzki's Mavs, James Harden's Rockets, and a Utah Jazz team inexplicably rounding into form under the stewardship of Shelvin Mack. Credit goes to Neil Olshey (sigh), Terry Stotts, and the crew of young Blazers who have stepped up and fulfilled bigger roles (and then some). These baby Blazers have arrived well ahead of schedule.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. Since January 10th, when the Blazers began their winter-melting run, they have essentially equalled the Clippers in True Shooting % (56% for the Clips, 55.8% for the Blazers). Coupled with their proficiency on the offensive boards (9th in offensive rebound rate), the Blazers have played like an offensive powerhouse, climbing to 7th overall in offensive efficiency and breathing down the Clippers' collective neck. So it seems that tonight will be decided by the stops.
  • Schedule. Here comes a welcome break after four road games in six days. The Clippers get two full days off before a Sunday noon-thirty tip against the Denver Nuggets. They host Boston a little more than 24 hours after that.
  • Forget about the last time. In the last Clippers-Blazers contest on January 6th, CJ McCollum and his nearly 21 PPG were planted to the bench by the NBA after the Trail Blazers mistakenly left their young guard off their game roster. Barring another clerical mixup, both teams will have their star-powered starting backcourts.
  • Fresh legs. Both teams come in with fewer than 24 hours' rest. Who will gain the advantage? Both teams come traveling from afar -- the Blazers from home and the Clippers from Oakland. One would think that the Clippers, already weary-looking, would suffer more acutely, being the older team and having just slugged it out with the Warriors.
  • Taking care of business. One glaring difference between this year's Clippers and the Clippers of the prior two years? This year's edition isn't getting it done as consistently against bad teams. They've dropped nine games to teams below .500 this season, just two short of their total for the last two seasons combined.
  • For the Trail Blazers' point of view, head over to Blazer's Edge.