In order to get a bit more insight on the current state of affairs of tonight’s opponent, the Los Angeles Clippers, we spoke to Clips Nation manager Sabreena Merchant.
You can follow Sabreena on Twitter @sabreenajm.
Thank you Sabreena for participating in our Q&A.
1. The Clippers have won just three of the last 10 games. What has been the reason behind the latest skid?
Merchant: The schedule got a lot harder, and the Clippers aren’t deep enough to withstand that, especially since they haven’t gotten much healthier. They’ve played two sets of five games in seven days within the past three weeks, and they’ve missed Marcus Morris Sr., Serge Ibaka, and Nicolas Batum for multiple games during that stretch. For a team that’s still trying to figure out its offensive identity without Kawhi Leonard, the lack of practice time has been brutal.
2. Former Blazer Nicolas Batum has stepped up this season with Kawhi Leonard sidelined. How important has he been to the team?
Merchant: With Leonard out, Nic Batum is the second-most important player on the Clippers. It’s astounding how much the team depends on his contributions considering he came in as a buyout candidate a year ago. He is an excellent ball mover and connector, he defends every position, he shoots well from three, and he is consistently in the right place on both ends of the floor. The Clippers have desperately missed him since he entered the health and safety protocols two weeks ago. He has since cleared them, but is currently conditioning to return to play, and that return cannot come soon enough.
3. If the Clippers pull out a win in Portland, why would that be the case?
Merchant: The Clippers will be able to stifle the Blazers offense with their fourth-ranked defense. They’ve gone big in the starting lineup in recent games — starting a frontcourt of Ivica Zubac, Ibaka, and Morris — and that size is overwhelming in the half court. They are capable of getting burned on the break, but the Blazers play in transition less than any team in the league, so they don’t seem particularly well-equipped to pounce on that particular Clippers weakness.
4. What is one thing that Blazers fans should know about the Clippers that they wouldn’t find in a box score?
Merchant: Reggie Jackson is an important barometer for how this team will perform. When he’s rolling, the team starts having fun and the vibes pick up, and that plays out statistically, too. When Jackson scores 20 or more points, the Clippers are undefeated in regulation, so he’s the guy to try to slow down.
5. What is your prediction for the game?
Merchant: The Clippers win. The Blazers have looked pretty unsightly without Lillard in the lineup, and I don’t think they have the offensive firepower to break through the Clippers defense without him. The fact that this game is being played in Portland gives me a little pause, but unless the Blazers figure out how to make this game a track meet, the Clippers should be fine.