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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers Preview

Losers of five in a row, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Portland Trail Blazers tonight as the Los Angeles Clippers come to town.

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (31-39) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (37-34)

The Portland Trail Blazers are on yet another slide and there appears to be no hope on the horizon, especially tonight, as the Los Angeles Clippers come to town.

This latest slide may be the one that finally puts a nail in the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2022-23 season. In the make-or-break stretch of the year, the Blazers are losers of five in a row. Their only two wins in the last 10 games have come against the lowly Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic. With just 12 games remaining, Portland has fallen all the way to 13th in the West — 2.5 games back of even the play-in race now.

Standing in the opposite corner tonight, Los Angeles has climbed to fifth in the West. Though the Clippers lost last night against the Magic, they had just enjoyed a four-game winning streak. Stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard should be suiting up, keeping Portland’s hands full.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers - Sunday, March 19 - 6:00 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out), Jerami Grant (out), Nassir Little (questionable)

Los Angeles Clippers: Not Yet Submitted

The Matchup

Russ vs. Dame, the Clippers Sequel. Russell Westbrook, after a trying tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, finds himself in a new home once again (well, same city, different logo). After L.A. lost its first five games with Westbrook, the Clippers have seemingly acclimated to their new acquisition of late. He hasn’t put up huge numbers, but Russ has impacted the game as a distributor and a hustler. In the Clippers’ 134-126 win over the Golden State Warriors Wednesday, Westbrook put up 14 points, 9 rebounds (4 offensive) and 7 assists. Meanwhile, Portland starting point guard Damian Lillard has scored at least 20 points in 30 straight games, the longest active streak in the league. Amid a storm of losses, Blazers fans are nearing the point where they must look for games within the games to find enjoyment (at least, I know I have to). There’s no better game within the game than seeing Russ and Dame go at each other, a rivalry that brings out the emotions of two of the NBA’s most competitive players. Let’s see what tonight’s showdown has in store.

1,395.3 minutes. How do you measure a rookie’s development year? Speaking of games within the game, 1,395.3 minutes marks the time Blazers prized rookie Shaedon Sharpe has spent on the floor in his first season. Though the number may be higher than expected back in September, after seeing flashes of Sharpe’s promise this season, many people want that number to be higher — especially as this season lurches to another lottery selection. Blazers reporter Mike Richman is one of those people. He recently lambasted Portland head coach Chauncey Billups for playing Sharpe just under four minutes in the first half of Portland’s blowout loss to the New Orleans Pelicans last Sunday. Billups followed up that critique by playing Sharpe just 7 minutes against the New York Knicks and 17 minutes against the Boston Celtics. There was a time after the Josh Hart trade that people expected Sharpe’s minutes to take off due to the starting forward’s departure. Those minutes have primarily gone to Cam Reddish and Matisse Thybulle. How much runway will Sharpe get tonight and what will he do with it?

3-Point Danger! The Los Angeles Clippers are among the top five in the NBA in 3-point percentage, shooting it from deep at a 37.7% clip. On the other hand, Portland is in the bottom five in the NBA in defending 3-point percentage, surrendering a 37.2% clip to opponents this season. This spells danger for tonight’s game, especially if Kawhi Leonard and former Blazer Norman Powell are able to give it a go. On the flip side, Portland’s biggest weapon is the 3-point shot, but it might be hard to shoot themselves out of this fight.

What Others Are Saying

Law Murray of The Athletic discusses how the Clippers are lost without Kawhi Leonard, which was the case during L.A.’s loss to Orlando last night.

Well, the good news for the Clippers is that Leonard hasn’t missed back-to-back games since returning from an ankle injury Dec. 5, a road win against the Charlotte Hornets that saw Leonard save the Clippers with a game-winning field goal. The Clippers are 23-14 in games Leonard has played since Dec. 5. The only games Leonard has missed since are half of back-to-back pairs, one game due to illness after a five-game trip, and one game due to rest at the end of a 16-game, 29-day stretch for the Clippers.

The bad news is that the Clippers entered Saturday’s matinee game against the Orlando Magic with losses in eight of their nine games without Leonard since the two-time NBA Finals MVP last missed a game due to injury (instead of injury management). The lone win was nearly a loss as well, with the Clippers’ garbage time unit needing to rescue a road game on the front end of a back-to-back against the Detroit Pistons on the day after Christmas.

ESPN reporter Ohm Youngmisuk writes about how Russell Westbrook took the blame for his team’s latest loss.

“This one’s on me honestly,” Westbrook said. “I could have been better. Started off good. But just in the second half, was terrible. And I got to do a better job of helping the guys out in the second half and the fourth quarter. So, it’s nothing anybody did. But honestly, it’s on me.”

With Leonard sitting out one game in a back-to-back as has been the team’s season-long plan with its star, Westbrook played 37 minutes and finished with 14 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds and a steal.

But he had six turnovers, and Magic point guard Markelle Fultz had a career-high 28 points to go with 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals.