The Blazers welcome you back from your holiday festivities in a matchup tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center.
L.A. has been on a bit of a roll lately due to the strong play of its starting lineup. Power forward Blake Griffin leads the charge, scoring about 24 points a game recently to go along with almost 11 rebounds. He's taking a decent amount of jumpers but isn't exactly deadly in the mid-range yet. Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge should try to prevent Griffin from establishing himself near the hoop, because he attempts most of his shots at or near the rim, and he's staggeringly efficient inside. Apparently Griffin's also added a few fancy moves to his offensive repertoire this year, as well.
Clippers point guard Chris Paul is having another solid season shooting the ball. He can take it to the hoop and finish when he wants, but Paul's jump shot is also exceptional. He and Griffin both have been getting to the line over eight times a night in the last few weeks, and both convert free-throws well. Paul also holds onto the ball incredibly well, is arguably the best passer in the NBA, pulls down five boards a game and while he's not a three-point specialist, he can be a threat from outside if given the opportunity.
Los Angeles shooting guard Jamal Crawford has been pretty consistent since replacing J.J. Redick in the starting lineup, attempting more shots than any of his teammates in recent games. Crawford tries eight threes a night and hits 36.6 percent of them, and many Portland fans probably remember his ability to take defenders off the dribble. Crawford's mid-range shot has also been dialed-in this season.
The Clippers have benefited from the recent excellent play of forward Jared Dudley, as he's hitting over half his overall field-goals while knocking down almost 47 percent of his six three-point attempts a game. He's not a huge rebounder or passer, but Dudley has been efficient on the offensive end and he's the biggest deep threat for Los Angeles. Center DeAndre Jordan is limited offensively, only taking a few shots a game but hitting most of them. Jordan's rebounding numbers are some of the best in the league, so Portland center Robin Lopez is going to have a busy night battling him.
Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers also gets some production from backup guards Darren Collison and Willie Green, as well as forward Matt Barnes. Green and Barnes are good three-point shooters, while Collison is more effective from within the arc and draws more fouls.
On the year, the Clippers have been a pretty good team defensively, though they've stepped up their game in their last several outings. Los Angeles is elite at preventing the fast break and they allow the lowest three-point shooting percentages for opponents in the league. The Clippers' defense against jumpers is also pretty solid, but they give up a ton of points in the paint and considering how good of a shot-blocker Jordan is, he allows a lot of baskets at the hoop, and so does Griffin. If Aldridge's jumper isn't falling against the Clippers' stout defense of the mid-range, he can always go to the paint for high-percentage shots. If Jordan helps out Griffin while defending Aldridge, Lopez has shown this year that he can convert on open shots and is a threat if left alone.
The Clippers also foul a lot, so Blazers guard Damian Lillard should be able to continue getting points at the line. Portland is an average team at drawing fouls, but against Los Angeles tonight, they should look to take advantage of a Clippers frontcourt that fouls a lot.
The Blazers' three-point attack has stagnated a bit lately, with guards Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams struggling from outside and forward Nicolas Batum also slumping a bit. Lillard and backup wing Dorell Wright have kept Portland's ship afloat from behind the three-point line lately and Matthews and Batum have been finding other ways to score while also rebounding well. Williams can score in bunches, but he's not been shooting well overall.
Los Angeles features some great individual rebounders in Jordan and Griffin, but as a team they're pretty average. The Blazers should be able to rebound effectively by committee tonight if their frontcourt continues to pull down rebounds well. Jordan and Griffin will be hard to remove from the boards, but Aldridge and Lopez' teammates are much better contributors on the glass than those of Jordan and Griffin, so Portland has a good chance of coming out on top of the rebounding battle tonight if they can neutralize their Los Angeles frontcourt counterparts.
This will be a tough matchup tonight, because the Clippers have really come on strongly as a team lately and they have a lot of difficult individual weapons to defend, particularly Griffin, Paul and Crawford. Los Angeles also has six players who can create at least a steal per game -- spearheaded by the 2.8 takeaways provided by Paul -- so Portland's ball-movement will be put to the test tonight. The Blazers usually hold onto the ball well, but the Clippers have a lot of length and athleticism to challenge Portland's offense.
If the Blazers can rebound strongly, hit their jumpers and in turn defend the strong mid-range play of Los Angeles -- a difficult task, considering how many weapons they possess -- this will be a great matchup. Still, Portland will have to maintain a backup plan tonight if their three-point shots are off due to the Clippers' stingy perimeter defense. Both Lillard and Aldridge have difficult matchups tonight against Paul and Griffin, respectively. This would be a good game for some of the Blazers' role-players like Matthews, Batum or Williams to correct recent shooting woes and help tip the scales in Portland's favor and take some of the pressure off Aldridge and Lillard.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter