Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW
Since we last saw them for Portland's first defeat of the season the Clippers have beaten up on a couple of the weak sisters of the league (Houston and Milwaukee) to push their record to 4-2. The Blazers, meanwhile, have posted two quality wins (OKC and the Lakers), a win against the Cavaliers, and a humbling loss to the Suns, leaving them 6-2. Neither of those records change the make-up of the teams to which they're attached. This is still last week's game, Part 2. Hopefully the sequel will find the Blazers compensating for the mistakes that got them beat in L.A.
The Clippers are still getting fantastic work from Blake Griffin. He's up to 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 56% shooting per game. Chris Paul isn't producing the same numbers from his prime New Orleans years (who could?) but he knows how to get his big man the ball and make him look good. In part Griffin's increased production should be yet another plank in the "Chris Paul is a Hall of Famer and among the best of all time" argument. Paul, by the by, is also shooting 52% from the field, 40% from the three-point arc, and notching 15 and 9. They are a bright, shining story for the Clips...bigger right now than their cousins and arena-mates in L.A., quite a feather in the cap of this franchise.
The underpinnings of the tale might not be able to support its glorious facade, however. The Clippers also rely upon a bevy of players who were flawed in their best days, most of which seem to be past them now. Chauncey Billups is the winner among this group...his pedigree being all but unquestionable. He's also had a nice start to the season, scoring 16 a night from his new position of shooting guard. He's shooting 36% from distance but only 37% overall, though...not exactly the first trait you look for in a "shooting" guard. His defense hasn't been good in recent years and likely won't be improved by being outsized at the two. Mo Williams doesn't have the same veteran/winning aura as Billups but his shooting percentage and defense are going better, his three-point percentage worse. The main take-away here is that the Clippers play three point guards. Their relief from this is...Randy Foye. He's also undersized, though he seems to have found a small groove offensively.
DeAndre Jordan and his Traveling Blocked Shots Show is the first of two big frontcourt stories for the Clips. He's the only center, the only guy besides Griffin at 6'10" in the rotation, and he's been giving his team almost everything they need: defense, offensive rebounding, and finishing any easy shots that come his way. He's their greatest hope for true improvement, of making a solid rather than flashy impact on the league. Caron Butler has shown decently so far. He can score when needed. His defense is passable, if not quite what it once was. His three-point percentage is quite low for the amount he takes but historically he's been a good distance shooter so that could even out as the season progresses. Utility men Ryan Gomes and Brian Cook plus rebounder Reggie Evans round out the frontcourt.
The Clippers excel in several areas offensively. They take care of the ball, share it, and generate easy shots and enough credible threats to lead the league in free throws attempted per game (though they're horrible at shooting them). They're going to use Griffin to create cracks in your defense then let everybody else slip through them. Their home run fast-breaks are as spectacular as any in the league. The Paul-to-Griffin lob play has already turned iconic.
Take the easy shots away, however, and they look average. Only Paul is a great three-point shooter, only Billups and Foye shooting decently after him. They're not into offensive rebounds so they can't make up for mistakes. Get back in transition, guard the middle of the lane, and the Clips will look plenty ordinary enough to beat.
Defense is a whole 'nother story for the Clippers, as you might expect. Jordan blocks shots. Chris Paul and still steal the ball every now and again. Griffin can body up and Butler is decent. But those are thin threads, even when woven together. They're short. They don't rebound at all. They're not as good getting back on the break as they are running out. They allow open shots. The Clips are a below average team defensively without a clear path to getting better. If you can avoid the turnover against them and get past their single shot-blocker, you should be home free.
That said, when these two teams played in L.A. the Blazers disintegrated entirely on offense. Portland went one-on-one, shot jumpers, made defending easy for the opponent. We've point out consistent weaknesses in the Blazers' attack throughout the season but THAT was an aberration. The Blazers are flawed but they aren't stupid and they aren't selfish. They just played that way in that game, not even testing the defense seriously. I don't expect we'll see a repeat of that in the near future, let alone against the same team a week later.
Of greater concern to the Blazers will be holding onto the ball and keeping the tempo crisp while still involving LaMarcus Aldridge on one end and keeping the Clippers from running willy-nilly on the other. That's a balancing act. Slow down and grind to Aldridge and you make the L.A. defense look better. Ignore him and you let them concentrate on everyone else...part of the issue from last week. Whatever shortcomings the Clippers have, the Blazers will still need to play a good game to exploit them.
Last week's loss should be ringing yet in Portland's ears. Not that they're looking ahead, but as observers we can...the Blazers also need this win to bolster the record against a possible tough week ahead. Portland should not lose this game. Get back, guard the paint, don't run a brain-dead offense. The Blazers are smart and experienced enough to do that, and should be motivated enough as well.
Check out the L.A. point of view at Clips Nation.
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