The Portland Trail Blazers have battled injuries all year, so it’s no surprise that they’re rolling nearly an entire roster’s worth of players on the injury report as they face the LA Clippers tonight. For their part, the Clippers are mostly healthy and looking a bit better as of late, winning eight of their last 11 and their last three in a row.
Portland, too, has looked better: while their record betrays it, they have shown more cohesion and competitiveness in the last few weeks, in no small part due to coach Chauncey Billups, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic, and thanks to the stellar play of Shaedon Sharpe.
But games aren’t won with a coach and a single player, and it’s hard to ignore the talent disparity between these two teams given who’s suiting up. For the Blazers to win tonight on the road - against a team that is not only playing better, but healthy and is extremely motivated to win - they will need a Herculean defensive effort from wing defenders they just don’t have. Who’s guarding Paul George? Who’s guarding Kawhi? Who’s guarding... James Harden? Or the ghost of Russell Westbrook?
While being a downer is no fun, I don’t think 130 Clippers points is out of the question tonight, and I suspect if the Blazers win tonight it’ll be because they figured out how to score 131.
Portland Trail Blazers (6-15) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (11-10) - Mon. Dec. 11 - 7:30 p.m. Pacific
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Jerami Grant, Robert Williams III, Ish Wainright (out); Deandre Ayton, Ibou Badji, Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Minaya (questionable)
Clippers injuries: Moussa Diabate, Mason Plumlee (out)
What to look for
Shaedon Sharpe being more selfish. Sharpe has just a 19.3 percent usage rate in the fourth quarter (compared with 22.5 percent overall), and frankly both of those number could stand to come up a bit, especially with the Blazers shorthanded. While it’s tough to criticize someone averaging 25-7-5 over their last three games, the next step in Sharpe’s development will come with knowing when he’s the best option for his team and playing accordingly, rather than looking to spread the love. Some of that is him, and some of that is coaching. As Mike Richman said on the latest episode of the Locked on Blazers Podcast:
Sharpe needs more stuff called for him, and I think this is as much a criticism of Shaedon Sharpe as it is of the coaching staff. Some players you say, ‘we don’t call plays for them and they find a way to score’... Shaedon Sharpe is too talented to be one of those dudes that you don’t call plays for. He needs to be a focal point of the offense.
While there is something to bringing someone along slowly and teaching players how to play “the right way,” there’s ALSO something about building systems to support your best players stuffing the ball in the opponent’s face because they can’t do jack diddly do-dah about it. I speak for all Blazers fans when I say we want to see more of that... and it will help his development from solid starter to star. Win-win!
About the Opponent
Former Blazers guard Norman Powell believes the Clippers are finally clicking following their trade for James Harden, writes Janis Carr of the Orange County Register:
“I think we have a little bit in terms of how we want to play, who we’re playing through, rotations, things like that,” guard Norman Powell said. “I think guys are getting more comfortable in their role and knowing when they’re coming in and out of the game, figuring out the game flow, who they’re on the floor with, spots and things like that. “So, I think we’ve turned the corner, but I think there’s still a lot of room where we can improve offensively and defensively.”
Law Murray with The Athletic (subscription required) writes about what has changed for the Clippers to get them back above .500, and spoiler, it has to do with James Harden playing (and being utilized) better:
Harden finished Wednesday’s game with 20 points and 11 assists. He’s seeing the floor as the primary pick-and-roll ballhandler at a high level, and this game was the latest example of that development. Last month, Harden wasn’t finding spots to attack in the fourth quarter in Denver. On Wednesday, Harden was able to follow a stepback 3 with a probing floater off a Zubac late-flip ball screen to help the Clippers maintain a late advantage:
Clippers guard Terance Mann sat down with Christopher Fenimore of Esquire to talk fashion and the NBA in a feature that probably made fellow fashionista Jerami Grant jealous:
Born in Brooklyn, moved to Massachusetts, and now you live in L.A. What do you think about the style in each of those states?
Very different. New York has its own style. I feel like in New York, you’re allowed to wear more layers. A lot of people wear a lot of layers out here. They layer their stuff up. In L.A. it’s real different. They have the baggy look that people like to go with. But L.A. has a lot of different styles and it opened me up to something new, for sure. Then Boston’s real similar to New York.
I’ve never really been there and I’m kind of surprised by that, actually. They have good style?
Yeah, they have good style. A lot of hats being worn in Boston, though. A lot of Red Sox hats.