Los Angeles Clippers (6-5) @ Portland Trailblazers (4-9)
7:00 p.m. PST
November 20, 2015
Fox Prime Ticket
Last time they met?
April 1, 2015 — In the April Fools meeting between these two teams the Clippers outlasted the Blazers in a shootout 126-122. Perhaps in a possible case of history repeating itself, the Clippers had come off a home loss against the Warriors the night before. The game seemed lost. Then, Chris Kaman pushed Chris Paul in the third quarter and ignited a furious Clippers comeback led by the Point God, Chris Paul who dialed up 41 points and 17 assists in 40 minutes of action.
What’s changed since then?
The Blazers went on to clinch the Northwest Division — handing the Clippers a first round match up with the Spurs thanks to antiquated division seeding rules. In the summer, the Blazers lost four of their five starters, including star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who cut town to go play for the Spurs, leaving Damien Lillard and the 2015-16 Rebuilding Project.
Who could ever forget our dear old former Clipper Chris Kaman and one of the other proponents from the Chris Paul trade — Al-Farouq Aminu.
1. Are the post-LaMarcus Blazers better or worse than you thought they’d be?
Chris Lucia, Blazers Edge (@ChrisLucia_BE): I’d say at 4-9, they’re more or less right where I anticipated they’d be. The three-game winning streak that preceded the team’s current seven-game losing streak has kind taken fans on a bit of a roller coaster, but we’re seeing the inconsistencies of a young, rebuilding team here. Some games they’ll beat a team they have no business beating, and other nights they’ll drop perfectly winnable games against opponents we might perceive as inferior.
Sareen Tavidian (@sarenetavidian): The post-Lamarcus Blazers are better than I thought they would be. The emergence of McCollum and Meyers Leonard give the Blazers a youthful exuberance on the court that I did not expect. They have a ways to go to add depth to their roster, but they are better than I thought they would be at this point without LaMarcus as well as the loss of Wesley Matthews, Batum, and Robin Lopez.
Brandon Tomyoy (@dingyu): I had figured their team defense would nosedive coming into this season, and while it’s early, the Blazers currently rank 24th in defensive rating. On the other hand, making Damian Lillard the primary option seemed like a ripe opportunity for him to begin putting up some otherworldly statlines. His scoring has gone up, but I suppose that’s been overshadowed by that other point guard in Oakland. Put those together, and they’re actually about where I expected them to be, give or take a loss.
Lucia: If you’re taking just offense into account, this has to be one of the more dynamic starting backcourts in the league. Both Lillard and McCollum can create off the dribble, get to the rim, finish well in traffic with a floater and also hit the outside shot consistently, and both have improved their distributing this year. The real trouble comes on the defensive end where opposing teams have been able to take advantage of their relative lack of size and experience. Lots of backcourts have had big nights against the Blazers, and the defense of that Lillard-McCollum duo is largely to blame in a lot of ways.
Sareen Tavidian: The Lillard/McCollum backcourt are somewhere in the top 10 in the NBA. Offensively they pose problems, but they are not strong enough defensively to be considered in the top 5 of backcourts with the likes of some playoff contenders. They have versatility and offensive superiority, but they do not demand the defensive attention with that of Curry/Thompson or CP3/Redick.
Brandon Tomyoy: They remind me a lot of Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, only far better behind the arc, as with the entire league when compared to that era. Given that comparison, I would certainly say they’re exciting and fun to watch, but it’s difficult to consider them an upper tier backcourt just yet. I would rank Golden State, Washington, Toronto, Phoenix, and the Clippers all with better backcourts, and that’s just off the top of my head.
3. Who is the Clippers’ answer at small forward?
Lucia: Clearly Paul Pierce is struggling with his shot and has lost a step or two in recent years, and who knows what the heck happened to Lance Stephenson since he signed in Charlotte last season? I’m wondering what kind of magic elixir Frank Vogel had him drinking in Indiana to get the performances out of him that he did, because he is not the same guy he was just two years ago. Wesley Johnson adds some talent into that small forward rotation, and with him shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent from deep this year in somewhat limited minutes, maybe he deserves a bit of the time in the rotation that Pierce and Stephenson are currently splitting.
Tavidian: The Clippers’ Achilles’ heel has been the small forward position. They hoped that Lance Stephenson would be the answer this season, but as we can see that is not the case thus far. I would still bring Paul Pierce off of the bench to save him for the playoffs and crunch time situations. However, I would give Wesley Johnson a try. He is a better scorer and an athletic option to a position that requires lateral quickness against the great forwards in the league. In the event that Wes does not work, it will be imperative for the Clippers to answer this problem by the trade deadline with a deal that would bring in a viable threat. The small forward position has proven to be the most valuable in the past five Finals and will continue to be. If the Clippers do not address this problem soon they will not be able to reach that ultimate goal that they have vied for.
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