I was invited over to Blazer's Edge yesterday to give them a piece of my mind about the Clippers. Unfortunately, that was the price I had to pay to get the excellent Eric Griffith over here to answer a few questions of my own.
He's done some great work recently, including this exhaustive breakdown of the upcoming point guard matchup: Chris Paul against Damian Lillard. In the last few months, he's also written a well-researched feature on the Trail Blazers bench as well as a dive into the development of Meyers Leonard (currently out for the year). Give him a follow on Twitter: @DeeringTornado, and keep up with Blazer's Edge for more great content from writers like him.
Do you think the Blazers can upset the Clippers? What kinds of matchup advantages do you think they'll have? Where can they make hay in this series?
To be completely honest, I don't feel confident in the Blazers' chances (this isn't being co-published on Blazer's Edge, right? Phew). I think there will be a few close games in the series, and I’d certainly be surprised if it was a sweep, but in the end I’d guess the Clippers will prevail.
With that said, I think if the Blazers are going to have a chance in the series, the CJ McCollum/Gerald Henderson/Allen Crabbe triumvirate at shooting guard/small forward has to play well. McCollum has been spectacular all season and adds new moves to his arsenal on a daily basis. After beginning the season in Lillard’s shadow, he’s emerged as a legitimate threat in his own right when he becomes the first option on offense while Lillard rests. JJ Redick is of course very good, and his off-ball movement is a matchup nightmare for the Blazers, but McCollum should be able to outplay him over the course of a seven game series. (The extra motivation to smoke Doc Rivers’ son won’t hurt either.)
The Blazers need big games from Crabbe and Henderson on both ends of the court if they want to keep up with the Clippers as well. Chris Paul has repeatedly torched Lillard and Terry Stotts doesn’t usually rely on Al-Farouq Aminu to match up with point guards, so I’d guess Crabbe or Henderson will spend a fair amount of time on CP3 to help save Dame’s energy. They need to do at least a passable job for the Blazers to have any chance.
Offensively, the Blazers will also need those two to produce to hang with the Clippers’ scoring attack. The Blazers have two guys who can reliably create their own shot – Lillard and McCollum. Beyond that it’s basically a roll of the dice hoping that somebody gets hot and can serve as a secondary perimeter scoring option for the night. In spurts, Henderson has shown himself capable of playing that role. If his mid-range shot is falling, Henderson could help relieve defensive pressure from Lillard and McCollum.
Crabbe, on the other hand, is a pure spot-up shooter. Despite their reliance on the outside shot, the Blazers don’t have many dead-eye three-point shooters once you get past McCollum and Lillard. Crabbe can play that role, and he’s going to need to reliably knock down three-pointers or it will be a long series for the Blazers.
The Blazers are ranked 20th in defensive efficiency on the year, and still just 15th since Jan. 10th. Do you think they're capable of playing well enough on that end to steal a few games, or the series? What do they have to change or improve to get their defense to that level?
The Blazers defense has shown a huge amount of variance all season. At times they’ve looked like world-beaters, while in other games they’ve allowed the opponents to score at will. Most games have been matchup dependent – when the Blazers have the right personnel at the right positions relative to the opponent, they have the athleticism and rudimentary defensive skill to do an above average job.
Unfortunately, the Clippers are definitely not the "right matchup" for the Blazers. All season Portland has struggled to contain two types of players – penetrating point guards and strong, athletic big men who can score down low. So, as you can probably guess, CP3 and DeAndre Jordan could be primed to have a huge series if the Blazers stay true to form. Throw in this little tidbit and things start to look even gloomier:
Blazers 29th in PnR defense. CP3 runs PnRs on 51% of possessions and is in 89th percentile for PnR PPP. Feels problematic.— Eric Griffith (@DeeringTornado) April 14, 2016
Then add in a general weakness withhandling multiple off-ball screens, and the Clippers offense starts to look like an absolute nightmare for the Blazers to defend.
Bottom line is that the Blazers are going to have to find a way to outscore the Clippers, because it doesn’t look like they can outdefend them.
Who's an under-the-radar Trail Blazer who can be a difference maker in this series?
Moe Harkless has played very wellsince moving into the starting lineup in recent weeks. As another rangy, athletic player he provides a nice synergy with Aminu on defense. The two forwards are more or less interchangeable on the perimeter and it gives the Blazers an ability to "switch everything" (or at least "switch every now and then") like the elite teams have been able to do.
Aminu has also been playing very well. Teams had started to ignore him on offense, zeroing in on a poor three point percentage, but he has become ultra-reliable from deep in recent weeks and had some huge scoring nights. Harkless hasn’t emerged as a three-point threat like Aminu, but he has found a niche as a "high energy" guy on offense, using athleticism and fast cuts to the hoop to score on misdirection plays in lieu of an outside shot. He can’t do a lot on his own, but if the defense ignores him he is capable of putting himself in the right spot to make a play.
What do you think the Hoopers commercials can tell us about this series? What lessons can we learn about Lillard, CP3 and DeAndre, and their respective teams from these masterpieces?
So, I get the feeling you’re going for a comedy answer here – unfortunately I am a terrible joke writer. So I’ll go with the less obvious serious answer: The Hoopers commercials add some intrigue to a Western Conference first round that is in desperate need of some good stories. The other three series are likely to be boring blowouts, but this series at least has some animosity building behind it. The commercials give us one more way to poke fun at the other team/other team’s fanbase.
Again, go ahead and follow Eric on Twitter: @DeeringTornado. We hope to have him back during the series for more content and analysis, and appreciate him for taking the time to stop by.