The Blazers hit the road today to take on the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center in an early afternoon matchup.
Though the Clippers are sitting at 3-2, coach Doc Rivers hasn't been particularly pleased with his team's play through the first five games of the season. Following a 121-104 loss at the hands of the Warriors Wednesday night, Rivers held a meeting with his team, then addressed the media afterward. Apparently, things didn't go so well in the locker room after the loss, as Rivers told reporters:
"I didn't say much. I just let them blow smoke up each other's [expletives] because that's all they did in my opinion. But I let them just talk it out. But I think if you're going to talk, you got to be real. I am not a fan of group meetings unless they are real group meetings."
Los Angeles is currently the worst rebounding team in the NBA, and it's not even close; through five games, the Clippers are averaging 33.8 total rebounds. The No. 29 team in the league in rebounding -- the Raptors -- have brought in 37.8 boards a night, four rebounds more per contest than L.A.
In the loss to the Warriors on Wednesday, Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin pulled in just a single rebound, while his team netted a total of 30. In the past 13 games -- going back to the preseason -- Los Angeles hasn't out-rebounded a single opponent. The Clippers are dead-last in the league in defensive rebounds, and No. 27 on the offensive end of the court.
L.A. allows only 7.8 offensive boards per game for opponents, good for No. 2 in the league, which looks great on the surface. However, the Clippers haven't allowed opposing teams to get many shots up, thus limiting the available rebounds on that end of the floor.
When opponents do gets shots up, though, L.A. has struggled to defend them. According to TeamRankings.com, the Clippers are between No. 25 and No. 29 in the entire NBA in the following defensive categories: opponent field goal percentage, free throws attempted, three-point percentage, two-point percentage, shooting percentage, shooting efficiency and points scored per game.
Long story short, it's hard to grab rebounds on the defensive end when there are no misses to create rebounding opportunities in the first place.
The outlook for the Clippers isn't entirely bleak, as they are effective in other aspects of the game; They force a ton of turnovers, limit fast break points and keep teams from scoring in the paint easily.
Griffin may have had a difficult outing in the loss to the Warriors, but his season numbers are solid. He's making about half his shots, with 50.5 percent of them coming in the midrange while averaging 24.8 points a night to lead the team. In two games against the Blazers last season, Griffin shredded Portland's defense for 35.5 points per contest on 58.1 percent shooting.
L.A. superstar point guard Chris Paul is averaging 20.3 points this year, a good midrange shooter who's struggled mightily to finish his shots at the rim, where he's made 40 percent of his attempts. Against Portland last year, Paul had even better numbers than Griffin, averaging 27 points, 14 assists and 4.5 steals on 59.1 percent field goal shooting and 66.7 percent from deep.
The Clippers have one more Blazer killer, a familiar foe for fans in Portland: sixth man Jamal Crawford. He's been good for 20.3 points a game this year, shooting 35.7 percent from outside. Against Portland last season, Crawford bumped his scoring average up to 26.7, also drawing eight free throws a night.
Outside of the Griffin-Paul-Crawford trio, though, L.A. hasn't found consistent contributors on offense. The Clippers' small forward rotation -- consisting of Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock and occasionally Chris Douglas-Roberts -- hasn't produced much. Bullock has shot well in limited attempts but has only gotten into two games, while Barnes has been plain bad in 26.1 minutes per game, shooting 37.5 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from outside. Rivers has only played Douglas-Roberts 11.3 minutes a night in four games.
Shooting guard J.J. Redick, brought on board over a year ago for his shooting ability, has shot 23.3 percent on the year from deep. Center Spencer Hawes, who signed with the Clippers this past July after turning down a free agent offer from the Blazers, is shooting 28.9 percent from the floor and 23.3 percent from outside. Backup point guard Jordan Farmar has shot the ball well this year, but only attempts 4.6 shots a night on an average of 14.2 minutes per game. Center DeAndre Jordan has been a bit of a bright spot, shooting 71 percent from the floor this year, but he only attempts 6.2 shots a game.
For the season, Portland is among the league leaders for rebounds per game as a team, which could spell trouble for a Clippers squad with its aforementioned rebounding difficulties. The Blazers are also adept at defending the three-point line, a huge source of points for Los Angeles.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been Portland's most steady source of points this season, averaging 22.2 per contest on 50 percent field goal shooting. Guard Wesley Matthews has made 54.1 percent of his shots for 17.8 points per game this year, and center Robin Lopez has shot 52.1 percent to get to 11.2 points a night. Backup big man Chris Kaman, perhaps in one of the bigger surprises through the Blazers first five games, has led the bench in scoring with 8.6 points per game, shooting 60 percent from the floor while showing off good range and a solid touch around the basket.
Point guard Damian Lillard, who's struggled to score consistently this year, has averaged 17.2 points per contest, but his outside shot has been a little off all season and he's at 34.2 percent from deep for the year. Against the Mavericks Thursday night, Lillard went 1-for-6 from outside.
Small forward Nicolas Batum has had similar issues with his shot, as he's just 34.9 percent from the field and 30 percent from outside on fewer than nine shots a night. Though Batum has been a passive shooter so far in coach Terry Stotts' offense, he has found ways to contribute, leading the team with 5.8 assists per game and pulling in over seven rebounds on average.
Outside of Kaman, the Blazers' bench unit has been unpredictable offensively this year. Backup guard Steve Blake, who's playing 21.1 minutes a night, hasn't shown a consistent ability to hit open shots. Backup wings CJ McCollum and Will Barton still appear to be in a deadlock for minutes off the bench, as Stotts has typically gone with one or the other this year. McCollum came uncorked against the Mavericks Thursday night, making three of his four three-point attempts for 13 points. Barton, on the other hand, went 0-for-3, but Stotts often opts for him when his team needs a jolt. Forward Thomas Robinson, who ended the preseason completely out of the rotation, has fought his way back to 10 minutes a game, usurping big man Joel Freeland in the lineup after a recent foot injury caused him to miss a few games.
Lillard had a tendency to defer to his teammates last year when playing the Clippers, attempting fewer than 10 shots per game and averaging 14.7 points, even though he shot 51.7 percent against Los Angeles. McCollum, Batum, Lopez and Matthews all averaged between 11.5 and 14 points per game when facing the Clippers for the 2013-14 season, spreading the ball around evenly. Aldridge's 24.5 field goal attempts per game against Los Angeles last year were far and away the most for his team for any rotational player, as the rest of the Blazers went for a more balanced attack.
Though the Clippers appear vulnerable, it's still way too early in the season to write them off. Paul, Griffin and Crawford all torched Portland last season, and with both teams returning all five starters, not much is likely to change. Expect big numbers for Los Angeles' stars -- limiting Paul and Griffin's supporting cast, however, should be a priority for the Blazers.
Portland's biggest advantages lie at the three-point line and on the boards. If the Blazers play to their strengths and exploit the Clippers' weaknesses, a quality road win today is not out of the picture.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter