Game Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: ESPN and CSNW
Fresh off of a victory against the team-and-system-oriented Phoenix Suns the Blazers face an opposite challenge tonight in the physical, individual Los Angeles Clippers. The Clips are hoping for a fresh start under Coach Vinny del Negro but they're trying to take the ship in a new direction with many of the same old guys manning the oars.
Baron Davis saw a mild resurgence last season, playing in 73 games and tallying mild offensive increases despite playing slightly fewer minutes per game. Davis always has the potential to go off and has done so against Portland in the past. He presents different problems than Steve Nash. He's a tank and he's a scorer. This is more of a natural strength-on-strength matchup for Andre Miller and Miller will be expected to bang with Davis and perhaps match some of his scoring punch. The trick will be doing so without stalling his own team's offense. Wesley Matthews might be able to spend time watching Davis. Nicolas Batum needs to stay aggressive against him. Armon Johnson could get overwhelmed. Keeping Davis from scoring 25 or more is one of Portland's keys to success. If he doesn't tally points he'll either spend the rest of the night trying in vain or he'll just divorce himself from the game. Either way the Blazers benefit.
Chris Kaman has been a thorn in Portland's side the last couple of years. One can only hope that Marcus Camby enjoys throttling his old practice foe. The guy is annoying because he can score facing up, from the post, or off of the glass. Whichever the Blazers don't stop he usually feasts on. LaMarcus Aldridge has proved ineffective against him in the past. Fabricio Oberto doesn't seem to offer much hope. Neither does Dante Cunningham. The good news is that Kaman can score 20 and the Clippers can still lose.
Ageless rookie Blake Griffin is a wildcard. Hopefully Aldridge will be able to give him a first-game edumacation. Every rookie has a story about a veteran who just humiliated him with superior moves and tricks. Might as well get that out of the way early. The Clippers will not be scrambling to contain LMA with multiple players as the Suns did so he'll need to do some damage on his own instead of playing decoy. Failing that, LaMarcus at least needs to keep the young firecracker off of the boards. If Kaman and Griffin are first to the ball the Blazers won't be able to gain any of the advantage they exploited so well against the Suns. They're not going to be able to rely on it in full anyway but they still have to threaten board control to make the Clippers think.
Shooting guard Eric Gordon is another guy who has given the Blazers fits. He's 6'3" but he's quick and he never seems to miss when he sees red and black. The key here will be rotating better defenders on him and giving him the Steve Nash treatment when he's defending: take him down low and make him pay.
Beyond that the Clips roster is full of serviceable players who on a good night can be described as stalwarts and on a bad night look more like retreads. Forward Ryan Gomes has occasionally hurt the Blazers. Guard Randy Foye seldom has. Rasual Butler? Jarron Collins? DeAndre Jordan? If you make those guys look good you're doing something wrong. Rookies Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu are unknown quantities but the Blazers should be past the stage of letting the unknown beat them. They need to beat on these guys harder than these guys beat on them. Welcome to the NBA.
I don't normally list a series of matchups and call it a preview but until they demonstrate differently, that's what the Clippers are about. They're not going to help each other out much on either end. It's your players against theirs, whoever lands the most blows wins. If the Blazers play that kind of game against them Portland can, and probably will, lose. The Blazers' magic, to the extent that it exists, is in the whole rather than the sum of the parts. If Portland plays the kind of team game they showed against Phoenix last night the Clippers shouldn't even come close. If Portland can play enough of a game to keep one of their scorers neutralized, one average, and only one really good (plus keep Blake Griffin from opportunity points) then the Blazers should still win. If this becomes a free-for-all, though, you have to fear Davis and Kaman and Gordon. They've got talent and the boys can score.
Portland should look to continue their rebounding dominance (especially avoiding second-chance points for L.A.), move the ball past/through the individualistic defense, make Baron Davis defend, and keep the Clippers from running out. They also need to post Eric Gordon with bigger guards. No laziness, no selfishness, no overconfidence and this is in the bag. Act the fool and you will be made into one. That's the story of this game.