- PG: Damian Lillard
- SG: C.J. McCollum
- SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
- PF: Maurice Harkless
- C: Mason Plumlee
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 1 Preview
The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers clash in post-season play for the first time ever on Sunday evening, when the two sides wage war at 10:30 pm ET at the Staples Center.
Just days after Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, the Clippers look to exorcise remaining demons from last year’s playoff run, which included an amazing 7-game triumph over the San Antonio Spurs and a subsequent epic collapse in round two against the Houston Rockets.
While L.A. aims to put their past failures behind them, Portland is out to continue proving everyone wrong. The Blazers were left for dead after their team was dismantled on the fly this past summer, but a rapid rebuild and a defiant Damian Lillard led to another playoff trip. Playing with house money, the Blazers may have their sights set on handing Lob City their second disappointing exit in as many years.
The departure of star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge turned the Blazers into a completely different team over night. No longer relying on their skilled big man to carry them, the Blazers turned to stud point guard Damian Lillard and promoted C.J. McCollum. The two responded by forming one of the more potent backcourt duos in the entire league, putting up over 20 points per game a piece, nightly.
The sad thing about Portland is they’re a two-man show and after that, their offense at times leaves a lot to be desired. The starting five has been shake up due to a shoulder injury to Meyers Leonard, while the Blazers now routinely deploy small ball with center Mason Plumlee as their only regular heavy hitter down low. Plumlee anchors a soft post defense and doesn’t always get consistent run, but he’s been more than serviceable in spots as an inside scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. Youngster Noah Vonleh has improved off the bench, as well, while Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson can produce points in a pinch as bench scorers. Ed Davis can also slide in at the four spot and help out when Portland wants to go a little bigger.
Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless round out the starting five and play two very different roles, as Aminu looks to lock up the best opposing wing player and Harkless offers scoring upside and can man the three or four spot, depending on the matchup.
This rotation is one that can produce a ton of offense, but also consistently runs into two big problems. For one, if Lillard and McCollum go cold, their offense can suffer greatly. And possibly just as obvious, in the event their opponent has more talent and size down low, Harkless and Plumlee end up fighting a losing battle.
|4/13/16||VS Nuggets||Win 107-99|
|4/9/16||VS Timberwolves||Lost 106-105|
|4/6/16||VS Thunder||Win 120-115|
|4/5/16||At Kings||Win 115-107|
|4/3/16||At Warriors||Lost 136-111|
Los Angeles has been maneuvering through a field of mines over the past year, as they still might not have completely forgotten their second round collapse and then had to endure most of the 2015-16 season without Blake Griffin. Some of that Griffin brought on himself (punched out a team trainer) but regardless, the Clippers had to make their way through the brutal Western Conference without arguably their most important piece.
Luckily Chris Paul turned in an MVP-like year and made sure the Clips never wavered, while the sharp-shooting J.J. Redick and big man DeAndre Jordan producer career years as the Clippers once again topped 50 wins.
It was a fairly remarkable feat considering they could have easily caved and no one would have blamed them, so we certainly need to consider just how good the Clips might have been if Griffin was never hurt. Would they have been a 60+ team win? Would they have taken a game or two from the Warriors?
We can’t know any of that, but what we do know is they are a very balanced team that takes care of business at home and can also go out and win on the road. They’re balanced in the way they play on the court, as well, as they boast one of the more efficient offenses in the league and also give strong effort across the board on defense.
The trip-up, oddly is going to be the return of Blake Griffin. Will he remain healthy and fit himself back into the offense seamlessly, or will the Clippers struggle to shake up their offense on the fly? L.A. slowly morphed into an outside-shooting offense with Griffin out, so a Griffin return could potentially clog things up.
- PG: Chris Paul
- SG: J.J. Redick
- SF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
- PF: Blake Griffin
- C: DeAndre Jordan
|4/13/16||At Suns||Lost 114-105|
|4/12/16||VS Grizzlies||Win 110-84|
|4/10/16||VS Mavericks||Win 98-91|
|4/8/16||At Jazz||Win 102-99|
|4/6/16||At Lakers||Win 91-81|
|3/24/16||Clippers 96, Blazers 94|
|1/6/16||Clippers 109, Blazers 98|
|1/30/16||Clippers 102, Blazers 87|
|11/20/15||Blazers 102, Clippers 91|
The Clippers and Blazers met up four times this year, with Portland surprising L.A. early in the year and then succumbing to the Clips in the final three meetings. Los Angeles showed up defensively in three of four battles, while their methodical offense also pierced Portland’s shaky defense rather effortlessly. A terrible road team, Portland’s lone win in the season series understandably came in Portland.
Matchup: Clippers vs. Blazers
|Win/Loss||53 / 29 (29-12 Home)||44 / 38 (16-25 Away)|
Preview & Predictions
L.A. sat all of their key starters in their road finale against the Suns, and otherwise come in red hot as winners of four of their last five. Portland has been a little more touch and go (3-2 in last five), but that run does include a big win over the Thunder.
Neither streak should have much influence as far as how game one goes down at the Staples Center, but the Clippers’ 3-1 season series hold over Portland very possibly tells us all we need to know. In those games, Los Angeles exploited Portland’s weak defense and for the most part held Damian Lillard in check. The star point guard, who puts up 25 points a night, averaged just 18 points per game in four contests against Los Angeles, shooting 32% from the floor.
Needless to say, one huge aspect of this series will be how Lillard fares, and there is clear evidence that Chris Paul’s hold on him remains. J.J. Redick isn’t exactly an elite defender, but he plays extremely well within the confines of the defense, which typically has L.A.’s perimeter defense holding strong. Given how perimeter-based the Blazers are, that plus CP3’s individual defense could spell trouble for Portland.
That is especially going to be the case for the games at the Staples Center, where the Clippers tend to play extremely relaxed and are almost always dialed in. Portland’s weak showings on the road this year only magnify that edge.
Last, but certainly not least, is the total mismatch of Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan against Mason Plumlee and whatever else the Blazers throw at L.A. That duo is simply too much for Portland to handle for an entire seven-game series. There exists the very real possibility the Blazers come out on fire and have a chip on their shoulder, and we can probably count on one or even two games where Lillard and McCollum are unstoppable. That is unlikely to go down in game one, and their inconsistency in general is likely to work against them over the course of the series.
Portland is certainly a team to fear in terms of predictability, as no one thought they’d even win 30 games, yet here they are in the playoffs. They’re going to come in wanting to prove their doubters wrong and they do have an explosive offense to worry about, but everything else on paper has the Clippers taking this. Short of a massive game from Lillard, look for the Clips to get the playoffs started off right by winning and covering at home in game one.
Our Series bet: Clippers in 5
For the series, Lillard is too good to be held entirely in check throughout, so there will come a time when he drops a huge game and it’s too much for L.A. to handle. We can expect one or two such performances to come in Portland, but that still may only equate to one win in the series for a Blazers squad that remains quite over-matched.
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