Today's Blazer's Edge Mailbag answers the question everybody's asking heading into Portland's final game of the regular season: would the Los Angeles Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder be a better playoff matchup?
If you want to see which of tonight's game results will lead to which matchup, check out our Playoffs Seeding Flowchart.
Looks like [the Blazers] are going to play the Clippers but they could still get the Thunder. Which do you prefer and why? Do you see any advantages that matter? It seems like both teams have big stars to knock our lights out. Are Dame and CJ enough to pull through?
Thanks, Kylee! Let's take a look.
The Clippers and Thunder both run efficient offenses, Oklahoma City ranking 2nd in the league, L.A. 7th. Their style of scoring differs significantly. The Thunder produce far more in the paint and on the break; the Clippers depend on the three-pointer, scoring seldom in the lane. The Clippers sport the 6th best percentage in the league from the three-point arc; both teams rank in the Top 10 for overall field goal percentage. L.A. takes care of the ball far better than the Thunder do, but the Blazers don't really take advantage of turnovers.
Since the Blazers are better at defending the paint than the perimeter... Preference: Thunder
The contrast between the two teams on the boards is significant. Oklahoma City is the best offensive rebounding team in the league, #1 in overall rebounding rate as well. The Clippers rank 28th in both categories.
The Blazers trade on rebounds...the secret sauce on their Burger of Success. Preference: Clippers
The Clippers rank 7th in the league in Defensive Efficiency, the Thunder a more modest 12th. Both are Top 5 in Field Goal Percentage Allowed and Top 10 defending the arc. Neither team allows many assists but the Clippers have a huge edge in forcing turnovers. Their lack of rebounding hurts though.
No matter which way you slice it, Portland's opponent will have a defensive advantage. Preference: Don't really want to see either.
How They Perform Head-to-Head vs. Portland
Both the Clippers and Thunder feature point guards and scoring forwards. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant are all destined for the Hall of Fame. Surprisingly none of the four have fared that well against the Blazers this year.
Those numbers are still good, but it's clear that whatever the Blazers did to slow down the opponent's main options worked against OKC and LA.
The story changes when we examine the supporting casts.
JJ Redick struggled against Portland but Jamal Crawford and DeAndre Jordan had field days. Crawford shot 50% from the arc versus the Blazers. Jordan averaged 16.5 total boards and an astonishing 6 offensive rebounds playing the Blazers.
Practically all of Oklahoma City's mid-rotation players prospered against Portland. Serge Ibaka's shooting percentage rose from 48% to 65%. And then there's this...
In short, the Blazers managed to shave about 3 points per game off of the averages of the Clippers stars, roughly 9 off of Oklahoma City's. But they gave it all back, plus a metric ton of rebounds and many easy shots, to the role players.
Portland would probably get stuck in a "pick your poison" situation against either opponent: contain the stars and get chiseled by the supporting cast or contain the role players and get blown away by the stars. Over the course of a 7-game series the team picking poisons usually ends up ingesting both. You want to be the team causing the leaks, not the team scrambling to plug them.
Preference: Probably a wash.
How the Blazers Perform Head-to-Head vs. the Clippers and Thunder
Comparing Portland's splits versus the Thunder and Clippers makes the preference pretty clear.
As you can see, Portland's starting guards don't fare that well against either team. At least they stand a chance versus the Thunder. The Clippers have bottled them up entirely.
Looking at the supporting cast, Al-Farouq Aminu's scoring and shooting percentages plummet versus the Clippers; they rise or stay close versus OKC. Allen Crabbe shoots 29% from the field and 42% from the arc against the Clippers, 48% and 53% versus Oklahoma City.
The only guys happy to see L.A. are Portland's bigs. Mason Plumlee scores better against both opponents but he shoots 58% against the Clips, 39% against Thunder. (He's rebounded better against the Thunder though.) Ed Davis has also been HUGE against the Clippers, averaging 13.5 points, 11 rebounds, 6 offensive rebounds, and 71% from the field...all well above his standard numbers and his splits against OKC.
Monster performances from the 6'10" and over crew aside, there's no way any of Portland's guards want to see that Clippers defense. Since the Blazers live and die with their guard play...
Preference: Oklahoma City and it's not close.
The Blazers might be able to carve out a beachhead against the Clippers wither their rebounding. (Then again, DeAndre Jordan might push them right back out to sea.) Other than that, the Blazers don't want any part of L.A., especially that defense. By the numbers, Oklahoma City is a better matchup.
Keep in mind, though, that neither opponent would be easy. The real answer to the preference question is, "Until the Blazers get better, it's probably not going to matter." But as we found out a couple years ago versus the Rockets, decent stars and decent offense always give you a puncher's chance. The Blazers have both. Don't count them out entirely no matter who they end up playing. Just don't hold your breath either.
If you have Portland Trail Blazers questions, send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Playoffs-related questions are especially welcome right now!