Portland Trail Blazers (15-22) vs Los Angeles Clippers (22-13)
Wednesday, January 6
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: None | Clippers injury report: Blake Griffin (Out - Leg), Wesley Johnson (Questionable - Foot)
SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
After a smothering defeat at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, the Portland Trail Blazers are back at the Moda Center tonight to take on the streaking Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers have won six games in a row, including a 5-0 road trip, and for the most part have been doing it without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who has been sidelined since Dec. 27 with a partially torn quadriceps tendon. Griffin had been having a monster season, but his team hasn't missed a beat, averaging a more than 12-point margin of victory during their winning streak, capped with a 31-point drubbing of the hapless Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 2.
In recent years, the Clippers' main problem has been with their supporting cast, whether that is simply not having one, or, as was the case earlier this season, not getting expected contributions from their role players.
Since Griffin went down with his injury, however, Los Angeles has seen 20-point performances from J.J. Redick, Austin Rivers, Paul Pierce, and Jamal Crawford. With Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan performing at their expected levels, this has given the Clips a Big-Three-by-committee (and likely has Bill Simmons screaming "Ewing Theory" at the top of his lungs from his fourth row season seats at Clipper home games).
The key to L.A's turnaround, and the man that makes the Clippers' offense hum, is still Chris Paul. While Paul's field goal percentage has decreased from prior seasons, due in part to struggles from distance this year, he has never been a premier 3-point shooter. Paul averages 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game, and makes his living in the mid-range off of the pick-and-roll, where he remains one of the most deadly point guards in the league.
Paul's primary pick-and-roll partner, with the aforementioned Griffin missing this game, is monster center DeAndre Jordan. He's having another big year, putting up 11.5 points and 13.3 rebounds (3.5 offensive) per game, along with over two blocks and shooting an unbelievable 73 percent from the field. Jordan scores the majority of his buckets at point blank range, either on the roll, or on offensive put backs.
Shooting guard J.J. Redick has been coming on strong as of late and is putting up 16 points per game on 49 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Redick has a quick release and is able to get his shot off even under significant defensive pressure. His core strength allows him to connect from distance while in motion off of screens as well. Portland will need to pay careful attention to Redick at all times as he works to get loose on the perimeter.
Early in the season, head coach Doc Rivers faced challenges with consistency at the small forward spot, forced to choose between an underperforming Lance Stephenson and aging veteran (to put it mildly) Paul Pierce. Rivers has settled on Luc Mbah a Moute to start at the small forward spot and while his production is less than stellar on the offensive end, Mbah a Moute is a versatile defender, able to guard both small forwards and power forwards.
This versatility has served a useful function - once Griffin went down with injury, Rivers has been able to insert Pierce to serve as a stretch-four, but then have Mbah a Moute cross guard the opposing power forward, should the matchup dictate, or slide Mbah a Moute to the power forward and insert Wesley Johnson into the small forward lineup. Johnson is currently nursing a foot injury and is questionable tonight, so should he not be able to go, look for Pierce to re-enter the starting lineup after sitting out the Clippers' last game to rest.
Top scoring reserve Jamal Crawford has stepped up during his team's winning streak, averaging 13.3 points on 45 percent shooting after putting up season averages of 11 points and 36 percent shooting beforehand. Backup guard Austin Rivers is still inconsistent, but has been better with his shot selection of late and is much more effective than in previous seasons at finishing around the basket.
Returning after a six game absence, Blazers point guard Damian Lillard struggled offensively against Memphis but was not discouraged. Said Lillard, "I was just happy to be out there. I didn't put too much pressure on myself, it being the first game. I just wanted to come out and make sure that I was responsible and did what I needed to do defensively, get to the spots I needed to be on and make the right plays."
Lillard will be counted on to improve upon that game's 4-14 performance against Paul, one of the league's premier defensive point guards that has been historically able to make Lillard work for his points through physical defense.
Portland shooting guard CJ McCollum may have better luck against Redick, though he had a rough outing on his way to 16 points against the Grizzlies. McCollum has been on a tear lately, averaging 27 points, five assists and six rebounds over the previous five games. Redick puts in effort on the defensive end, but lacks the lateral movement to stay with McCollum as he works his way into the paint.
Of course, any Blazer that gets into the paint is going to have to contend with DeAndre Jordan, one of the most imposing defensive big men in the league. An elite shot blocker with a spectacular DRtg of 98, Jordan is capable of swallowing shots whole, and altering countless others that he doesn't get his hands on. Jordan does a great job "showing" when playing help defense and making opposing guards think twice about taking it to the rim.
Keys to the game
Play tough: L.A. is a physical bunch. The Clippers, ahem, make their feelings known to the officials. They will try to bully you if you let them. Portland not only needs to not be afraid to play a little physical defense of their own, but they need to be mentally tough tonight as well. Chris Paul, Doc Rivers, even Blake Griffin in a suit on the sidelines can all wear on an opponent with their constant lobbying, cajoling, and whining. The Blazers need to play like a team on a mission, and tune out all of the potential extra-curricular activities that might go on tonight.
Bench scoring: With Lillard returning to the starting lineup, seemingly anointed third option Allen Crabbe will move back into a bench role. He'll likely be faced up with Redick, Jamal Crawford, or Austin Rivers; none of whom are exactly defensive stalwarts. Portland will need consistent shooting from Crabbe off the bench.
Maurice Harkless, Gerald Henderson, and Meyers Leonard also have an opportunity to make an impact in this game. Harkless has gotten more minutes of late, averaging 23 per game over his last five, and has increased his scoring up to nine points per game over that span. Henderson has been wildly inconsistent with his shot, both over the entire season, and in his most recent stretch of games, but he has looked lately as though he has his legs and confidence back after returning from offseason hip surgery earlier this year.
Meyers Leonard, just like every other game, has a chance to cause matchup fits for the Clippers, either having the size advantage over Mbah a Moute, or being able to pull Jordan out of the paint, something that the clippers hope to avoid at all costs. Leonard hitting a couple jump shots early will go a long way toward opening things up for Portland and forcing the Clippers to make adjustments.
Hack a' Jordan: Love it or hate it, it's a legitimate strategy in certain situations. Jordan impacts the game in so many ways, but there is no denying that he is a liability at the free throw line, averaging 40 percent from the charity stripe on over 11 attempts per game. Should the game be close in the fourth quarter, don't be surprised to see Blazer coach Terry Stotts call for the intentional foul parade and either force Jordan to make Portland pay at the free throw line, or force Rivers to take him off the floor in crunch time.
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