L.A. Clippers at Portland
Time: 9:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: POR -6
Odds c/o 5dimes
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers have been on fire. The team has won seven of its last 10, and is heating up as several other Western Conference teams are facing injuries and cooling off to rest for the postseason. Not so for Portland: The Blazers’ starters have been logging heavy minutes as the team tries to position itself favorably for the playoffs.
Thus far, mission accomplished, Portland is seeded No. 3 as of today, and it would draw the New Orleans Pelicans if the postseason were to begin now. It will host the visiting L.A. Clippers, who are still trying to claw their way into the playoffs as the West’s No. 9 team at the moment. The Blazers are 6-point favorites on its home court where it has gone 25-13 this season.
The Trail Blazers are now drawing consideration for being the possessors of the NBA’s best backcourt. Lillard and C.J. McCollum are two high-scoring interchangeable pieces in the backcourt that function as well as any other in the NBA. Sure, there is the tandem of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in Golden State, but outside of that, and possibly Washington’s Bradley Beal and John Wall…and Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston…Okay, you get the point: There are a lot of great backcourts, and Portland’s pairing is right up there with all of them.
What is not there in great abundance is front court talent and depth. Jusuf Nurkic is a very good starting center, but he seldom plays huge minutes. Behind him, the Blazers turn to either an inept Meyers Leonard or a rookie in Zach Collins. The recourse for Portland is often just to go small, and play Al-Farouq Aminu at the 4-spot. Aminu posts a humble nine points and seven rebounds per game, but is a staunch defender who brings a lot of intangibles to the table. Similar things can be said about Maurice Harkless. The Blazers also have some good playmakers off the bench in the form of Shabazz Napier and Evan Turner, but depth remains a concern with so many other teams sporting high powered benches.
Even so, Portland is a team that will ride Lillard. He is averaging 27 points per game this season and is fearless and confident in crunch time. While Portland may not be a true contender quite yet, it more than has the makings of becoming one, which is astounding considering the team gutted four of its five starters when LaMarcus Aldridge split for San Antonio. Since that time, Portland has done nothing but add the right role players to play around Lillard, while handing him the keys to the franchise. While Lillard is not tearing up the court, he is dropping great rap. What is not to like about “Dame D.O.L.L.A.?” Perhaps this postseason will be his chance to take the great stage and amass yet more fans as Portland continues to make its climb towards actual contention in the upcoming seasons.
Los Angeles may have dealt superstar Blake Griffin, but it still retained leading scorer Lou Williams and re-signed him to a contract. He is averaging 23.3 points 2.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 32.5 minutes a night. The Clippers seemingly have just slid new acquisition Tobias Harris directly into the role once occupied by Griffin, and the role has been a revelation for Harris.
Through his first two games (both wins) he averaged 21.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and two assists per game while posting a PER of 17.4. Albeit, those figures are all shy of what Griffin did, but not tremendously so. Pairing Harris along with sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari gives the Clips a good 1-2 scoring punch in the frontcourt, and Austin Rivers is really pretty damn good for a guy who had already been billed a bust.
This year, Rivers is averaging 15.8 points and 3.6 assists per game in 32 minutes a night, thriving as a three-positional talent that surely was expected to be this good, if only on his father’s legacy. DeAndre Jordan was thought to be a trade target for several teams, but he remains in Los Angeles. ‘’?It was rumored the Clippers offered him to Houston in exchange for Clint Capela and were rebuked, but this writer makes no claim to such sources or validates the validity of said-rumors. No matter the case, Jordan forms the third part of a staunch frontline for the Clippers and the team hardly lacks in depth.
Veteran combo guard Avery Bradley was also acquired with Harris, and he is generally regarded as one of the most underrated players and best one-on-one perimeter defenders in the Association. Bradley is averaging just 10 points and three assists through his first two games, but the last outing he was an efficient 6 of 10 from the floor with three steals.?He makes his impact, in short.
The Clippers might not be the chic pick as true contenders, but it reasons that L.A. can absolutely sneak into the playoffs and be a formidable opponent (in other words not be swept necessarily) to one of the top-tier teams in the West.?The team has sufficient leadership, talent, and just because its identity is not really the same without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin does not mean that these pros cannot come together to gel quickly before the postseason arrives. L.A. should remain on the radar of dark horse sneaky teams that have gone under the radar. There is enough talent on the roster to put up a fight.