Tonight at 7:30 p.m. PST, the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Los Angeles Clippers. The Trail Blazers lost the previous two games this season against the Clippers but hope to continue their recent on-court success. The Clippers have survived without Blake Griffin (elbow) and will try to take the season series against the Trail Blazers tonight. The game will be broadcast on ESPN, which will be the third time in the last four games for the Trail Blazers they have been on a national stage. Locally, you can find the game on CSNNW and listen to the radio call on Rip City Radio 620 AM.
This series has been one of the most exciting of the season. The previous two games were decided by a total of 10 points and each game has been tied entering the fourth quarter. Looking at how the Trail Blazers have failed to close out teams in close-game situations, we can chalk up the two losses to the Clippers in that category.
November 8, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) controls the ball against the defense of Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3)during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Fresh off his second Western Conference Player of the Week award, Lillard will face an opponent he hasn’t been good against. Over his last four matchups with the Clippers, Lillard is averaging 18.8 points and 4.5 turnovers. The point total doesn’t worry me as much as the turnovers and Paul will be draped over Lillard all night. Lillard’s scoring average against the Clippers is his fourth-lowest against any team at 16.4 points per game. Paul has definitely had the upper hand in matchups against Lillard, averaging 24.8 points, 12.3 assists, and 3.0 steals over his last four against the Trail Blazers. Since Lillard has been a Trail Blazer, the Clippers have taken six of nine matchups.
Paul has taken the Clippers on his back and lifted his team to a 7-3 record in the absence of Griffin. The Clippers battled with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night but were able to outlast them for a 110-105 road victory. I expect Paul to continue his dominating play tonight. He is averaging 21.2 points and has shot a staggering 52.2 percent from the field since Griffin was sidelined. Mix in 12.6 assists per game and he has returned to elite form, recording a double-double in 10 of his last 12 games.
The Trail Blazers have outrebounded the Clippers in the previous two meetings but Jordan enters the game on a hot streak. Jordan has gobbled up 32 total rebounds against the Trail Blazers and has been an absolute terror on the boards in recent weeks. His lowest rebounding total in the last nine games was 15, collecting 20 or more in four games. Insane production numbers and something very concerning for the Trail Blazers.
It definitely helps to have Joel Freeland back in the lineup as it adds to the size of the Trail Blazers front line. Lopez will have his hands full and could land in foul trouble but having Chris Kaman, Meyers Leonard, and Freeland helps the interior stay tough. Jordan may be a major threat on the boards, but if the game is close, he becomes a liability, as his free throw shooting is extremely poor. Jordan is 41.0 percent from the charity stripe this season. Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts will not be afraid to “Hack-a-Jordan” down the stretch.
Keys to a Trail Blazers victory:
- Limit turnovers. The Trail Blazers are not the best when it comes to hanging onto the ball. With Paul’s excellent ability to create turnovers, Lillard must be extremely careful with his handles. The Trail Blazers have a total of 28 turnovers in two games against the Clippers, including 16 in the first meeting in early November.
- Feed Aldridge. He is highly effective against the Clippers, averaging 28.8 points in his last four games against them. He has been playing very well lately, totaling 55 points and 31 rebounds in his last two games. He could be most important player in tonight’s game and the Trail Blazers should try to get him going early.
- Contain Paul and Jordan. Outside of Paul and Jordan, the Clippers don’t have much firepower. Redick did light the Trail Blazers up for 30 points in the first meeting but I don’t expect that to happen again. If Crawford is forced to miss tonight’s game, the Clippers will definitely struggle to find offensive help. The Trail Blazers must focus majority of their defensive efforts on Paul and Jordan in order to find a victory.