What’s up with the LA Clippers?
It’s now a furious dog fight for playoff positioning out in the West. The Clippers are in the middle of the standings, a breath away from the fourth seed, but still dangerously close to the play-in tournament. That’s why every win counts, and thankfully, they’re 4-1 in their last five games.
What’s interesting is how they’ve managed to pull off those wins. They’ve been in a couple of gun fights where the points are free and flowing, like their wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors. They’ve also pulled out wins in defensive slugfests like the ones against the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors.
If there’s one thing consistent in their last four wins, it’s the stellar play of their two stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The two are not only leading the team, they’re also filling the holes with their production.
Take Leonard as an example. This is a team that needs additional muscle in the middle. So, he’s provided that in key wins. He had huge double-doubles in their wins against the Grizzlies and Raptors, hauling down a total of 22 rebounds in those games. He’s averaging close to double-digit rebounds in the past five games. With him sitting out, the Clippers fell in their latest game to the Orlando Magic, their lone loss in the last five games.
George, on the other hand, has taken the role of secondary playmaker of the team. With Russell Westbrook struggling in their win against the Knicks, George stepped up by dishing out eight assists in that win. In the loss to the Magic, he only had one dime, further highlighting the importance of his playmaking.
The Portland Trail Blazers will have their hands full trying to stop the Clippers’ two superstars, especially coming off a tough loss.
What’s up with the Portland Trail Blazers?
Every win counting hits doubly hard for the Trail Blazers. Heading into March, the Blazers are one of the numerous teams vying for a spot in the play-in tournament. Then they went on a freefall in the past two weeks. Portland has lost all but two of their nine games this month and is currently riding a five-game losing streak. They’re currently 13th in the West, 2.5 games away from the 10th seed.
If there’s one person no one can blame, it’s Damian Lillard. Portland’s superstar has done everything he could to lead the team to wins. He’s averaging 34.3 points and 4.4 3-pointers this month. Lillard has scored 41 points three separate times and has broken the 30-point mark in all but two of the eight games he’s played in this month.
It’s also clear that Lillard is running out of gas. After averaging close to 50 percent shooting in the past two months, his efficiency numbers are down this month. He’s only shooting 44.3 percent and is turning the ball over 4.3 times per game. It’s clear that the burden of carrying the Blazers to the playoffs has become too heavy for him.
After Lillard though, the cupboard is bare for the Blazers. With Jerami Grant injured, the Blazers can’t afford subpar performances from Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic. Unfortunately, the two haven’t backed Lillard up well. Simons is only mustering up 18.8 points per game in March. Nurkic has been even worse, putting up only 6.4 points per game this month.
It seems like it will be another solo performance by Dame D.O.L.L.A. against the Clippers.
Storyline to watch out for
With the rest of the Blazers underperforming, Lillard is going to be an easy target defensively for the Clippers. LA can match-up either George or Leonard to bother Lillard, and move the unused defensive ace to another assignment as needed.
That means coach Chauncey Billups has to find creative ways to get Lillard open, as well as find a real second option to back his All-Star up. If Billups can get Lillard to his spots, maybe, just maybe, Lillard can score enough points to keep the Blazers in the game.
The Blazers are banged up and trending the wrong way. The Clippers are finally healthy and starting to find their groove on both ends of the floor. It’s looking like a clear and easy win for LA.
Where to watch
You can catch the game live at 9:00 AM on NBA League Pass or via same day telecast at 12:00 noon on NBA TV Philippines.