March 28, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) grabs a rebound in the second half of the game against the Phoenix Suns at the Staples Center. Clippers won 103-86. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Game 52 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers

Blazers: 24-27 (5th Northwest Division)

Clippers: 29-21 (2nd Pacific Division)

Game Details: Staples Center Los Angeles, CA. 7:30 PM. TV: CSN, ESPN. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Blazer Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8”, MSB Le Mans, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11”, Texas). C Joel Przybilla (#10. 7’1”, Minnesota)

Projected Clippers Starting Lineup: PG Chris Paul (#3, 6′, Wake Forest), SG Randy Foye (#4, 6’4”, Villanova), SF Caron Butler (#5, 6’7”, Connecticut), PF Blake Griffin (#32, 6’10”, Oklahoma), C DeAndre Jordan (#6, 6’11”, Texas A&M)

Friday in LA will be a test for Portland to be sure. That test will be…wait for it…can the Blazers commit to tanking. Or if not can they commit to tanking, then will they commit to tanking.

Like I’ve said over and over in the last few weeks, I don’t think Portland is playing to lose. I do think it will be beneficial for the Blazers to lose to the Clippers. However, I also think that following up a victory over the Hornets with a victory over the Clips could be a real boost. Maybe not a boost as in the lift needed to get back to the bottom of the Playoff race, but the kind of boost that might carry over into next season.

The Clippers are a good team, they’re not a great team, but they’re better than the Blazers. They’re also a pretty vulnerable. The Clips have lost to some bad teams. Most recently the same Hornets Portland beat a night ago. The difference between a team like LA and a team like San Antonio or Oklahoma City is that they can get thrown off their game.

When the Clippers are clicking they can be pretty close to unbeatable. Especially if that clicking includes getting a lot of back court turnovers and long rebounds that turn into run outs and fast breaks and all the various elements that make up LOB CITY.

On the other hand, this Clipper team can fall apart with the best of them. The Clips have good shooters that on some nights don’t know when to stop shooting. They have big guys that can easily get into foul trouble or get shook at lose their cool. There are weaknesses with this team. Whether or not Portland can exploit those weaknesses consistently enough will be the difference between winning and losing, assuming that winning is something the Blazers are interested in doing.

There is another interesting twist to consider. The Clippers are a game and half behind the Lakers for first in the Pacific Division. I’m not a Clippers fan or a Lakers fan or an LA resident, obviously, but I feel like a changing of the guard in the City of Angels might be just as good as winning an NBA title. Meaning, of course, the Clippers have something to play for, and that to them, the Blazers probably look like an easy way to get an always important late season win.

Let’s be honest though, Friday is a win-win for Portland just like Tuesday was with the Thunder. A loss puts the Blazers one step closer to a top draft pick; a win consolidates some of what Portland accomplished in their win over NOLA.

Couple of things to watch for:

  • Luke Babbitt: For the first time probably ever, Luke Babbitt led Blazer coverage for most of a whole day. He played a great game against the Hornets, but that game is over. If he can play another great game then maybe we’ll have a hot streak on our hands. If he plays a bad game, well then it might be back to business as usual with Luke.
  • J.J. Hickson: Same goes for J.J. as it does for Luke.
  • What ESPN has to say: As I often do, I will be watching the national broadcast of Friday’s game. I’m interested to see what the national guys have to say about the new(ish) looking Blazers. I’m also on pins and needles to see if the national guys are hip to Babbitt. He didn’t make a single appearance on ESPN’s highlight package. There is something very wrong with that.

Email me: [email protected]

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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