Portland Trail Blazers (37-35) at Los Angeles Clippers (43-27)
Thursday, March 24
Staples Center | 7:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - shoulder) | Los Angeles injury report: Blake Griffin (Out - quadriceps)
SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation
We were joined for a Q&A with Brandon Tomyoy of ClipperBlog who helped us to an insider perspective on the best basketball team in Los Angeles.
Blazers Edge: The Clips are an intriguing team that a lot of people are calling a darkhorse after being viewed as an also-ran at the beginning of the year. They’ve endured heartbreaking losses in recent postseasons, and seemed at the splintering point last summer before DeAndre Jordan was pulled back to the fold. Now with Blake Griffin out of action for more than half the season, the team has come together for an impressive run. From an outsider’s perspective, they appear to have matured as a unit. What do you see as the major developments the team has undergone so far this season?
Brandon: Two things stand out in the Clippers stellar play since Blake's injury: first, they were a bottom third three-point shooting team early on in the season in terms of percentages. While they don't have a great roster of shooters, there was still bound to be some normalization in the averages, and that has happened along with an increase in attempts from the two best deep ball shooters on the team in J.J. Redick and Chris Paul. Second, the defense has gotten miles better. The team installed a new defensive scheme at the beginning of the season that kept their bigs closer to the paint and was more aggressive in switching defenders. As it was new for the season, even the roster mainstays were learning it, and it showed as the team was 24th in opponent points per game. The roster has done well to acclimate to the new scheme since, and up until a recent stretch of losses, were up as high as 7th in OPPG even accounting for their defensive woes early on.
BE: Is there any sense of worry among fans or the organization about the fact that when facing the teams with a better record (Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Cavaliers and Raptors), the Clips have two wins and twelve defeats? Or should a team like this be simply looking ahead to the playoffs?
Brandon: There is always going to be concern from any fan base when it comes to the shortcomings of a team. That said, previous seasons have had the Clippers among the teams with one the best records against teams in the West, or dominant on the second night of a back-to-back, or any plethora of statistics that prove how good the team is when they're running on all cylinders. They haven't excelled against the upper echelon this regular season, but there's also not much left for this team to prove in the regular season, especially with how well they've been playing without Blake Griffin, who some even pegged to be the Clippers best player in the early part of the season. Where the results need to come for this team is in the playoffs, but a combination of pride, a thin roster, and a competitive West mean they won't be resting guys in preparation for the postseason.
BE: Something that has proven a bit elusive to outsiders is, simply put, "What is Clipper fan ethos like?" And what is the mood about the club currently?
Brandon: There's a certain level of accepted dysfunction in being a Clippers fan. That's the shortest way to describe a fanbase that willingly supported a product that their former owner barely supported himself. Clipper Nation is a disparate collection of contrarians, cynics, Laker-loathing transplants, and basketball junkies that found comfort in finding tickets to an NBA product that was once consistently affordable -- and that's not counting the greener fans who have come aboard in recent years. Having a group as varied as this, though, also means that you have a wild range of emotions that buoy its membership. I think that's what makes this fanbase so difficult to read. In terms of mood, what we're seeing in a more general sense are the doldrums of a team that has been together for five seasons without showing the ability to tie the improvement of the team to an improved postseason result, making the cracks that lie underneath the team's polished veneer ever more noticeable as time goes on -- so much so that to many, that's all they ever manage to see. That's also the symptom of closeness, though; without that desired end result, it's not often that a fan appreciates their team for what it is because they're too focused on what it isn't.
BE: Hearing you, I imagine the Clipper fan to be a kind of practicing philosopher, which I guess makes sense given your team demands some hard questions. Here's one that Socrates himself might have trouble with: How do Clipper fans respond to the common perception of their team as "whiners" or "dirty"? And can anything be done to rehabilitate this image? Maybe making more episodes of BGCP3TV for charm points?
Brandon: It's difficult to change a reputation once it's been established. I mean, people come from all around the country to Portland thinking that Voodoo makes the best doughnut in the city, but many aficionados of the confection will say that Blue Star is the better spot. There's no denying that the Clippers are a vocal team, but there's also a history that perpetuates this. Like Serge Ibaka only getting a Flagrant 1 for punching Blake Griffin in the family jewels in the critical moments of a game where the team is trying to take the 2 seed from the Thunder in 2013, then having Ibaka set a screen for Westbrook on the ensuing play that seals the game. The NBA announced the next day that the call should have been a Flagrant 2. Or Draymond Green committing a foul on Chris Paul in the waning moments of Game 1 of the Clippers-Warriors playoff series that should have lead to free throws, only for the referees to call it an out of bounds with the ball going back to Golden State. Again, the NBA would announce the next day that the referees made the wrong call. So it begins this cycle of complaining about calls, only for the players to not get calls, which then leads to more complaining. It's ugly, it wears on audiences, and it makes the games less fun to watch the longer this team is stuck together. But going back to early games in the BGCP3 era, one also gets a sense in their play and in their interviews that it was more fun for them back then, too.
BE: Just some more angles to consider when looking at the 82-game grind, huh? For a while there it did seem like Blake got abused a lot without commensurate whistles, and that time he got ejected on Christmas 2013 for relatively mild retaliation against a dirty Warriors play sticks out in mind as another likely flashpoint that encouraged gamesmanship.
Speaking of getting the most out of what you've got—Jeff Green is a nice add, but giving up a first-round pick along with Lance Stephenson was viewed by many as excessive. Of course he is loved by his players, but how long can Doc Rivers as GM last?
Brandon: Doc's contract is for, what, three more years? And there has been no sign of any desire within the organization to reshuffle the deck with the front office. Keep in mind, this is also an organization that had Elgin Baylor as their General Manager for nearly two decades, so personnel has never exactly been a silver bullet for the Clippers. The hope is absolutely that they can do better, whether that's through a new GM or Doc simply improving in that role, but the only GM in the history of the franchise that has really excelled is Neil Olshey. The moves he made in his tenure in Los Angeles are the foundation that these current Clippers are built upon, and the circumstances that lead to his departure to the Blazers is one of the many ways the former ownership continues to haunt Steve Ballmer's new regime.
BE: Well there were definitely some who might've been happy if Portland gave Olshey back to you last offseason, but that offer has expired now. Is there anyone on the team who may be particularly going under the radar that either the Blazers or the league should be aware of moving forwards (so that Neal O can acquire him in a Blazer-friendly deal)?
Brandon: There's a possibility of a breakout game for Jeff Green or even Wesley Johnson, but moving down the list... not really? The Clippers are like the Pirates of the Caribbean of NBA teams; you know what to expect once you walk through the ticket gates, you know what to expect from Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow -- or in the Clippers' case, Chris Paul leading the team -- and regardless of how enjoyable the product is, the formula is more successful than most would like to admit. I'm sure it wasn't by design that a team named about a ship so closely resembles a movie franchise about seafarers, but here we are.
BE: I feel like Portland could have a hard time bodying up against backup center Cole Aldrich if he's doing well, because he looks and moves like a refrigerator on wheels, and we don't quite have anyone like that. Are there any particular playcalls or actions that the Clips run that you think should be especially effective against Portland? Or do you have a playbook you could just hand over? Not like we could stop your offense even if we had it...
Brandon: Floppy action is what helps Redick consistently find the space for open shots as he darts around screens [coming out from under the basket] in the half court, and the High Horns double screen [with players at each elbow] is what helps Chris Paul find space midrange for his own shot or for lobs to DeAndre Jordan. Together, they are essentially the left jab and right hook that the Clippers attack is predicated on, and they use a liberal dose of both to pummel their opponents down to the mat. Their schemes and calls don't have much of an element of surprise; how well they consistently execute them is what makes them so effective.
BE: Yeah, having amazing players helps for sure. Now it's your turn to dish a compliment! What players on the Blazers do you worry about coming into this matchup?
Brandon: The conventional answer here would say Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum, and given how great the two of them are, there is every reason to be worried about them. Beyond stating the obvious, though, the player that concerns me in this matchup is Ed Davis. The Clippers are a poor rebounding team, and Ed Davis has punished them on the boards even going back to last year in his time on the Lakers. For the Clippers to be successful, they absolutely have to minimize his impact on the glass.
BE: Well, there's a rumor going around that the Blazers will have C.J. McCollum on the active roster this time around (smh), so I hope that works out in our favor.
Give us a prediction for the game—we can already assume J.J. Redick has lit nets afire and Point God Chris Paul does whatever he wants, which is what they always seem to do against Portland.
Brandon: I think the heavy minutes played by the starters in Golden State means Doc Rivers may actually turn to using Pablo Prigoni for a stretch, and Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers have been better when he shares the floor with them, which bodes well for the Clippers second unit. It's going to come down to rebounds, though, and the Clippers refusal to play two bigs together at this time means that [Blazers bigs] should have good games. I do think that J.J. Redick and Chris Paul will bounce back after awful nights in Oakland, but if they don't, I wouldn't be surprised if the Blazers run away with this one.
BE: On behalf of the Blazers Edge community, I begrudgingly accept the part of your prediction which includes a Blazers victory. And we thank you so much for your time and insight, Brandon!