The Portland Trail Blazers (53-28) host the Los Angeles Clippers (57-24) in the regular season finale. This will be the third meeting between the teams, with each home team winning in the previous two. This game may lack the ability to gain your attention as many of the starters from each team will either sit out or play limited minutes. So let’s switch up the way we normally present a game preview and give you insight to tonight’s game and the postseason.
With an impressive overtime win against Golden State on Sunday, the Trail Blazers clinched the fifth seed in the Western Conference. They will open up the postseason on the road against the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets. All of the scenarios and mystery surrounding the Trail Blazers postseason positioning have vanished. This gives coach Terry Stotts the option of resting his starters, who have logged a lot of minutes this season. Stotts did say that Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez will start tonight. Leaving out LaMarcus Aldridge from that list makes me believe Aldridge will rest up for Saturday’s game in Houston.
The focus is set on the postseason. With one game remaining, one that won’t impact their first round opponent, the Trail Blazers are preparing for the Rockets. After Tuesday’s practice, Stotts said, “We didn’t talk much about the Clippers. It’s more focused on Houston. The fact that we can spread out our preparation time, rather than trying to cram everything in, makes it easier not only for the players, but the coaches and the video staff and everybody else.”
The match-up against the Clippers does have value. Joel Freeland was active on Sunday but the game didn’t provide Stotts the option to play him. It will be important for Freeland to see the court and play at game speed. I had hoped he could play on Sunday but understand the reason behind keeping him on the bench. Freeland provides another option in the Houston series. Lopez and Aldridge will start off against Dwight Howard but Freeland needs to be available in case of foul trouble. Tonight’s game could also be historic for Robin Lopez, who can break the single-season franchise record for offensive rebounds. He is six offensive rebounds away from tying the record, held by Chris Dudley and Kermit Washington, and could break it with seven. That’s a lot to ask for, especially since he will most likely play limited minutes. However, it just proves how valuable Lopez has been to this team all season.
The Los Angeles Clippers come to Portland on the second of a back-to-back. Last night, the Clippers won at home against the Nuggets 117-105. That win gave the Clippers 57 wins on the season, which is a new franchise regular season record. The Clippers set a new record for wins last year with 56 wins. Tonight’s game might have some significance for the Clippers as they may know before tip-off if they can catch Oklahoma City for the two seed. The Thunder sit one game ahead of the Clippers and take on the Pistons tonight. If the Thunder lose that game, the Clippers can secure the two seed with a win against the Trail Blazers.
If the opportunity to secure the two seed presents itself, it will be hard to come by. Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick have already been ruled out for tonight’s game as neither of them traveled to Portland. Redick is sitting out to rest for the postseason, while Griffin picked up his 16th technical of the season last night and will serve his automatic, one-game suspension. Griffin tried to get the ball from Timofey Mozgov in last night’s game but hit him in the head. He believes the league will rescind the technical but for now, Griffin is out for the regular season finale.
Tonight I hope to see Portland’s younger, inexperienced players perform well. They will be getting a lot of minutes and have an opportunity to show why they deserve more playing time. The postseason is not the time to mess with rotations and line-ups but Stotts will be watching close tonight. In case of an injury (knock on wood), Stotts will have to know who he can play. The game will be broadcast on ESPN which gives young players another opportunity to showcase their talents.
It was hard to preview this game when all I have on my mind is the postseason. Let’s enjoy this moment. Embrace it Trail Blazers fans. Your team is back in the playoffs and, man, does it feel good.