Game Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: CSNNW and ESPN
The Clippers never should have messed with Clipper Darrell. There's my analysis. For years they leeched off of the league and the city of Los Angeles, trotting out horrible product to save money and rake in advertising dollars. Clipper Darrell was their only consistently visible fan, the guy who did it the hard way: in public and in Clipper colors. Now they get good with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and they accuse Clipper Darrell of leeching off of them and the people of Los Angeles for money and advertising dollars. They treat him like their first wife when the Trophy Girl comes along. "See ya! We've got better people to speak for us now!" Well, guess what? Your new girl chain smokes, knows no words longer than two syllables, and blows your entire paycheck on designer bags and Tastee-Freez. Plus your kids hate her. Shoulda stuck with Darrell.
Even more than that, the lords of basketball karma have taken notice. After a hot 19-9 start the Clips have muddled around with a 10-12 record...playing under .500 for a solid third of the 66-game season. Things have gotten so bad they even asked Darrell back. The two have reconciled publicly but word is they're still sleeping in separate rooms. Trophy Girl looks long gone at this point. The Clips are hoping for a mid-playoff fling, maybe at chance at the conference finals. Ah how the sort-of mighty have fallen.
But let's get real here. This game is in L.A. and they're playing the Blazers. While Los Angeles was having marital problems the Blazers' plane broke up in mid-air, leaving them hurtling downward to the tune of double-digit losses and infinitesimal chances at a once-assured post-season. Most of the guys had parachutes, but this team is drifting slowly to the ground, waiting to land so they can hike out, pick up the pieces, and start all over again. Portland's going to lose this game no matter what problems the Clippers are having.
The common denominator in nearly every L.A. loss in the last three weeks has been abysmal scoring...like struggling to top 90. When they get to play Lob City style the Clippers are still potent. When the game gets ugly, so do they. The Blazers' first task will be to stop transition buckets followed by easy points in the paint. L.A. is pretty poor at getting either, so this shouldn't be a stretch. Then again, Portland gets taken advantage of in both areas with frequency now, so you never know. If this game goes wide open, Portland loses.
Provided they can prevent the easy buckets and ugly-up the game, Portland's next task will be to counter L.A.'s excellent rebounding. This has also been an area of struggle for the Blazers. They'll need serious effort from unexpected places: guys like Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum as much as Joel Przybilla and LaMarcus Aldridge. Craig Smith, Kurt Thomas...all those bench guys need to chip in too. It's not the night to score 6 with 1 rebound. It's the night to get 6 rebounds and 1 point.
Portland's final task, should they have any prayer of winning this game, will be to hit shots. The Clippers defend quite well in the paint and I don't see Portland having any chance of overcoming them with a pound-it-in offense. The Blazers will need to get the ball into the paint at some point, but it'll have to come off of made jumpers spreading the defense. Note that this is not an optimal--probably not even a solid--game plan but it's what the Blazers are stuck with now. The Clippers don't defend the perimeter that well. They don't force turnovers or rotate that well. With a couple passes the Blazers should be able to get jumpers from 15 feet all the way out to infinity. They must make those shots. Otherwise all the ugly in the world won't save them.
If the Blazers can manage to keep the Clippers in the halfcourt, rebound decently, and hit a few shots they have a chance...not much of one, but a chance. Otherwise, just mark this down as a big, fat "L" and move on.