Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Projected starting lineups:
Blazers: Damian Lillard – CJ McCollum – Mo Harkless – Al-Farouq Aminu – Jusuf Nurkic
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Avery Bradley – Tobias Harris – Danilo Gallinari – Marcin Gortat
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee), Lou Williams Out (hamstring), Jerome Robinson Out (ankle)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have lost five of their last six games, falling from the #1 seed in the Western Conference to the 5th in the process. Their 110-104 defeat at the hands of the Thunder on Saturday night was an improvement over their blowout losses to the Raptors and Spurs, but it was still a pretty resounding loss: despite the close score, the Thunder seemed to have the game in hand from start to finish. Their effort definitely ticked up, but their execution did not, and the Thunder’s comparatively low score had more to do with their missing open looks than anything the Clippers were doing defensively. Still, it was a step forward, and perhaps a sign that the Clips will be out of their rut sometime soon.
The Blazers, too, have slipped since the early part of the season: they led the Western Conference at one point as well, but have since fallen back into the middle of the pack. As has been the case for over a half-decade now, the Blazers are led by Damian Lillard, who is having another phenomenal season. Lillard remains one of the NBA’s best scorers and shooters, a nightly threat to score 30 points and do it in unstoppable fashion. Fortunately (for the Clippers), the rest of the team doesn’t quite measure up to Lillard’s standards. CJ McCollum is a very good bucket-getter, but he’s not particularly efficient, and the combination of he and Lillard can be taken advantage of defensively. Jusuf Nurkic is inconsistent, as he has been since he came into the NBA, capable of looking like an All-NBA player one night and a dud the next. Old friend Al-Farouq Aminu is having another solid season as a 3 and D wing, and Zach Collins is a promising young big man. The rest of the team is mostly composed of role-playing veterans, though Nik Stauskas and Seth Curry can get hot off the bench.
- Bradley and Beverley shooting slowly trending up: The duo that was supposed to bring Clamp City to LA and hold down the fort as the Clippers’ starting guards have been mostly ineffective this season, particularly on offense. They’re still not great there – the Thunder abandoned both of them on the court frequently to jump passing lanes and swarm drivers, which is part of the reason why the Clippers had so many turnovers – but shooting has slowly trended up after miserable starts. While Beverley’s overall field goal shooting in December has been frigid, he’s shot a fairly solid 36% from three on a decent number of attempts. Bradley’s shooting line of 42/34.5 in December is positively normal looking, albeit not great, and he’s made a greater impact on the boards as well. The Clippers need both guys to be better, but their play in December is a start.
- Marcin Gortat struggling: Clippers’ erstwhile starting center Marcin Gortat, however, is going the other way. After a pretty solid November (7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game with a TS of 69.6%), he’s been dismal in December, shooting a mere 9-26 from the field. Considering Gortat is a big man who doesn’t take shots outside of the paint, that percentage (34.6, to be precise) is horrible. Yes, Gortat does set screens, and his ability to pass is nice as well. But the Clippers need him to finish shots, especially considering most of them are spoon-fed layups and hooks within 5 feet of the hoop. If his play keeps up, the Clippers really might need to find a stop-gap alternative somewhere else.
- Bounce-back game for Shai: Shai had one of his worst games of the season Saturday night, scoring just two points on 1-4 shooting, and missing both of his free throws. He never seemed to be totally in rhythm, and played a mere 21 minutes. Fortunately, one of the joys of watching Shai this season is how little he lets negative results affect him. The last time he had a game that rough, a month ago in Brooklyn, he bounced right back with two of his best performances of the season. The Blazers are actually the team he posted his career high in points against, with 19, further setting him up for success in this one. He should be able to shoot over Dame or CJ in the midrange as well as get by them to the hoop, and the Blazers don’t have a rim protector of note to scare him away. Look for a nice game from the rookie tonight.
- Home, sweet home: The Clippers have been away for seven of their last nine games, which is certainly part of a reason for their slide (though they did lose both of the two contests they did have at home). They are 9-3 in the friendly confines of Staples Center, and will play five of their next six in LA (though one game will be against the Lakers, and that’s not going to be a Clippers-favorable crowd), which should hopefully turn them around. The Blazers are a good team, but being back at home and having a day off could be just what the doctor ordered to get the Clippers back in the win column.
Check out Blazer’s Edge for the Blazers perspective, and check back in tonight for the game thread!