Portland has very little time to celebrate their big win over the Clippers on Saturday before they have to run it back on Sunday. Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (22-21) Vs. Los Angeles Clippers (32-13)

Pick-up ballers will be familiar with the process of “running it back.” For those non-pick-up ballers, let me explain. Running it back happens when, in a pick-up game, the team that has been beaten asks the team that has won if they’d like to “run it back,” meaning that instead of picking new teams or getting new guys on the court, they’d like to play the same game again with the exact same players on the exact same teams. Depending on where you play and on who you play with, “running it back,” is a pretty common occurrence, and sometimes followed by the less common practice of “best two out of three.”

The NBA is about as far from pick-up basketball as you can get. Very rarely does one team get to “run it back,” against their opponent after they lose. Instead, they have to move on to the net opponent, not facing the team they just lost two for days, weeks, or even months.

Sunday is one of those rare times when the Blazers and the Clippers get to “run it back.”

(It’s actually going to happen again for Portland next week with another home-and-home back-to-back with the Jazz, but let’s not talk about that until next week.)

Sunday evening, Portland will make their second trip to the Staples Center, their first LA throw down the the Clippers. The Blazers are 2-2 against Los Angeles-based NBA teams. They’ve beaten each team once, and lost to each team once. They’ve also lost their only game at Staples, on December 28th against the Lakers. If Portland can beat the Clippers in Los Angeles, they’ve can get to 3-2 against LA teams and guarantee at least a split in the season series with Blake Griffin and his cohort from Lob City. And really what more could this team hope for?

Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson

Clippers Starting 5: PG Eric Bledsoe, SG Willie Green, SF Caron Butler, PF Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan.

Very little has changed since last night. The Clippers game plan should be very similar on Sunday to what it was on Saturday: pound the ball inside, crash the offensive glass, get out on the break, PLAY ABOVE THE RIM.

Portland’s game plan won’t change either: push the pace when possible within reason, don’t turn the ball over, make a lot of jump shots, get to the foul line, try to not lose the rebound battle by double digits.

My guess is the Clippers will start by force-feeding DeAndre Jordan in the post. DAJ took only eight shots on Saturday night. Jordan over J.J. Hickson is easily the Clippers’ biggest advantage over the Blazers, look for him to get a lot more than eight looks on Sunday night.

Another change LA will probably implement in the second of this home-and-home tilt will be a more aggressive offensive rebounding strategy. The bulk of the Clippers’ 15 offensive rebounds Saturday came in the second half and were the direct cause of LA’s comeback. If the Clips had worked as hard to crash the offensive boards in the first half as they did in the second, they would be looking for a two game sweep of the Blazers on Sunday.

What to Watch For

  • Who starts faster. My guess is the Clippers will be pretty upset about how everything went down Saturday. They had a nice lead in the fourth quarter that they let slip away. Jamal Crawford went ice-cold at exactly the wrong time. And a couple crucial possessions ended in not very good looks. Expect the Clippers to try and put this game away as early as possible. If Portland can withstand an early barrage, they can give themselves a chance. That does mean, though, that the Blazers have to do all they can to get over their most recent late game heroics.
  • Nicolas Batum. In Portland’s last three games, Batum has averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists. He’s shooting the ball with more confidence than I’ve ever seen him have. He’s all over the floor on both offense and defense. His turnovers are a bit high (just about four per game), but that’s partially a side effect of handling the ball more. Damian Lillard has been targeted by defenses around the league, which opens up opportunities for Batum. Nicolas has taken full advantage of those opportunities. I expect the Clippers to pay extra attention to the guy who pulled off a triple-double on Saturday. Hopefully an added emphasis on stopping Batum will open the floor up for either Damian Lillard or LaMarcus Aldridge.
  • Fast breaks, turnovers, and dunks. Blake Griffin’s dunks lead the highlight packages every time the Clippers play, even when they lose (especially when they lose). If Portland can limit turnovers and fastbreaks, and thus Blake Griffin dunks in transition, they’ll keep the crowd out of the game. Keeping Lob City from going hog wild will be a pretty good way for the Blazers to stay in Sunday’s game.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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