Game 4 Preview: Blazers vs. Clippers

A Look at the Clippers

Any discussion of the Clippers has to start with Elton Brand.  Here's what you need to know:  he's like Zach Randolph with a little less range and a lot more defense.  In his own way he's every bit as dangerous as Kevin Garnett...maybe more so because he's more consistent.  So far this year he's averaging 17 points on 56% shooting with 10 boards, 2.3 blocks, and 2 assists.  And that scoring average is low for him.  The other thing you need to know is that Sam Cassell is en fuego right now.  Like el Diablo.  In July-o.  In three games he's shooting 47%, averaging 8 free throws a game, and scoring an amazing 25 points in 29 minutes.  When he's on he's one of the deadliest offensive players in the game.  Shaun Livingston, a really tall point guard, is coming into his own with more playing time, posting career highs in points, assists, free throw attempts, and (get this) blocks.  Tim Thomas and Chris Kaman are good utility big men.  Cat Mobley is off to a slow start but he can shoot and defend a little.  And don't forget Corey Maggette who, though yet to uncork big time, is still averaging 12 and 7 a game in limited minutes.  Most of these guys can defend.  They can all rebound (every stinkin' one of them, even the guards, and that's no joke).  Almost all of them can pass too.  And they draw an enormous amount of free throws.  They're going to cut, slash, run, and hit open jumpers.  Maggette and Cassell are going to try and make a living dribbling past their defenders and getting layups or fouls.  When all else fails they're going to dump it into Brand and let him work 1-on-1 or dish to a cutter if doubled.  Their individual offense and passing ability is going to put so much pressure on our defense that it may well burst at the seams.  On the other end they're going to be able to guard Zach with just Brand, giving them a big defensive advantage.  At a minimum their bench guards are going to try and press our guards, and Cassell and Mobley may find the energy to do that too.  They're also going to rebound everything they see and run it back on us.  Nothing will light up this team quicker than the prospect of any easy score.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  Zach and Magloire are going to have to do the same kind of job on Brand that they did on KG during the second half the other night.  If their offense goes inside-out we're done.  
  2.  Our best hope is to get their guards to shoot long.  They're capable of doing that, but it's not their strong suit.  This will put enormous responsibility on Jack, Udoka, and Roy to keep their men in front of them.  These guys only need half a step of daylight to score.  We must also advance about 34.5 light years in our handling of screens.  If we lose Cassell on a pick he's scoring before the swear word leaves your lips.
  3.  Our starters are going to have to play long minutes, especially with all the big men out.  This may not be Outlaw's game to be in the middle.  This definitely won't be a game that Dixon can stay in long. Fatigue will become an issue.
  4.  With that in mind we must slow the game down.  Our only semi-plausible hope is a grind-it-out affair.  We're going to get outrebounded.  We probably won't force a lot of turnovers.  That means we'll have a very hard time creating extra possessions.  We do shoot a better percentage than they do in the halfcourt so we need to keep it to that kind of game and just hope we hit more shots than they do.
  5.  Piggy-backing on that point, one thing the Clippers will let you do is move the ball in your offense.  We need to move and create open shots for each other.  Just dumping it in to Zach and standing isn't going to work.
  6.  Again piggy-backing on point #4, Jack-Jack and the backcourt must handle pressure without turning the ball over.  Normally in the midst of this I would mention the need for transition defense but that's not going to work.  They're too big, too experienced, and too good with the ball.  If they run, we're done.  We have to avoid creating those running opportunities in the first place.
It's been buckets `o fun up to this point, but playtime is over, kiddies.  This is a really solid team with really solid playoff aspirations...perhaps even a darkhorse run at the Western Conference title in their future.  If we found a way to squeak out a win on the road against them it would be an amazing accomplishment, a big confidence boost, and a sign that maybe something really odd (and special in a "whole beyond the sum of its parts" way) was going on here.  I don't think I need to tell you how utterly improbable that is though.  If we do get blown out, it's nothing to sweat.  Each one of their starting guards has more experience than our entire backcourt combined.  These will be learning games for us, reminding us how far there is to go.

I don't know if we have any readers in L.A. (though we're suprisingly multi-cultural nowadays) but if that's you and you're going tonight, we'd love a first-hand report.  The game is televised on League Pass but not locally.  This may be the night I'm here to do updates in the forthcoming Gameday Open Thread.  Make your plans to join us, especially if you're stuck listening to the radio.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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