The Blazers host the Los Angeles Clippers tonight in the final game of the regular season for both teams.
Just a game back of the Thunder for the second slot in the Western Conference playoffs, the Clippers could still claim that spot with a win tonight in Portland and a loss for OKC against the Pistons. Los Angeles could also raise their franchise record for wins in a season to 58 -- just one game after claiming the record with win No. 57 last night.
The Blazers, on the other hand, are now locked into the fifth seed in the West, matching them up against the No. 4 Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. With Portland's focus turned toward the upcoming Houston series, tonight's game against the Clippers feels like an afterthought for the Blazers coaches and players.
Los Angeles has been on a tear since the beginning of March, winning 17 of 21 games in that span. The last couple weeks, the Clippers have averaged over 111 points a game, while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from long-range. In the last five games, they've held onto the ball well, racked up a ton of assists and have gotten to the free-throw line an impressive 31 times a night.
Anchored by center DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers' defense has been top-10 in the NBA for opponent's field-goal percentage (44.5 percent) and three-point percentage (32.2 percent) the last five games. They foul a lot, don't force many turnovers, allow fairly easy ball movement and give up a surprising amount of points in the paint for a team with such a dominant defensive center, though, so it's not like Los Angeles' defense can't be scored on at all; in fact, it's given up over 105 points a night the last five outings.
Point guard Chris Paul, who's had another remarkable season, has scored over 20 points a game his last five, making almost half his shots and 44.8 percent of the half-dozen three-pointers he's attempted. He has excellent touch around the rim and is a great jump-shooter, as well. In two games against the Blazers this year, Paul has some stellar numbers, hitting almost 60 percent of his field-goals and averaging 14 assists and 27 points.
Unfortunately for L.A., Paul might miss tonight's game, too.
Typical starting off-guard J.J. Redick will sit out as he rests for the playoffs, with guard Darren Collison likely picking up the start. His best shot is probably the corner three, but he's hit only a third of his outside shots the last five games after making 39 percent on the season. About 30 percent of Collison's shots are in the mid-range, where he's an average shooter. He takes it to the basket often, but doesn't finish nearly as well as Paul.
Small forward Matt Barnes either goes all the way to hoop or shoots three-pointers, largely avoiding the mid-range. He's made almost 44 percent of his field-goals the last five games but hasn't been able to calibrate his outside shot, hitting less than 30 percent of his long-range attempts in that span. Fellow starter Jordan -- one of the worst free-throw shooters in the NBA, making just 28.1 percent of his attempts the last couple weeks -- converts three-quarters of his shots. On over 500 attempts this season, he's only tried eight outside of the paint.
Los Angeles' bench is led by Sixth-Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, guard, who's just returned from injury. He's had some mediocre numbers in his two games back since missing the previous five. On the year, Crawford's averaged 18.5 points a night on 41.8 percent shooting from the field and 36.5 percent shooting from deep. He's torched the Blazers for an average of 23 points in two matchups so far this season.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers doesn't get a ton of scoring from his bench outside of Crawford. Forwards Glen Davis, Jared Dudley and Hedo Turkoglu make up most of the reserve rotation along with guard Reggie Bullock. Over the last five games, Dudley's been a poor shooter from the field but has hit half his threes, Davis has made half his shots and Turkoglu's been 44.4 percent from downtown. Bullock has been terrible, good for under 17 percent of his field-goal attempts in that span.
Portland coach Terry Stotts told reporters yesterday that he might not play forward LaMarcus Aldridge or guard Mo Williams at all tonight, resting them for the upcoming playoff series with the Rockets. Stotts will start guards Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, forward Nicolas Batum and center Robin Lopez so they can get start No. 82 together this season -- only three other teams have had four players start 82 games the last dozen NBA seasons, as reported by the Oregonian's Joe Freeman yesterday -- but they won't get too many minutes. Stotts will be getting Joel Freeland into the game tonight in spurts to prepare for the postseason, and he said yesterday the young players on the team will get a lot of minutes.
With that in mind, the Blazers' team performance the last couple weeks on either end of the floor will likely have little to no bearing on how they'll play tonight with the main rotation players getting plenty of rest and the Clippers still potentially fighting for playoff seeding.
Lillard's made about 41 percent of both his field-goals and threes the last five games, including a 3-for-13 performance Sunday night against the Warriors. Matthews has made about 47 percent of his shots the last couple weeks, including 37 percent of his threes while Batum has been on fire, making almost 60 percent of his shots in that time. Lopez, steady as ever, has made 54.8 percent of his field-goals the last five contests.
If Aldridge and Williams are deactivated for tonight's game, Stotts' rotation will likely feature guards Earl Watson, C.J. McCollum, Will Barton and Allen Crabbe to go along with frontcourt players Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, Meyers Leonard and Freeland.
Watson has not been an offensive threat this year, appearing in just 23 games with 6.1 minutes a night. McCollum had an up-and-down season after sitting out the first third of the year with a foot injury, making just 40.8 percent of his shots but a decent 37.2 percent of his threes.
Crabbe's played the least minutes of any Blazer this year, getting into just 14 games his rookie season. In those outings, he's made 40 percent of his shots but has canned six of his 13 three-point attempts. Barton fell out of the rotation last game against the Warriors, but he'd made almost half his shots the four games prior.
Claver's had a rough year offensively, getting into just 20 games and making fewer than 40 percent of his field-goals, including a 13.3 percent clip from deep. Leonard's been good for 45.8 percent of his shots in 39 games this year. Freeland probably won't chip in much on the offensive end tonight, either, though he'd been making almost half his shots before succumbing to a knee injury a couple months ago.
Considering their consistent spots in Stotts' rotations lately, both Wright and Robinson will probably get big minutes tonight and will look to cash in on the opportunity. The last five games, though, Wright's shot the ball rather poorly outside of his game-winner against the Kings, connecting on less than 30 percent of all his shots, including threes. In that span, Robinson has stepped up to hit 55 percent of his field-goal attempts.
If Stotts follows through on sitting Aldridge and Williams while limiting the minutes of his starters, expect the Blazers to get pounded on the boards tonight. The Clippers have beaten opposing teams pretty handily in the rebounding department lately, largely behind the efforts of Jordan, one of the league's best rebounders. Davis is also good on the glass in limited time. Robinson, Leonard, Wright and Freeland will probably do most of the work on the boards for Portland tonight, but they'll be pretty overmatched if Rivers sticks with his main rotation for the full game.
If the distribution of minutes by both coaches tonight ends up as expected, the Blazers have just a small shot on paper of pulling off a win against a motivated Clippers squad. Still, Los Angeles played last night and Portland has been off since the win Sunday night against the Warriors.
Can the Blazers shock the Clippers and win with the first six players in Stotts' rotation either sitting or having their minutes sharply limited? Probably not, but it should be fun seeing some of the younger guys on Portland's roster get some game action before the playoffs start and the rotation shortens again.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter