Monday, January 4, 2010

Trail Blazers at Clippers: Game 36

The Portland Trail Blazers (22-13) head down to the Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Clippers (14-18) for their lone road game since the 23rd of December and until a January 18th road trip to the East coast. Portland defeated the Clippers less than a week ago at the Rose Garden, even without LaMarcus Aldridge, who is listed as out for tonight's game. Who they did have in their 103-99 win was Steve Blake and all he contributed were two clutch three pointers in the 4th quarter to help the Blazers prevail. Maybe more importantly than being without Blake, the Trail Blazers will not have the raucous Rose Garden crowd behind them, urging them on to victory. It will be interesting to see if they can take that energy with them on the road for one game.
Outside of Portland going into a shooting slump, the major factor in this game is going to be Chris Kaman and Portland's ability to contain him. He was the main reason why I thought we could lose to the Clip Show last week and he didn't prove me wrong at all. 25 points (12-19), 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks were nearly enough for the Clippers, but he didn't receive enough contributions from his role players like Brandon Roy did. In all reality, Kaman will put up those numbers again tonight and Roy will match him, but it will come down to who's role players step up. Portland got 14 boards out of Pendergraph in relief of Aldridge, 15 from Martell, 14 and 8 dimes from Bayless, and 8 points from Dante Cunningham. On the other hand, out side of Eric Gordon's 24 points, no one decided to step up for LAC as Baron had a measly 12 points on 2-15 shooting and only one other Clipper, Al Thornton, scored in double figures with 11.
Even with all of the big men out with injuries, Portland is still maintaining their top 3 status in the NBA in rebounding differential at +3.68. There may not be much we can do about Kaman in the paint, but we can rebound when/if he misses. Portland out-rebounded the Clippers by 7 less than a week ago, including 5 more offensive rebounds. When you are as depleted as our boys are right now, Basketball 101 says to win the battle under the boards is the #1 goal. Whenever you have less players or are a clear-cut underdog, to win the game, you must be more fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game. Most nights we have seen Portland go cold from the foul line or turn the ball over 20+ times, as seen in the opening night win over Houston, and still win the game but no longer can the Trail Blazers be below average in any category to win. With what we are dealt, we must play close to a perfect game every night to continue these victories.
Just like the last time these two were about to match up with one another, I had a bad feeling going into the game. Ultimately, I picked the Trail Blazers last time, but without Steve and LaMarcus, winning on the road is going to prove to be too big of a task. Brandon will be Brandon again, but this time it will be the Clippers who get more help from the likes of Baron Davis, Al Thornton, and Marcus Camby while Portland may not see JP set a career high in rebounds or Juwan to continue his brilliance. The Blazers will keep it within striking distance the entire way but never come close enough to worry the Clippers.
Game 36 Prediction: Trail Blazers 89 Clippers 101
Post-Game Thoughts
Portland got the production from their role players in a big way with Andre going for 20 and 16, Martell netting 5-9 from 3 point range, and a season-high 16 for Juwan, but the Clippers made it a priority from the get-go to make someone other than Brandon Roy beat them. They trapped, doubled, and even tripled teamed Roy all game long, forcing the All-Star to give up the ball. Roy did end up with 6 assists, but he was only able to muster up 12 shots, hitting only 3. Although many would have liked to see Roy force it more, he did the right thing. He found open teammates and through the first 3 quarters, they were knocking them down. In fact, outside of a cold stretch in the beginning of the 4th quarter, the offense was not the problem at all, it was the defense giving Portland fits.
Trail Blazer point guard Andre Miller summed up the game best when he said, "We got our offense going by causing some turnovers early. They just kept pushing the ball on us and we couldn't stop them. Except for their turnovers, they played a solid game." Los Angeles ended up with 20 total turnovers, but just when it seemed like Portland could get some separation in the 1st half, turnovers bit them in the but as well, including 3 traveling violations whistled near the 3 point line in near succession. All in all, the Blazers tallied 14 miscues.
You just knew the Trail Blazers were in for a loss when we shoot 9-10 during a stretch in the 3rd quarter and were not able to trim a single point off of the half-time deficit. Not only that, but we were the ones shooting jump shots, albeit open, but still a much higher degree of difficulty than the points in the paint the Clippers seemed to be racking up in bunches every time down the floor. We saw the exact same scenario in Portland on Wednesday night, only then, Portland had the Rose Garden crowd behind them to push them to victory and players like Ricky Davis, Rasaul Butler, and Baron Davis didn't have nearly the type of shooting nights as they had last night.
Thankfully, it looks as if LaMarcus will be available for the game tonight against Memphis, because it may become too difficult a task for the Trail Blazers to be able to win on the road with this current team after teams view the blueprint to defeating us. Although our field goal percentage was .644 if you take away Roy's 3-12 shooting night, I think a lot of teams will still take the chances of having someone either than Brandon shooting the ball. With a healthy LMA, teams should not be able to double Roy at will and have as much success as LAC did last night. Offense may not be where we missed Aldridge the most, because we did end up with 95, but rather defensively is where we will need Aldridge's impact most. Pendergraph doesn't have the instincts yet and Howard just isn't athletic enough to contain players on the block the way LaMarcus can.
Box Score

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