Friday, April 29
Moda Center | 7:30 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD, ESPN; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder) | L.A. injury report: Chris Paul(Out - Broken Hand) Blake Griffin (Out - Quad)
SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation
Ok, raise your hand if you saw this coming.
Back on Christmas Day, the Portland Trail Blazers were 11-20 and getting ready to take their inevitable beatdown at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team, predicted to be bottom dwellers in the Western Conference, was performing exactly as most expected and fan focus, accordingly, had shifted to the typical things that NBA fanbases look for when faced with supporting a non-competitive team; player development, cohesiveness, and any type of takeaway that could be construed as a positive.
But then a funny thing happened. Player development and cohesiveness started leading to the team playing actual winning basketball, as Portland finished the year on a 33-18 run to claim the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Now that the Blazers stand only 48 minutes from a Western Conference Semifinals date with the Golden State Warriors, I have to ask: "Who could have predicted this on Christmas Day?"
But first, Portland has to take care of business just one more time.
Missing their two biggest offensive weapons in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers came out of the gate in Game 5 playing like a desperate team with nothing to lose. There was the very real threat that this could have been a trap game, and the Clippers hung with Portland as best they could, taking a tie game into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, they simply ran out of gas and didn't have their All-Star talent available to counter a big-time fourth quarter from Damian Lillard.
Now on their home court, the Blazers are significant favorites to close the series out tonight, but they need to continue their "us against everyone" mentality. At this point in the series, we know who these two teams are. Success will come through talent and execution, not drastic approaches in strategy. Though Clippers coach Doc Rivers may try to tweak his patchwork lineup somewhat for Game 6, his team now faces depth challenges as Los Angeles role players have had to step into the starting lineup and/or play heavier than normal minutes. Game 5 replacement starters Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford played a combined 81 minutes and, though they each had their moments, shot a combined 12-36. Hobbled shooting guard J.J. Redick, averaging 28 minutes per game in both the regular season and this playoff series, was forced to play 34 minutes of his own.
The Blazers have seen the Clippers trap Lillard and CJ McCollum for the most part of five games now, and with elite defender Chris Paul now unavailable, are having an easier time swinging the ball to the top of the key and having Mason Plumlee make a decision with the ball in his hands. It remains to be seen if the Clippers maintain this strategy or if they'll play a bit smaller and go man-to-man in the half court.
As long as the Blazers stick to their game plan and come out with aggression, it's hard to see how they would walk away with a loss. This is no knock on the Clippers, who are a good team and will refuse to go down without a fight, but they are simply missing too much firepower. The Blazers are 22-4 at the Moda Center dating back to Jan. 10, and the Portland crowd, tasting a series victory, will be rabid.
You could tell me that you saw this coming last December, but I wouldn't believe you.