Portland Trail Blazers (7-10) vs Los Angeles Clippers (8-8)
Monday, November 30
Staples Center | 7:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Chris Kaman (Questionable - Ankle) | Los Angeles injury report: Pablo Prigioni (Questionable – Illness)
SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
Winners of three of their last four games, the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Los Angeles Clippers for the second time in 10 days. But the Clippers will be looking for payback after falling to the Blazers 102-91 on November 20. For further analysis, check out that game's preview and recap.
That’s not to say that the Clippers were playing a consistent brand of basketball prior; after starting the year 4-0, Los Angeles has gone 4-8 while dealing with nagging injuries to several key players (Chris Paul, J.J. Redick) and lackluster performances from several new acquisitions added to bolster their depth for a deep playoff run.
Paul Pierce (4.5 points per game), Lance Stephenson (4.8 points per game), and Josh Smith (5.3 points per game) have all been major disappointments this season. Paul Pierce is effectively done as an impact player, and Stephenson has performed poorly enough to work himself out of the rotation for stretches. Smith has continued to fall in love with the long jumper that likely cost him an All-Star appearance or two in his career, now shooting a full 45 percent of his shots from outside 16 feet.
One Clipper who hasn’t struggled at all this year is Blake Griffin. Averaging 25.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, Griffin is the clear offensive centerpiece of his team. Featuring a much improved midrange game, Griffin is able to work out of the high post and either face up his man or find teammates in motion around him. He still has his famous athleticism, but relies on it much less than in prior seasons, molding himself into a more complete player.
Chris Paul is still running the show for Los Angeles, though he’s having a slightly down year so far. Of course, when your version of a down year is averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 assists per game, along with nearly two steals, you’re probably doing something right. Paul has been dealing with a nagging groin injury in recent weeks and had inconsistent teammates to pass to, which will impact his numbers, but he still is among the best (if not THE best) in the game at running the pick-and-roll.
With Paul at the helm, the Clippers rank No. 13 in the NBA in pace, only pushing when opportunities present themselves. Despite the aforementioned issues, the Clippers have an ORtg of 106.5, good for No. 4 in the league. The real challenges are on defense, where Los Angeles is ranked No. 21. While Paul and monster center DeAndre Jordan are elite defenders, Griffin and the Clippers’ assortment of wings struggle to stay in front of their man; Jamal Crawford, Pierce, Stephenson, and Austin Rivers are all struggling to play any sort of lockdown defense, which puts an undue amount of pressure on Jordan to challenge wing penetration.
In beating the Clippers earlier this month, Portland played their most complete game of the year, to that point. The starters played solid, if unspectacular defense for the whole game. Even if the Blazer backcourt was getting beat off of the pick-and-roll, the effort was there at a level that fans hadn’t seen for a full 48 minutes at that point. The Blazers got solid performances from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who had 27 and 18 points, respectively. But reserve big man Ed Davis came up huge with 17 points and 15 rebounds, 10 of them offensive.
The Blazers have noticeably ratcheted up their defensive consistency over the last 10 days, while going 3-1. Granted, two of their four games have been against the anemic Los Angeles Lakers, but teams can only play who they are scheduled and Portland handled business as expected. Their lone loss, at home against the Chicago Bulls, was lost on the offensive side of the ball, as they limited Chicago to 38 percent from the field.
Keys to a Blazer victory
Keep the defensive improvement going: Though the Clippers are struggling this season, they have elite talent. L.A.’s big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre Jordan is a force and for the most part cannot be stopped, but merely contained. What Portland can’t afford to do is slack on their man defense and fail to fight through off-ball screens; this is how the J.J. Redicks and Jamal Crawfords of the world will beat you. Portland fans have seen it before.
Put offensive pressure on Chris Paul: Paul has historically had defensive success against Lillard. With Paul still nursing a sore groin and Lillard having found another gear this season, Dame needs to look for opportunities to get by Paul into the midrange area, hopefully drawing DeAndre Jordan out in the process. Lillard should also look to continue his recent success as a facilitator on the drive and dish. He’s done an excellent job distributing as of late, and this will only help him get better looks, as it will make opponents less likely to institute a double team or hard trap against him.
Crash the offensive boards: It’s no accident that Ed Davis had 10 offensive rebounds against the Clippers in the last match up; Los Angeles sports an anemic 73.2 percent defensive rebounding percentage, which is the second lowest in the league. Aside from Jordan and Griffin, no one for the Clippers does a good job on the defensive glass, so the opportunities are there. If Meyers Leonard is able to hit a few jumpers and pull Griffin further from the hoop, all the better. Look for Plumlee, Davis, and Al-Farouq Aminu to hit the offensive glass tonight.