Portland Trail Blazers (48-25, No. 4 in the West)
Wednesday, April 1
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD, NBATV; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Clippers: Jamal Crawford
SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation | Timmay's Viewing Guide
The Blazers host the Los Angeles Clippers tonight in a potential postseason matchup preview and a game that could shake up the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Clippers played last night at home against the Golden State Warriors. After opening up a double-digit lead in the first half, L.A. was outlasted by the Warriors down the stretch and lost in a closely contested thriller, 110-106. Portland brings a four-game winning streak into its fourth and final meeting with the Clippers after blowing out the Suns at home on Monday for Blazer's Edge Night.
The Blazers are 1-2 against Los Angeles this year, following the the Clippers' late-game hijinks in a 98-93 overtime debacle about a month ago that saw Portland employ the "Hack-a-DeAndre-Jordan" technique down the stretch to great success. A win tonight for Portland would give the team a half-game lead over Los Angeles out West, giving them homecourt advantage in the first round.
L.A. carried a seven-game winning streak into its loss last night against the Warriors. Since the All-Star break, the Clippers have quietly been one of the most impressive teams in the NBA. In that time, they've posted the No. 4 Offensive Rating and the No. 3 Defensive Rating in the league, according to NBA.com, cruising to a 14-7 record.
Los Angeles' success on the court recently -- and for most of the season, really -- can be attributed to solid ball movement, efficient shooting from the field, care with the ball and an emphasis at getting easy points at the free throw line, among other things.
The Clippers have one of the most potent starting lineups in the league, able to attack with proficiency from outside, the midrange and at the basket with multiple weapons. Los Angeles's high-octane offense has been the fastest-paced in the NBA the last five games.
L.A.'s defense, with center DeAndre Jordan as the roaming shot-blocker down low and pesky point guard Chris Paul hounding opposing backcourts up top, allows no easy baskets. Paul is No. 5 in the NBA this season in steals per game with 1.9, and though Jordan struggles at times defending well-executed pick-and-rolls, he's blocked 2.6 shots per game the last five and altered countless others.
All five Clippers starters have averaged double-figure scoring the last couple weeks, headlined by power forward Blake Griffin's 21.6 points per game and Paul's 21.4 in that span. Griffin's jumper hasn't been pretty lately -- and he's been shooting from the midrange on just over a third of his attempts the last five games -- but he's finished well in the paint in that time and especially well at the rim, converting on 71.9 percent of his attempts within a few feet of the basket. Griffin's also drawn a half-dozen fouls a game over that stretch, has sunk 83.9 percent of his free throws and picked up 4.8 assists per contest, all while rarely turning the ball over. He scored 40 points last night in the loss to the Warriors, shooting 16-of-25 from the field.
Paul has had his share of mishaps over the last several games, but in that time he's counteracted 3.2 turnovers per outing with 10.6 assists and 96.9 percent shooting at the line on 6.4 free throws attempted. He's made 38.1 percent of his threes the last five games, most of them off the dribble. In three games against Portland this year, Paul has had trouble connecting on his three-pointers but has averaged 27 points and 11 assists, attacking mostly from the midrange and via floaters in the lane.
Guard J.J. Redick is one of the most prolific corner three-point shooters in the league, but he also comes off tons of screens near the top of the key and from the wings, where he's an equally capable scorer. Redick prefers to shoot long jumpshots when he's not bombing from outside, converting 62.1 percent of his midrange attempts the last five games. Forward Matt Barnes, starting on the opposite wing, has put up 7.4 threes a night over that span and has made 37.8 percent of them. He gets a lot of catch-and-shoot looks in the corner from Paul's penetration and Griffin's ability to draw attention from opposing defenses.
Jordan is by no means a volume shooter, but he does get plenty of looks inside every night and is the best finisher in the NBA. His biggest weakness is his free throw shooting, which sits at 38.9 percent for the season. Blazers coach Terry Stotts opted to put Jordan at the free throw line down the stretch of a close game against Los Angeles last month, a strategy that paid dividends as the Blazers stormed back from a late-game deficit behind Jordan's six straight misses from the stripe.
With guard Jamal Crawford still nursing a mysterious calf injury, L.A.'s bench has been paced by ... guard Austin Rivers...?
That's right, no April Foolin' here. Rivers has averaged 10 points a game the last five on 54.3 percent shooting from the field. His three-pointer is still misfiring, but Rivers has been solid from the midrange and has attacked the paint hard, finished well and gotten plenty of his buckets directly at the rim.
No one else in L.A. coach Doc Rivers' bench rotation plays more than 15 minutes a night or has gotten up more than 4.2 field goals attempts per game the last five. Forward Hedo Turkoglu's going through a tough shooting slump, center Spencer Hawes' entire season has been one big shooting slump and big man Glen Davis has shot 38.9 percent from the floor the last couple weeks. Almost half the Clippers' offense off the bench is provided by the streaky Rivers who, though he's been on as of late, has shot 39.6 percent from the field in his first three seasons. Golden State held Los Angeles to 12 total bench points last night, weathering Paul and Griffin's 67 combined points.
The Blazers have gone on a four-game win streak since dropping 5 straight last month. The three teams Portland has defeated the last four outings -- Utah, Denver and Phoenix, twice -- are all non-playoff opponents and the Blazers have had defensive battles in that time (92-89 win over the Jazz, 87-81 win over the Suns) and defense-optional games (120-114 over the Nuggets). The the only wire-to-wire win for the Blazers recently was Monday's 109-86 dismantling of Phoenix, a game that was over midway through the third quarter and saw the starters sit the entire fourth.
All things clicked for the Blazers on Monday, though, and the team feels like it can continue competing at that level, regardless of the competition.
Point guard Damian Lillard -- in the midst of a poor shooting stretch -- has transformed into more of a distributor over the course of the four-game win streak, hitting 37.5 percent of his shots and just 23.8 percent of his threes a night but picking up 8.3 assists in the process to go along with 15.3 points.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has made half his 19.5 shots per game in that time, including five free throws a night. Since the streak started, Aldridge has hit 78.6 percent of his tries right at the basket and 52.3 percent from the midrange, making him one of the league's most dynamic big men on offense and an impossible guy to guard on a night-to-night basis for most teams.
Forward Nicolas Batum came uncorked against Phoenix on Monday, nailing four of his six three-pointers and six of his 10 field goal tries for 16 points. He's now shooting 53.3 percent from deep the last four games. Guard Arron Afflalo has finished well inside lately but has also been quite effective in the midrange. He also dropped 16 points on the Suns a couple days back.
Center Robin Lopez, who's made 58.3 percent of his shots the last four games, has made 68.8 percent of his field goals in two meetings with the Clippers this year. His backup, Chris Kaman, has converted 68.2 percent of his tries against L.A. this year.
Portland's bench has seen heavy doses of forward Dorell Wright and guard CJ McCollum recently. Wright's been a cold shooter at 36.7 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from outside the last four games, but in 20.5 minutes a night over that span he's managed to not turn the ball over once. McCollum hasn't shot well from deep lately, either, but he's beginning to show that he's capable of running the offense for stretches. Point guard Steve Blake has hit 40 percent of his threes since the streak started and big man Joel Freeland has made over half his limited shots. Guard Allen Crabbe, forward/center Meyers Leonard and guard Alonzo Gee have all been used in either spot minutes or blowouts lately.
The Clippers and Blazers have been among the league's premier rebounding teams the last couple weeks, both excelling on the defensive end and putting up average numbers on the other side. Kaman has been a great defensive rebounder in that time and even better at sneaking in for offensive boards. Lopez doesn't have gaudy numbers but his boxing out benefits the rest of his teammates and his ability to rebound and go up with a teammate's miss or tip it in has shined lately. Jordan's been a complete monster rebounding the ball on both ends the last several games, put-backs accounting for a large portion of his points. After Jordan, L.A.'s rebounding duties are divided among the remaining players, led by Griffin. Jordan has averaged 17 rebounds in three meetings against Portland, 4.7 of them offensive. But the Blazers have owned the overall rebounding battle between the two teams and have had a much more balanced approach.
The Clippers beat the Hornets, Kings, Wizards, Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Celtics over the course of their recent seven-game win streak before falling last night to the Warriors. Similarly, the Blazers haven't had the most difficult schedule in the league the last four games and have four wins to show for it. Los Angeles will be looking to bounce back from yesterday's tough loss and put some space in between itself and the Blazers in the standings tonight. Portland has other plans, though, as a win would give them possession of the fourth seed and homecourt advantage -- for the time being, at least -- in the first round of the playoffs.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter