The Clippers’ championship aspirations took a significant hit when Chauncey Billups was lost for the season. In the five games since he went down, L.A. has been mediocre. Even so, a victory in the Rose Garden would help prove the viability of their reorganized backcourt rotation and get the Clippers back on track in the race for the gold rings.
Even as the Trail Blazers are desperately battling to qualify for the playoffs, an injury to a key player has likewise forced them to make adjustments. The difference is that while Billups is down for the count, LaMarcus Aldridge’s sprained ankle should only be a temporary setback. Beating the Clippers would give Portland’s confidence a huge boost.
HOW THE CLIPPERS CAN WIN: Chris Paul has to use his speed and quickness to avoid being bullied by Raymond Felton, to take full advantage of the defensive ineptitude of Mo Williams, and to navigate his way around and/or through the inevitable double teams he will face. Look for CP3 to have a big game.
- In the absence of Aldridge, Blake Griffin will spend most of the game playing against Nicolas Batum, a runner, sky-walker and long-distance bomber. Griffin must overpower his lean opponent, hustle up and down the court and make his free throws as well as at least one jump shot.
- Caron Butler is liable to lose the ball when he attacks the basket with his shaky dribble. Yet he remains a terrific standstill as well as a one-bounce-and-pull-up shooter with great range. His shots must be on-target.
- The part-time replacement for Billups in the starting lineup is Randy Foye, more of a defensive guy that a scorer. In starting Foye, Williams retains his role as scorer off the bench, so only one slot is altered. In any event, Williams will get the lion’s share of daylight at the point — and he has to compensate for his defensive weaknesses by scoring points by the dozen.
- DeAndre Jordan is an excellent shotblocker, whose lack of discipline and over-eagerness to swat shots often has him out of position. He simply needs to continue his ongoing education by making better decisions. At the other end, both DJ and Griffin have learned to make decisive dive cuts when paired with Paul on high screen-and-rolls. In addition, when neither is involved in screen-and-roll situations, both have learned to make timely baseline cuts that take advantage of anti-screen-and-roll adjustments forced on the defense — thereby making themselves available for CP3’s routinely perfect passes and the dunks that ensue.
- Kenyon Martin’s mid-range jumpers have improved through the years, he can still run the court and he’s always played earnest defense. Look for him to take a turn defending Batum and also to play some center.
- Reggie Evans is somewhat undersized and can’t hit a jumper to get into heaven. But he plays ferocious defensive, savagely attacks the offensive glass and knows how to play. All he needs to do is to stay with what he does and avoid what he doesn’t do.
- Ryan Gomes is a shooter who has to stop shooting blanks.
- Both Paul and Williams must step up their point production, and the trio of Jordan, Martin and Evans has to turn the Blazers’ would-be layups into jump shots.
- Paul, Williams, Foye and Gomes must show patience and avoid taking too-quick jumpers.
With Aldridge out, the Clips can focus their defense on Batum and Jamal Crawford — which is a big strategic plus.
HOW THE BLAZERS CAN WIN:
Every flaw in LA’s game plan must be attacked.
- This means playing Griffin soft whenever he turns and faces. That’s because he lacks even the semblance of a stroke. Also, when Griffin is in the low-post, he tends to make a power dribble then change direction by spinning blindly — alert weakside defense can create turnovers. If Griffin plays barely adequate man-to-man defense, he gets lost when his man is off-the-ball. Batum and Marcus Camby can free themselves with judicious backcuts.
- Griffin can always be fouled and sent to the stripe to cement his qualifications to join the bricklayers’ union.
- CP3’s effectiveness on high screen-and-rolls can be limited with double-teams. Whichever way the Blazers defense adjusts behind this game plan, Butler must be tagged.
- Paul’s offense fits the NBA norm — driving his strong hand to the hoop, and pulling for jumpers when dribbling with his off-hand. By pushing him left and making him a shooter, Paul’s exceptional passwork can be negated to a large degree.
- Jordan leaves the ball exposed whenever he either dribbles or gathers for a shot. Fast, sniping hands can pry the ball loose.
- Because Felton only shoots twenty percent from beyond the arc, expect Crawford to get more burn at the point. With his herky-jerky moves and ability to always create a shot, Crawford has to tally a minimum of 25 points against Paul’s under-sized and Williams non-existent defense. This is of primary importance since, without Aldridge serving as the focus of the offense, Crawford is the only go-to point-maker left standing. But he must still be conscious of his penchant for overhandling.
- Since Jordan presents a minimal offensive threat, Camby can play free-safety and menace the paint. Of course the reverse is also true.
- Batum has to knock down his jumpers, not dribble himself into trouble, and outrun whoever’s guarding him. At the other end, Batum’s off-ball defense is superior to his mano-a-mano coverage, so he must stay home more than is his wont and avoid taking risky chances.
- Gerald Wallace is a runner and an explosive slasher with an iffy jump shot. He’s also a primo defender. He’ll have to pick up some of the scoring slack with Aldridge out — which most likely means making more of his wrist-snapping jays.
- Wesley Matthews is a hard-nosed hustle player with surprisingly accurate shooting range. Look for him to get his number called more often than usual.
- Craig Smith inhales rebounds and never shies from body contact. The Blazers will benefit greatly from the extra possessions his offensive glasswork could provide.
- The Blazers are frequently plagued with miscommunications on defense — guys running into each other, two defenders moving to the same player on what should be switches, etc. At the same time, their offense can be stagnant with drive-and-kickouts much more prevalent than simple ball-reversal passes. More coordination at both ends is a must.
The Blazers do have fast hands in the paint, but sans Aldridge’s usual twenty-plus points, increased defensive pressure is absolutely necessary to produce turnovers and forced shots that will lead to runouts and early-offense opportunities.
FIVIE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- Both teams take extremely good care of the rock — L.A. ranks third in fewest turnovers, while Portland is seventh. Look for points-off-turnovers to be a deciding factor.
- CP3 has some difficulty when defended by a much bigger, stronger opponent. Don’t be surprised if Wallace (and perhaps Matthews) gets some time opposite Paul.
- Notice how the Clippers simply go under all screen-and-rolls involving Felton, but are more aggressive when Crawford is presented with a high screen.
- An overlooked aspect of high screen-and-rolls is the defense’s ability to cover swing passes. Since L.A. is seriously deficient here, look for Portland’s screen-and-rolls to generate uncontested shots for their wing shooters.
- Poor balance causes too many of Griffin’s jumpers and free throws to be either long or short. That’s why Griffin only converts a tad more than half of his foul shots and was deliberately fouled in the endgame against Dallas last Monday. Since Don Nelson initiated the Hack-A-Shaq tactic when he coached the Mavs, it’s only fitting that Rick Carlisle has set a precedent that the Blazers might employ. Let’s call it Rake-A-Blake.