Last time these two teams played — which was way back last Wednesday — the Blazers were in the lead for most of the game but the Clippers were never very far away. In fact, had the Blazers not shot 52 percent on their long two’s and Baron Davis not really, really sucked (2-for-15 shooting) it probably would have been a loss for Portland. Of course, with so many players out the margin of error has dramatically shrunk, meaning anytime those mid-range jumpers aren’t falling the Blazers are in trouble. Fortunately the Clippers are more than capable of shooting themselves in the foot with one of the more inefficient offenses in the league (103.9 points per 100 possessions).
Despite his 25 points, it was fairly shocking that Chris Kaman didn’t get the ball more on the block. Jeff Pendergraph and Juwan Howard did a nice job keeping him out of position, but the center position is not only one the Clippers should win statistically, it’s one they should ride all the way to victory. Marcus Camby and DeAndre Jordan aren’t going to score a ton of points, but they still represent size and length the Blazers just don’t have anymore. The three aforementioned bigs combined for three offensive boards last week and keeping that number below five is a victory for the very young and very old Portland frontcourt.
Probably for the best the Blazers don’t have to run into Blake Griffin yet, too. Just typing his name gives me horrific visions of tip dunks on Juwan’s head.
The Clippers also haven’t played since last Thursday, so they’ll be nice and rested, but being such an erratic team it’s impossible to predict whether that will help or hinder them.
Keys to the Game:
-Get up early: Just because a team has a low-ranked offense doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally play good team ball. The Blazers can lure L.A.’s ugly side out by grabbing an early double-digit lead, which might lead to the Clippers abondoning their big advantage inside, just as they did in the second-half on Wednesday.
-Don’t live off long two’s: There are going to be a lot of shot blockers camping around the rim, leaving lots of space for anyone who wants to operate off the ball. Jumpers aren’t going to kill the Blazers, but 17-foot jumpers will. The more shots they can take within 12 feet, the easier things will get. Hopefully Jerryd Bayless learned his lesson last game and won’t go driving head-first into the lane hoping to draw contract and instead getting his shot swatted into 2009. With the current roster, you can almost always check the percentages from 16-23 feet to see if they even had a shot at winning.
-Limit assists: The Clippers have the third-best assist-to-field-goals ratio in the league (about six assists out of every 10 baskets). There’s no special secret to stopping this. Stay mobile on defense, be ready to provide primary and secondary help, close out on shooters and deny the passing lanes. The more Portland can force the Clippers into isolation sets, the more the Clippers are going to fall into the mid-range trap.
-Get Patty Mills in the game: I have no idea how many points the Blazers will have to be up for Mills to play, but it would be nice to see what he can do against real competition while there are still some free minutes to grab.