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Game 20 Preview: Clippers vs. Trail Blazers

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Game Time:  6:00 p.m.  TV:  CSNNW

The good thing about the NBA is that no matter how bad things get, there's always another game right around the corner.  Providing that you occasionally put up a good showing, that is.  Otherwise all that's waiting around the corner is more misery and it comes in big doses.  Tonight's misery potential comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Clippers.  They come into the Rose Garden with a 4-16 record.  That's about on par with some of the East Coast teams the Blazers have lost to recently.  Unlike those squads, though, the Clippers count three playoff contenders--Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and San Antonio--among the vanquished.  All three of those games were in L.A..  The Clips have not won a single road game this year.  This would be a horrible place to start.

The story of the year on the other side of L.A. is Blake Griffin who is beasting up the league with athletic plays, leaving shaking heads in his wake.  He's a little shy of 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, averaging 52% from the field and 8 free throws a night.   Due to injuries and spotty performances the starting lineup surrounding Griffin looks slightly different than expected on paper.  Eric Gordon still starts and Al-Farouq Aminu mans the small forward position, neither a surprise.  But Baron Davis and Chris Kaman came off the bench in the Clippers' last game in favor of assist-maven Eric Bledsoe and hot-and-cold DeAndre Jordan.  (Well, except from the foul line.  There Jordan is south-of-Shaq freezing.)  Jordan's name might not be announced in a spotlight for long but Bledsoe has a decent chance to stick.  Davis has done a credible job off the pines, bringing legit strength to their bench.  Rasual Butler, Ryan Gomes, and Brian Cook are the other rotation names...none particularly consistent.  The Clippers don't really win as a team.  They're looking for enough guys to hit decent games on the same night to put them over the top.

As you might expect from an athletic team the Clippers draw a bunch of foul shots.  They depend on charity tosses to provide extra points, as their three-point shooting stinks.  Sadly their free throw percentage is god-awful, sub-70%.  If they could hit a few more threes and free throws their offense would be scary.  As it is, it's threatening only when they get on a roll.  Their defense isn't much better.  They're bottom-third in field goal percentage, dead last in the league at stopping the three, and they give up the same 27.7 free throw attempts that they take themselves (against opponents that shoot better from the stripe).  It ends up being 8 inches forward and a foot back for them most nights, which explains the record.  They rely on a ton of points in the paint and try to keep opponents outside.  They don't break much, nor do they allow opponents to.   They're good offensive rebounders, middling on the defensive boards.  Again, other than their individual talent there's just not much to hang a hat on here.

Yet those same things, absent the paint scoring and the athleticism, could also be said of the Trail Blazers right now.  In any kind of normal world the Blazers absorb a few blows from Griffin and Gordon, maybe feel the wrath of a Kaman or Davis for an 8-minute stretch, but walk away with a comfortable win anyway.  The Clippers aren't nearly good enough to rip apart fabric that's intact.  But the Blazers are in tatters right now.  They're broken apart in the worst kind of way.  We're not talking injuries or fatigue...we're talking one side of the court not knowing what the other side is doing.   That environment has the potential to make L.A.'s three point shots easy, fast break points plentiful, and free throws even more copious than they are now.  It's also conducive to the offensive rebounds the Clips love.  If the Blazer Blahs erase the Clippers' weaknesses their strengths are enough to take this game, on the road or no.

As has been the case all of the last half-dozen non-Boston outings, this game is up to Portland.  That we don't have a clue how it will turn out speaks volumes about where the Blazers are.  But losing this game would speak even louder.

The basic motto here:  No matter what else is going on, if you have to play the game you might as well win it.  Maybe having the crowd behind them will allow the Blazers to regroup.  If not, I'm not sure there's a solution to what ails them.

See how they're preparing at Clips Nation.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.  Don't forget the game is at 6:00 and not 7:00 tonight.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)