Game 44 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers


Blazers: 23-20

Clippers: 16-25

Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: TNT. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Dante Cunningham (#33, 6′9″, Villanova)

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 DeAndre Jordan (#9, 6’11”, Texas A&M)

The storyline for tonight’s game that you’ll hear talked about all over the place is the same as it was for Monday night’s matchup against Minnesota. Replace Kevin Love with Blake Griffin, and the hype is the same: it’s a chance for LaMarcus Aldridge to match up with one of his main rivals in the Western Conference All-Star race.

Forget that for right now. With the Blazers’ injury woes being what they are, and this game coming in the middle of a stretch of games against teams with losing records, All-Star votes don’t matter. That’s not to say, however, that the Aldridge-Griffin matchup isn’t exciting, because it most certainly is. I don’t need to tell you how good Blake Griffin is—follow just about any NBA blogger on Twitter for a week and you’ll get an idea of the kind of waves he’s making in the league. Or, better yet, watch one of his games. The guy is a young Amar’e Stoudemire crossed with a young Shawn Kemp. The monster dunks are what makes SportsCenter‘s Top 10, but that’s not the whole story. He’s a tremendous rebounder, a surprisingly good passer for a big man, and a solid defender. This year, he has vaulted Los Angeles Clippers back to relevance (no small feat) and become arguably the most compelling non-LeBron James, non-Miami Heat storyline of the 2010-11 season.

It’s not just Griffin that makes the Clippers worth keeping an eye on. People tend not to take them seriously because of the name on the front of the jerseys, but this team is good. They are now, at least. They weren’t earlier in the season, when the Blazers spoiled Griffin’s NBA debut, and their horrible start will probably be enough to keep them out of playoff contention this year. But if it weren’t for the first month and a half of the season, they’d probably be right there. Baron Davis, long the butt of any lazy/out-of-shape/mailing-it-in joke you’d care to make about an NBA player, has been resurrected. Having a player like Griffin to throw lobs to can do that to a guy. Guard Eric Gordon is emerging as a reliable scorer also capable of contributing solid defense. DeAndre Jordan, since filling in for the injured Chris Kaman, has also proven to be a dependable inside presence. His rebounding ability combined with Griffin’s has the potential to seriously hurt the Blazers tonight with Marcus Camby out. (Quick aside on Camby: I don’t buy the three-week timetable, and I’d be shocked if he returned before the All-Star break. I’d love to be wrong.)

Joel Przybilla grabbed 11 rebounds in 29 minutes last night in Sacramento, which is extremely encouraging given his previous tentativeness on the floor. The Blazers will have to hope that he’s really back to full strength, because now they need a solid big-man presence like that more than ever. Realistically, there’s probably no containing Griffin. It’s not through any fault of the Blazers’, it’s just that nobody can these days. But that’s not to say they can’t win this game if they do other things right. Containing Davis and Gordon is a start. The Clippers don’t have a strong perimeter defense, so look for Patty Mills, Rudy Fernandez, and the team’s other three-point shooters to get big minutes tonight. Strong shooting nights from Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum can’t hurt either.

Because of Griffin alone, tonight’s game will probably be the toughest matchup of this month’s lottery-team homestand. Last night’s overtime win against the worst team in the conference was too close for comfort, but we can chalk at least some of that up to trying to figure out how to play without Camby. Let’s hope they figure it out tonight.