Game Details: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA. 7:30PM. TV: CSN/ESPN. Radio: 95.5 FM (KXTG)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Brandon Roy (#7, 6′6″, Washington), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′8″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)
Projected Los Angeles Starting Lineup: PG Baron Davis (#5, 6’3″, UCLA), SG Eric Gordon (#10, 6’3″, Indiana), SF Ryan Gomes (#15, 6’7″, Providence), PF Blake Griffin (#32, 6’10”, Oklahoma), C Chris Kaman (#35, 7’0″, Central Michigan)
In last night’s season opener against the Suns (recap), the Trail Blazers looked for the most part like a team that had certain things figured out. Impressive Blazer debuts from Armon Johnson and Wesley Matthews laid to rest (at least for now) some of the questions about the team’s backup point guard rotation, and also went a long way in explaining why Jerryd Bayless was expendable. Brandon Roy looked more or less like himself, a relief to those who watched him struggle in the preseason. Nicolas Batum had a phenomenal night, pulling down 11 rebounds and scoring 19 points, including three 3-pointers during the team’s 18-1 run to close the game. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby had solid games. Hell, even Fabricio Oberto was decent in the three minutes he played at the end of the first quarter.
Tonight, the Blazers open a four-game road trip at the Staples Center against the Clippers. The Clippers, like the Suns, can be lumped into the group of teams in the Western Conference that could be vying for one of the back two playoff spots if everything goes right for them. With the Mike Dunleavy era mercifully over, the Clippers are breaking in new coach Vinny Del Negro. Eric Gordon is fast establishing himself as one of the best young 2-guards in the west; Chris Kaman is a physical presence in the middle who should be able to go toe-to-toe with Camby; and Baron Davis is still a solid facilitator.
And oh yeah, there’s that Blake Griffin guy. The 2009 No. 1 overall pick makes his regular-season debut tonight after missing his rookie season with a knee injury (sound familiar?). In the preseason, he’s been more or less as good as we thought he’d be, and he and Kaman together are going to make the Blazers work a lot harder inside than the Suns did. LaMarcus Aldridge had plenty of open looks last night with the undersized and defensively-challenged Hedo Turkoglu guarding him–don’t expect him to have it nearly as easy tonight. He tended last night to fall back on his jumper, which isn’t going to work with a rebounding threat like Griffin on the floor. His best bet could be to attack the basket and try to get the inexperienced Griffin in foul trouble. Oberto did a fine job in limited minutes last night, but this game will be the first one in which the Blazers realize how much they miss having Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla healthy.
The good news for Portland is that the Clippers don’t really have a bench to speak of. Rookies Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu have plenty of talent, but they’re not expected to contribute right away. The Blazers’ second unit last night–especially Matthews and Johnson–showed last night that they’re more than capable of playing as a unit as well as subbing in with the starting five, and nobody on the Clippers’ bench is going to make them work as much as Jared Dudley and Channing Frye did.