Portland Trail Blazers X Factor: Ed Davis
Ed Davis is one of the best backup big men in the NBA. He has also destroyed the Clippers this year to the tune of a 13.5/11.3 line-- off the bench! In the Clippers one loss to the Blazers this season, he went absolutely crazy, throwing up a 17/15 line and mutilating the poor Clippers big men in the process. The Blazers biggest advantage in the series is rebounding, and Davis is their best per minute rebounder. He also has the advantage of coming off the bench, therefore spending less time on the court with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. While Cole Aldrich has proven to be a fine reserve center, Davis is longer, more athletic, and simply a better player.
Davis' particular strength is offensive rebounding, as he pulled in an incredible 2.8 boards a game on his end of the court. That translated to a 14.4 Offensive Rebounding percentage, 4th in the entire NBA. All those offensive rebounds lead to extra points, and are particularly troubling because open three pointers often result as defensive players leak out in transition. To that end, Davis has improved somewhat as a passer: he put up the highest assists/36 minutes of his career this season. And not only do his offensive rebounds put up points for his own team, but they also deprive the Clippers of potential fast break opportunities, one of the areas in which they thrive. He is a menace on the offensive glass, and must be stopped for the second unit to keep up with Portland's.
Davis does other stuff too. He is a very good defensive big man, and averages 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. He moves well on that end defending smaller guys, and I am sure we will see a couple Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers attempts around the basket smothered by his long arms. Matter of fact, he is just a really solid overall player, and it would not be all that surprising if his minutes per game in the playoffs surged north of 30 (he averaged a little over 20 in the regular season).
How will the Clippers counter him? Funnily enough, the player best suited for that is in fact their X-Factor for this series.
Clippers X Factor: Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin doesn't have to be at full strength for the Clippers to win this series, but he does need to play well. The reason for this (outside of the fact he is their 2nd best player, of course), is that he is the best answer to the Blazers' offensive rebounding strategy. The Blazers were 3rd in offensive rebounding percentage during the season, and the Clippers were 28th in defensive rebounding. That doesn't bode well, but it also doesn't account for the fact that Blake appeared in only 35 of those contests.
Blake Griffin's rebounding has fallen off since his early years in the league, but in last year's playoffs he stepped up his boards from 7.6 to 12.7 a game, an incredible jump. While he is still a bit rusty from his long absence, expect him to put in a similar effort on the glass in this series.
Even better, if Doc staggers Blake's minutes correctly, he will probably anchor the bench unit much of the time(either as the PF or replacing Cole some of the time as the C). Now, asking him to play too much center against Davis and Portland's other big men isn't a great idea, but he can do it for stretches, and he can rebound against anyone in the NBA. The Clippers only have three big men, but depth matters less in the playoffs, and Blake will average well over 30 minutes a night, quad injury or no. If the Clippers are getting beaten badly on the glass, Doc will use Blake alongside Cole on the 2nd unit, and reduce the minutes of one of his small ball 4's (my guess would be Wes Johnson). While that won't fix the rebounding completely (the Clippers' wings and guards are almost all below average while the Blazers have some terrific rebounding smaller guys), it will help substantially.
Outside the rebounding, if Blake is able to play at even 70% of his usual playoff level, the Blazers simply have no chance. Even without Blake the Clippers were better this season. Add him into the mix, and they should have enough talent to just dominate the Blazers. He can bully guys like Maurice Harkless and Noah Vonleh in the post, and is too quick for Plumlee off the dribble. Davis himself is most likely the best matchup for Blake, which is just another reason he will see a bunch of minutes. While Blake's jumper has been very off since he returned, it probably won't remain that way forever, and when it comes back..... Look out!
The Blazer's best chance in this series (outside the obvious caveat of Lillard and McCollum shooting well), is through rebounding, especially on the offensive glass. And the two most crucial players in that regard are Davis and Blake. The battle between them might decide the series.