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Game 44 Preview: Clippers vs. Trail Blazers

Game Time  7:30 p.m.  TV:  TNT

With the Blazers barely escaping with a win against Sacramento in the first night of a back-to-back I want to say it's out of the frying pan and into the fire.  But we're moving from the Kings to the Clippers here, so it's really more like out of a low-wattage toaster and under a heat lamp.  But as far as heat lamps go, the Clips have turned up the intensity lately.  They've won 6 of their last 7, singeing the Nuggets, Warriors, Lakers, Heat, Pacers, and Timberwolves.  They've caught the better teams in that group short-handed, but guess what?  The Blazers are short-handed.  And they're probably short-handed in exactly the right spot to make the Clippers' night far easier than it was in the previous two meetings, both Portland victories.

Portland's big advantage over the Clips has been containing guards Eric Gordon and Baron Davis.  The duo combined for 30 points in the first outing, 24 in the second, almost all of that coming from Gordon.  Portland's perimeter defenders should be able to hold the fort again tonight.  The problem is that L.A.'s big men may have already stolen the flag from its central perch and made off with it while the guards are trying to hold the wall.  Portland's interior defense reached tragic levels against the Kings last night.  Thank the stars that Chris Kaman is out, but Blake Griffin has become an unholy terror lately and DeAndre Jordan, while inconsistent, is still capable of big rebounding nights.  The Blazers depended on offensive rebounds and a serious LaMarcus Aldridge advantage to win the game against Sacramento.  That may fly out the window here.  In fact the Aldridge advantage will be out the window completely if Griffin draws early fouls on him.  Where do the Blazers go then?

On the other hand the Clippers defend the three worse than 27 other teams in the league, so the Blazers may yet get their much-needed points off of jumpers.  L.A. does defend the lane well but that's not Portland's strength anyway.  The Clips also send opponents to the line, so there are some more free points.  Still, it's a risky strategy:  hope jumpers fall, get some cheap points at the line, and try to have your star outduel a guy on a 30 ppg tear over his last 5 games.  That's stacked up against "We're going to jam the ball down your throat repeatedly because we're the second leading scoring team in the league in the paint anyway and you're as thin an an Olsen twin down there."  Usually the paint people with the huge producer win.  And that's not even counting Gordon.

In order to survive the Blazers will have to stay out of foul trouble, hit shots, take advantage of the Clippers' propensity to turn over the ball, and find a way to stay even on the boards even though the Clips are quite good at rebounding on both ends.  Key indicators will be Aldridge's playing time and points, Portland's fast break points, and the gap in field goal percentage.  If anyone is going to win with brute force it'll be the Clippers so Portland needs to play some beautiful basketball tonight.

You can read more about Griffin and his cohorts at Clips Nation.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (