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Clippers Hit the Road, Seek Redemption Against the Trail Blazers

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The Western Conference’s 3rd and 5th seeds square off in Portland for the second time this season.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Moda Center

When: 6:00 p.m. PT

How to Watch: FSPT

How to Listen: AM 570 LA Sports

Projected Starting Lineups:

Los Angeles Clippers: Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marcin Gortat, Tobias Harris,

Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jake Layman, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic

Injuries:

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (Knee) - OUT

Trail Blazers: None reported.

The Big Picture:

The Los Angeles Clippers visit the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday afternoon in a match-up of the Western Conference’s 3rd and 5th seeds. The game marks the second of four meetings between the two franchises this season. The Trail Blazers currently lead this season’s series 1-0, beating the Clippers 116-105 on November 8, 2018. The Clippers have lost four straight to Portland.

With a record of 12-6, the Clippers are a half-game behind the first place Golden State Warriors, and in a three-way-tie with the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets. Even at this early point in the season every game matters. Only 3.5 games separate the first and tenth place teams in the crowded Western Conference.

The Antagonist:

The Trail Blazers have lost four of their last six games and are coming off two consecutive road losses. They suffered a humiliating 43-point road defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on November 21st, followed by a 125-97 hammering by the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors Friday night.

Despite these recent struggles, Portland is performing better than expected this season and find themselves only one game behind first place in the West. The Blazers are a young and talented bunch with one of the most gifted backcourts in the NBA in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Lillard is averaging 26.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, and McCollum 21.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. The pair combined for 48 points the last time Portland and Los Angeles battled on the hardwood.

Much like the Clippers, the Blazers success is rooted as much in the fact that they enjoy playing together as it is in their natural talent. No reports of off-court or locker room drama, and no sideline displays of conflict or animosity. Portland’s young core keep their heads down, grind, and are reaping the benefits. The Blazers are 10th in the NBA in points per game (113.3) and have an offensive rating of 112.2 (8th of 30).

In addition to the consistently excellent play of Lillard and McCollum, the Blazers have been getting solid performances out of Jusuf Nurkic (15.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game), former Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu (8.6 points, 8.3 rebounds per game), Zach Collins (8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1 assist per game) and Evan Turner (8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game), No doubt this is a playoff-bound squad.

Keys to a Clipper Victory:

Flawless Defense:

It has been said at least a million times already this season, but the key to the Clippers’ success is, and will continue to be, their defense. This is a scrappy, heart and hustle squad. If their defense is on point, everything else will follow. Case in point: Friday’s win against the Grizzlies would not have been possible had the Clippers’ defense not picked up late in the fourth quarter and carried over into overtime. Doc Rivers noted to members of the media post-game that players were frustrated that they were not scoring easily for most of the contest, which distracted them from playing defense. The Clippers looked uncharacteristically dead on the floor for most of regulation and played at a half-court pace that clearly favored Memphis. Luckily, the squad did just enough to stay close and once they stopped worrying about scoring and picked up the effort on defense in the final frame, the energy and opportunities on offense picked up as well.

An effective perimeter defense is particularly important for the Clippers against the Trail Blazers. If Lillard and McCollum are left unrestrained, Los Angeles will struggle to pull off the win. Luckily, the Clippers are not lacking in defensive weapons, they just need to ensure they are locked and loaded.

  • Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s long arms and quickness are bothersome to anyone he guards but should prove particularly problematic for the smaller Lillard. Shai should see good minutes in this match up, particularly because his defense is accompanied by considerable offensive fire.
  • All-NBA defender Patrick Beverley always brings the intensity on defense, but along with it a lot of fouls. Beverley leads the Clippers in fouls committed per game; 3.8 in just under 26 minutes of play. Mr. 94-Feet has got to find a way to remain intense and effective against Portland’s backcourt without fouling. The Clippers need Beverley - an experienced, tone-setting smack-talker - on the floor for meaningful minutes in this important road game.
  • All-NBA defender Avery Bradley is on an uptick since returning from an ankle injury on November 17th. Bradley played the most minutes of any Clipper guard in Friday’s win over Memphis (32.57) and logged a solid game on both ends of the floor. Bradley contributed 13 points and 3 assists in the outing, as well as a strip/steal from Garrett Temple in the closing seconds of overtime to cement the Clippers’ victory. Notably, Bradley was not available to play against the Trail Blazers earlier in the season; his Clamp City style defense may make a significant difference in this match-up.
  • Sindarius Thornwell and Tyronne Wallace are also very capable defenders. Doc did not play either of them the last time the Clippers suited up against the Blazers, but it would not be a surprise for Doc to use either of these young guards in the rotation this time around.

Defense in the paint is also crucial in this contest, as the Blazer’s Nurkic is having a banner season. Portland’s 7-foot, 280-pound center recorded 21 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and four blocks against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 14th and is the first player to have at least 21 points, 14 rebounds three steals and four blocks in the NBA this season. Nurkic has already recorded 10 double-doubles on the season. The lack of a true big man who can close down the paint is the Clippers’ Achilles heel. They may struggle to keep the Bosnian Beast in check.

Stick to the Offensive Game Plan:

The last time these two teams battled the Clippers had five players in double figures: Danilo Gallinari (20), Lou Williams (20), Gilgeous-Alexander (a career-high 19), Montrezl Harrell (19) and Tobias Harris (15). All five must put up similar, if not better numbers in this match-up. Balanced scoring is a hallmark of the Clippers’ offense and essential to their success. The Clippers are most efficient when they push the pace and move the ball to ensure solid shot selection. When players stray from this game plan by dribbling excessively or relying too heavily on isolation plays, shot quality suffers and efficiency goes out the window.

Defensively, the Trail Blazers have struggled over the last five games, giving up 120.6 points per game to their opponents, on 50.9 percent shooting; 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. Despite these recent difficulties, Portland’s defense is solid. The Blazers’ held the Minnesota Timberwolves to 81 points on November 4th, which was the lowest scoring total in the NBA this season at the time. The Blazers are one of 11 teams that have held their opponent to under 100 points at least four times this season. The Blazers defense could prove problematic for the Clippers. Los Angeles will need big games from all its offensive weapons to secure a win.

Interested in the Blazers’ perspective on this match up? Find it over at the Blazer’s Edge.