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Clippers vs. Blazers Game Preview: Rested Kawhi Should Feast

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The Clippers are coming off a tough loss last night, but must turn around quickly to face a struggling, yet talented, Blazers squad.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 7:30 PM PT

How to Watch: TNT, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Blazers: Damian LillardCJ McCollumRodney HoodAnthony TolliverHassan Whiteside

Clippers: Patrick BeverleyLandry ShametKawhi LeonardPatrick PattersonIvica Zubac

Injuries

Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic Out (Knee), Zach Collins Out (Shoulder), Pau Gasol Out (Foot)

Clippers: Paul George Out (Shoulder), Amir Coffey Out (Ankle)

The Big Picture

The Clippers fell to 5-3 with their loss to the Bucks last night, but it was about as good a loss as there is in the NBA, with the Clippers playing their heart out and keeping things close against one of the best teams in the NBA while shorthanded. The Clippers defense reverted to its struggling ways against a nasty Bucks offense, but their offense looked fantastic after a brutal start to the game. More importantly, nearly all their players are operating at a strong level, with the exception being Landry Shamet’s streaky shooting. The Clippers are 5-1 with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, and still appear to be one of the best teams in the NBA when healthy – and that’s even discounting the impending return of All-NBA star Paul George.

The Antagonist

The Blazers are predictably struggling after an awful summer. Several of their best and most important players departed in free agency or were traded away, and their replacements are nowhere near as good. Furthermore, the already devastating loss of Jusuf Nurk was exacerbated by Zach Collins’ injury in the opening days of the season – Collins is good, and his potential growth was one of the few avenues for upside on this team. Damian Lillard remains a phenomenally gifted player, one of the most singularly deadly and terrifying forces in the NBA, and he can absolutely will the Blazers to victory on any night against any opponent. However, the rest of the roster just doesn’t appear up to snuff, and while its very early in the season, Nurkic and Collins’ absences could remove the Blazers from playoff contention.

Notes

Moe Harkless Revenge Game: One of the players the Blazers lost this summer was Moe Harkless, who has been a crucial piece to the Clippers early in the season. His defensive versatility and aptitude are exceptional, and he would be the third best (healthy) player on the current Blazers roster. His strengths don’t really fit into a traditional revenge game (i.e. bucketloads of points), but he will surely be highly motivated against his former team which got rid of him at such low value. Harkless will presumably get some opportunities to defend Lillard and CJ McCollum, and his size should be a real asset on the Blazers’ smaller star guards.

Featuring Kawhi: One of the side features of the Blazers trading away Harkless (and letting Al-Farouq Aminu walk) is that they’re singularly ill-equipped to defend large wings. Their best options are probably Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood, and while Bazemore is a good defender, he’s just too small to tangle with Kawhi. Kawhi should be well-rested for this one, and has a strength and height advantage on any reasonable defender the Blazers will throw at him. Look for the Clippers to go to the Klaw early and often, and for Kawhi to pick apart the Blazers defense with his newfound playmaking abilities if they begin to double him. Kawhi should feast tonight.

Trez and Zu Together: The Clippers’ two centers are having breakout seasons. Montrezl Harrell has continued his ascendancy as one of the most efficient big men scorers in the NBA, and has improved his passing to boot. Ivica Zubac, meanwhile, remains a potent defensive player who has flashed increasingly potent skills as a pick and roll man. Unfortunately, Trez’s excellence has often meant Ivica receiving reduced minutes, and last night was the nadir, with Zu getting a mere 9 minutes as Trez went off for 34 points. Zu was fantastic in his time, but Trez was so good he simply couldn’t be kept off the floor. One way around that is to play the two big men together, and while both thrive in the paint, they’re each good enough in their respective ways that Doc should try the pairing at some point

Rodney McGruder, Scoreless: Rodney McGruder has still not scored thus far this season, and his 49 minutes played make him by far the leading leader in minutes received amongst scoreless players. Incredibly, McGruder has taken only five shots in those minutes. While he’s mostly playing with superior offensive players, there is such a thing as deferring too much, and the Clippers could benefit from increased aggression from McGruder offensively. He’s averaged double-figures in scoring over a full season before, so he’s certainly capable of scoring – he simply needs to asset himself a bit. His defense has been excellent, for the most part, but the Clippers will need more from him offensively.

Check back in for the game thread tonight, and get excited for the return of Kawhi!