Portland took care of the Clippers tonight in Los Angeles, 99-89, ending the 2014-15 preseason with a 4-3 record.
The Blazers came out with their normal starting lineup, sans power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who was out with a sore groin. Big man Chris Kaman started in Aldridge's place in the frontcourt, along with center Robin Lopez and forward Nicolas Batum, while guards Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews formed Portland's starting backcourt.
Kaman apparently thought he was not only inheriting Aldridge's starting spot tonight, but also his usual amount of shot-attempts to start the game. He ran the pick-and-roll early with Lillard, also looking for his own shots down low and in the mid-range. Blazers Coach Terry Stotts decided to go with forward Joel Freeland as the first sub at about the six-minute mark, relieving Kaman following a 3-for-5 shooting performance in the first half of the quarter.
Typically when Matthews has a size advantage over his defender -- in this case, he was playing opposite Clippers guard J.J. Redick -- he starts the game early going 1-on-1 into the post against his man. Tonight was no exception to this trend that began last year, but it was ineffective early and Matthews didn't force the issue.
Filling in the gaps were Lillard and Batum, both hitting a couple jumpers off of Portland's trademark ball movement. Lillard got hot from outside with about three-and-a-half minutes to go in the first quarter, canning two long threes.
Eventually Stotts put in a lineup of point guard Steve Blake, wings CJ McCollum and Batum, big Joel Freeland and backup center Meyers Leonard to finish the first quarter.
Blake and McCollum took turns primarily handling the ball, with McCollum looking for his own shot more often but not to great success -- though he did have a few nifty kick-outs off of penetration. The Blazers scored just two points in the final three minutes of the period off a pair of Freeland free-throws.
Fortunately for Portland, the Clippers didn't seem on their game tonight from the beginning, and the Blazers ended the first period up 27-21.
To start the second, Stotts left Blake, McCollum and Leonard in the game, with small forward Dorell Wright on the wing and Kaman down low. This lineup functioned fairly well, pushing the ball often against Los Angeles en route to some easy fast break points. Leonard, in particular, was a beneficiary when the Blazers upped the tempo, finishing a few dunks in transition.
Though Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin showed off a reliable mid-range jumper throughout the first half, his team continued its poor play with fairly bad shot-selection and silly turnovers while earning two technical fouls for arguing with officials. Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford sitting out tonight's matchup didn't help the Clippers' cause tonight, either.
Stotts went back to his starters with five minutes to go in the half, and Lillard continued scoring from both outside and inside, finishing the period 5-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-5 from deep. Lopez peppered in a few free-throws, while Griffin and Redick kept the Clippers in the game, and the two teams hit the lockerrooms with Portland leading, 54-46.
The beginning of the second half featured both teams' starting units on the floor, as Los Angeles quickly closed the gap between the two teams as Paul nailed an early three-pointer. The Blazers didn't score until Matthews hit a fallaway three at the end of a broken-play with the shot-clock expiring a few minutes into the third.
On the other end of the floor, Lillard picked up two quick fouls, appearing visibly frustrated and playing aggressively. Stotts left his All-Star point guard in the game with four fouls, and it paid off when Lillard hit a long three-pointer heading into a Los Angeles timeout. Unfortunately for the Blazers, though, Lillard's aggressiveness eventually netted him an offensive foul at the 5:17 mark of the third period, and he took a seat with five personals.
Matthews kept the Clippers at bay, drilling a three-pointer and scoring on Redick in the post. Blake, McCollum, Batum, Freeland and Leonard finished the third quarter on the court, padding the Blazers' lead with jumpers from Leonard, Freeland and Blake as Los Angeles self-destructed, capped by a technical foul on L.A. The Blazers and Clippers went into the final period with Portland up 76-64 behind Lillard's spirited 21-point output theretofore.
The Blazers trotted an all-bench unit to begin the fourth quarter, holding their lead early due to a couple scores from McCollum and a fast break dunk from Wright, forcing Rivers into a hasty timeout with Portland up a dozen.
At this point, both coaches appeared content to leave their starters on the bench for the duration of the matchup. Power forward Thomas Robinson got into the game, along with wings Will Barton and Allen Crabbe. With a couple minutes remaining, the Clippers pulled within three points at 89-86, but little-used Blazers reserve forward Victor Claver made a long jumper and two free-throws to put Portland up seven. Los Angeles got a three-pointer from guard C.J. Wilcox with a minute left, but Barton scored on the following possession and the Blazers escaped with the 99-89 victory after a few garbage-time scores from McCollum.
Lillard was aggressive on both ends of the floor tonight, scoring 21 points in 24 minutes of game time. He was taking his matchup with Paul seriously, finishing with five fouls before Stotts took him out of the game for good at the midway point of the third quarter. Lillard hit six of 12 shots -- including a 4-for-7 performance from outside -- and made six of seven free throws to go with his four assists.
Matthews went to his post-up game often when matched against Redick, to varying success. He got hot in the early part of the third period, and ended with 10 points while shooting 2-for-4 from deep.
Batum struggled from the field tonight, going 0-for-6 from beyond the three-point line, but facilitated his teammates well, picking up six assists. He also grabbed five rebounds.
Kaman wasn't shy at pulling the trigger early, often going to his jumper. He showed an ability to play inside and outside offensively, also working in the pick-and-roll with Lillard in the first quarter. Kaman forced a few shots, but for the most part, played within the offense and scored consistently while hitting half of his 10 shots on the way to 13 points and nine boards. He also had three blocks, showing some solid timing with his hands defensively.
Lopez had a nondescript night on the offensive side of the ball, scoring an opportunistic and efficient eight points on 3-for-4 shooting. He corralled eight rebounds in his 23 minutes.
Leonard got extended action tonight, throwing up a dozen shots and hitting five of them, a few of those scores in transition. He attempted seven three-pointers -- hitting only two of them -- but he didn't show much hesitancy. Seven rebounds from the third-year center demonstrated a solid effort on the boards.
McCollum spent plenty of time tonight with the ball in his hands, ending with mixed results. He had a few spectacular finishes at the rim due to his ability to penetrate off the dribble, but just as many times he found himself in the paint and in the air before deciding on where to pass the ball. Overall, McCollum looked for his own shot at times, but also kicked it out to open teammates on multiple occasions.
Blake took the open shots the defense gave him, but ultimately looked to setup other guys, finishing with five assists in 19 minutes. He looked somewhat spry for a 34-year-old point guard, and spearheaded an effort to push the ball when the reserves took over the game in the second and fourth quarters.
Freeland played 19 minutes and worked hard on the glass, bringing in seven rebounds. He hit a couple jumpers and scored off a few post-ups on his way to 10 points.
Wright got 13 minutes of action but didn't swing the game one way or the other.
Crabbe, Barton, Claver and Robinson all finished on the court in garbage-time when both coaches emptied their benches. Aside from a few nifty Claver scores, the closing minutes of the contest were unspectacular for this group.
It's tough to conclude much from a game that saw the Blazers rest Aldridge, their three-time All-Star. The Clippers were also without Crawford, an important player off the bench for Rivers.
Still, Stotts revealed a bit about how his rotation will look in the seventh and final game of the 2014-15 preseason. The backcourt mainstays appear to be Lillard, Matthews, Blake and McCollum. Frontcourt contributors, to start the season, will likely be Aldridge, Lopez, Batum Kaman, Freeland and Wright, with a smattering of Leonard.
This looks like a 9 or 10-man rotation -- depending on how much Leonard and Wright will play with Aldridge in the lineup -- leaving only scraps for Claver, Crabbe and, somewhat surprisingly, Barton and Robinson.
The Blazers open the regular season next Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Moda Center. It remains to be seen exactly how deep Stotts will go with his bench early in the regular season, but Blake, Kaman, McCollum and Freeland look like they have the inside track for reserve minutes at the conclusion of the preseason.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter