The Los Angeles Clippers (1-1) play their first home preseason game Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center, taking on the Portland Trail Blazers (1-1). Here’s what to look out for during this west coast match-up.
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles California
When: 12:30 PM PT
How to Watch: This game is not televised.
How to Listen: Rip City Radio 620, AM 570 LA Sports
Projected Starting Lineups:
Trail Blazers: Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic
Trail Blazers: Shabazz Napier (left hamstring), Noah Vonleh (right shoulder) and C.J. Wilcox (right knee) are out.
Clippers: Austin Rivers (strained right glute), Danilo Gallinari (sprained left foot) and Sam Dekker (left oblique) are out.
Things to Watch:
Marvelous Miloš Teodosić: It’s official. Los Angeles is in love with Miloš Teodosić. Teodosić’s unparalleled passing abilities were on full display during the Clippers’ first two preseason games, leaving many to ask, “CP who?” The 30-year-old rookie contributed 13 assists in 49 minutes against the Toronto Raptors in Hawaii last week, including many highlight-worthy moments. Lob City is definitely not dead in Los Angeles!
Razzle-dazzle aside, Teodosić needs to improve his conditioning. At times during the Toronto games he looked winded. This may have contributed to turnovers; he had a total of 5. Teodosić also needs to shoot the ball more. Against Toronto, he had more assists (13) than field goal attempts (8). Last season, Teodosić averaged 16.1 points and 6.8 assists in 29 games for CSKA Moscow. He shot 44.4 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from beyond the arc, and 89.7 percent from the free throw line. The Clippers would like to get similar numbers from Teodosić this season. He needs to find his groove.
Doc Rivers recently spoke to the media about Teodosić, commenting that the Serbian superstar has a “great shot” and is “way better” than what fans have seen to date. Expect the “pass-first” point guard to look for more of his own scoring opportunities against Portland.
Team Chemistry: Austin Rivers’ continued absence due to injury gives head coach Doc Rivers more opportunities to play with rotations, and observe player chemistry with new guards Patrick Beverely, Teodosić and Lou Williams.
Beverely, Teodosić and Williams are each talented perimeter players worthy of a starting role for the Clippers’ franchise. Of the three, Williams is probably least likely to rise to the occasion. He is most appropriately utilized off the bench, in the same way Jamal Crawford was in past years. Both share a penchant for scoring and an aversion to playing defense.
Beverley, and Teodosić, however, are each capable of starting at either the point or two-guard position, allowing for multiple possibilities in the backcourt. Beverley is the stronger defender of the two, and somewhat underrated as a point guard. Teodosić has demonstrated that he can run the uptempo Clippers offense in a way that maximizes the athleticism and talents of bigs Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan.
At this point in time, Beverley and Rivers appear to have a lock on regular season starting slots. However, Doc may want to revisit the issue. It would be ill-advised to make a final decision on starters before fully considering the chemistry of the various line-ups available. The Clippers have a lot of talent to chose from.
Of course, the Trail Blazers are a perfect franchise against which to compare guard performance. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are one of the stronger backcourts in the league. Both players are averaging double figures in the preseason (17 and 12.5 points per game, respectively), and combined they are averaging 9.5 assists per game. The Clippers’ guards will undoubtedly be challenged on both ends of the floor in this match-up.
Balanced Scoring: One of the Clippers most glaring issues in the last 5 years was the absence of a consistent 3rd scoring option to complement Griffin and former point guard Chris Paul. That problem is not anticipated to continue with the current roster, particularly with the franchise’s move towards a faster paced offense with increased ball movement. The Clippers have five players averaging double figures so far this preseason: Beverley (10), Gallinari (14), Griffin (17.5), Jordan (10.5), and Williams (13). Johnson is not far behind averaging 9 points per game. Rivers and Teodosić are also scorers, both averaging double figures last year, and are expected to contribute significantly to the Clippers’ offense. Expect at least four players in double figures for the Clippers against Portland.
Rebounding: Rebounding, and in-particular offensive rebounding, has been an on-going struggle for the Clippers. The squad was out-rebounded in both games against the Raptors last week, and gave up many second chance scoring opportunities as a result. With Jusuf Nurkic in the paint for the Trail Blazers Sunday, the Clippers are going to have to do a better job boxing out and hitting the boards. The 7-foot Nurkic has been effective offensively for the Trail Blazers, averaging 14 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in preseason, and could create serious problems for the Clippers frontcourt.
All things considered, rebounding will be the key to this game.