Posting this a bit early to allow folks, including myself, to enjoy New Year’s Eve.
Team Records: Portland (3-0) at LA Clippers (1-2)
Game Info: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, TV on CSNNW, Radio on 95.5 the Game
Vegas Line: Clippers -3.5
Refs: Tom Washington, Brian Forte, John Goble.
The Skinny: The Blazers look to ring in the new year with a win over the most talked about team in the NBA outside of Miami, the new look LA Clippers. Fresh off of two straight losses, both to quality teams in San Antonio and Chicago, the Clippers will look to earn their first win of the season versus a 2010-11 playoff team. The Blazers come into town for their first road game of the season, having swept their season-opening three game homestand.
Last season: Portland swept the Clippers 3-0.
Projected Clippers Lineup:
PF: Blake Griffin (Oklahoma, 2nd season) – 28 PPG, 8 RPG, 2 APG
SF: Caron Butler (Connecticut, 10th season) – 13 PPG, 4 RPG, 3 APG
C: DeAndre Jordan (Texas A&M, 4th season) – 8.7 PPG, 6 RPG, 0 APG
SG: Mo Williams (Alabama, 9th season) – 11 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.7 APG
PG: Chris Paul (Wake Forest, 7th season) – 15 PPG, 3 RPG, 10.7 APG
Player to Watch: DeAndre Jordan (pictured at right) – We all know about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but the key to the Clippers success this season may well lie with their only legitimate center, DeAndre Jordan. Jordan does a few things very well and almost everything else poorly. He is a phenomenal shot blocker, rebounder and dunker, and he is a strong enough interior defender that most opponents don’t dare attack him directly close to the rim. However, he is one of the worst free throw shooters in the NBA, shooting a pathetic 41.5% from the line for his career. Nonetheless, he will be key for the Clippers if they are to beat Portland.
Did You Know?: The only team in American or Canadian major pro sports to have played longer than the LA Clippers (who came into existence as the Buffalo Braves in 1970) and never reached their sport’s championship game/round is the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals of MLB (which began play only 1 year earlier in 1969).
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee)
LA: Out – PG Eric Bledsoe (meniscus), PF Reggie Evans (foot); Questionable – PG Chauncey Billups (groin)
Ever since the blockbuster trade that brought Chris Paul to the Clippers shortly before the season began, several media outlets have dubbed the Clippers “Lob City” (hat tip to Blake Griffin as the originator of this phrase) because Chris Paul is constantly throwing lob passes that result in spectacular dunks, usually by Jordan or Griffin. On offense, the Clippers mainly score via either three pointers, free throws or layups/dunks. As a result, the Clippers are one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. Whether that entertaining style of play leads to winning basketball of the sort needed to make a deep playoff run is still under debate. This is particularly true for LA on defense, where they have struggled so far against teams that are smart enough to pass the ball to open shooters, something both San Antonio and Chicago did to perfection. They rely mainly on blocks (principally from Jordan) and steals rather than forcing the opponent to miss shots, something that at least so far has caused them trouble versus stronger teams. They will need to fix this if they are to beat Portland on Sunday.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They limit the Clippers three-pointers. The Clippers are going to dunk on Portland, often quite dramatically, and you have to accept that. Dunking alone, however, does not win you games. The real secret to the Clippers’ offensive success is making three-pointers. If Portland can limit their effectiveness from deep as they did against Denver, the Clippers can dunk the ball all they want, but Portland will come out with the win.
LA Clippers win if: They make Portland play sloppy offense. If Portland gets the ball to open shooters as they did late Thursday versus Denver, they have little chance of winning because it is unlikely Portland will miss enough open shots. If, however, they force turnovers like Denver did much of the game against Portland, they could disrupt their offensive flow enough to pull out the win on Sunday.