The 2012-13 Blazers have not been good on the road. Their 11 wins away from home are exactly half of the total wins they currently have achieved in the Rose Garden, and it’s on the road where this young team most obviously shows its age. It’s fitting that this season of growth and previewed potential will end at home in-front of an adoring partisan crowd.
It’s just as fitting that before the Blazers get a chance to give the Portland fans one final look before we stop being satisfied with exciting and almost-there and start demanding wins, they’ll have to face yet another top Western Conference team with designs on a long playoff run.
Though the Los Angeles Clippers don’t have a whole lot on the line (as a division winner they are guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs), Tuesday is their final home game of the season. There’s no doubt that they’d like to cruise into the post-season with a blow out at the Staples Center. There’s also no doubt that given the relative disparities in talent and depth, the Clippers are more than capable of running the Blazers out of LA, sending Portland to their 12th straight loss.
So what are the Blazers to do? My advice is, as Wesley Matthews not so delicately put not too long ago, to play with a little heart, try as hard as they can to best represent themselves, and hope that at the very least they don’t get embarrassed. That doesn’t sound like much, but with only two games left to play, there really isn’t any reason to abandon all expectations.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Will Barton, SF Victor Claver, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Clippers Starting 5: PG Chris Paul, SG Willie Green, SF Caron Butler, PF, Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan
If we were going to take the time to break down Tuesday’s game from a match-up standpoint, it would be clear that at almost every position the Clippers have a distinct advantage. It would also be clear that at the position Portland might, and I emphasize that MIGHT, have the leg up (power forward), the advantage LaMarcus Aldridge has over Blake Griffin is small at best, and does little for the Blazers, considering LA’s center is literally heads and shoulders above Portland’s. Aldridge might be better than Blake Griffin, but that advantage in and of itself will make little difference.
So in lieu of a match-up break down, I’ll use this final road game preview to talk about what I want to see from the Blazers.
First, I want to see some consistency on offense. Over the course of the last month, the Blazers have looked very good at times (the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers). At other times, Portland has looked down-right awful (the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder). When the Blazers play well, they spread the floor, they get good high percentage looks, and they take care of the ball. When they play poorly, the ball stops, the looks come late in the shot clock, and empty trips down the floor become common-place.
Portland doesn’t need to play at the top of their game all game on Tuesday. I mean if they do, they’ll compete, but that shouldn’t be the goal. The goal on Tuesday should be to play consistently. The Blazers don’t need to put up a 41-point quarter, but they do need to avoid a seven-point quarter. If Portland can avoid extended scoring droughts on Tuesday, even if they lose by a dozen, this game can be considered if not a success than at least not a total failure.
Second, I want to see Meyers Leonard go head-to-head with DeAndre Jordan. I’m assuming that J.J. Hickson will start on Tuesday, even though the season is over and Hickson is on his way out the door, he’s still the starter at center. That being said, Meyers Leonard needs to get some run against DeAndre Jordan. DAJ is the kind of center Portland needs, and Meyers is the kind of center Portland has. Leonard can do a lot of things Jordan can’t, shoot jumpers and make free throws being two of the main things. But Jordan does things that Meyers has not shown an aptitude for, blocking shots and rebounding, that the Blazers need next season in the absolute worst way.
There’s a good chance Leonard will have some solid minutes against Jordan. If Meyers can hold his own against Jordan, meaning basically not fouling out in 10 minutes or less, that could make Tuesday worthwhile.
Finally, I want to see Damian Lillard have a good game against Chris Paul. I won’t even entertain the ludicrous advanced statistical alchemy that says Lillard shouldn’t be the NBA Rookie of the Year, but I will say Damian still has something to prove against the NBA’s top NBA point guards. Dame’s best game of the season came in Portland’s loss to the Lakers. Hopefully his next best game will come against Chris Paul.
So that’s what I’m going to watch for. I’m also going to watch this game knowing that this season has been tough at times, and most of those times have been on the road. Going into 2013-14, the Blazers will need to address how well the play on the road. Right now, though, Tuesday will be Portland’s final game in another team’s gym. Even if the Clippers run all over the Blazers, it will be Portland’s last road blowout. That, I can celebrate.