The 3-0 LA Clippers travel North to take on the 3-1 Portland Trail Blazers in a matchup of two Western Conference Playoff hopefuls.
Projected starting lineups
LAC: Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
POR: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic
LAC: Milos Teodosic, out indefinitely with plantar fascia injury
POR: Meyers Leonard, doubtful with ankle injury; Noah Vonleh, out with right shoulder injury
Keys to the Game
Winning the Rebounding Battle:
The LA Clippers have been one of the best rebounding team in the young season, pulling down 51.7 rebounds per game with DeAndre Jordan leading the league with 18.5 rebounds per contest. However, the one team averaging more rebounds than LA is the Portland Trail Blazers, who are grabbing a league-leading 53.3 rebounds per game. Second chance points have been huge for both teams in the early season as the Trail Blazers lead the league with an average of 18.8 second-chance points with the Clippers right behind them at 18.7 per game. The Clippers have done an excellent job of controlling the defensive boards and are second in the league in opponent second-chance points allowed per game, only allowing 8.3 second-chance points.
Against a team like the Portland Trail Blazers, who have two guards that aren’t afraid to let it fly early in the shot clock, the LA Clippers need to lock down the defensive glass and prevent the Blazers from grabbing offensive rebounds. Whichever team ends up winning the second-chance points battle will likely come away with the win and with a group of solid rebounders, the Clippers should come away with the lead in that aspect of the game.
Balanced Bench Play:
Both the Trail Blazers and Clippers’ benches have been playing well to start the season, with the Blazers seventh in the league in bench points at 40.8 points per game and the Clippers right behind them at eighth with 40.3 points per contest. The play of the Clippers’ bench is going to be critical in the matchup with Portland, as Doc Rivers opted to play his starters an obscene amount of minutes in the team’s victory against the Jazz rather than playing an extended rotation. This being said, Rivers will be forced to play Lou Williams and the team’s two rookie guards, Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans, in order to give the starters some rest.
“One of those two will play,” Rivers told the media. “They both are ready. Sindarius has a chance to be an elite defender in this league, though maybe not right away. The minutes will help him. So we’re just going to plug him in.”
Two more matchups in the bench battle will be Wesley Johnson vs Evan Turner and Willie Reed vs Ed Davis. Johnson has played well for the Clippers in the early season, averaging 5.7 points but more importantly shooting 40 percent from three and providing the team with good defense off of the bench. Johnson will be matched up with Evan Turner, who is currently averaging 13.3 points per game and leading the Blazers bench in scoring. Reed, averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds off of the bench, will be matched up against Ed Davis, who is averaging 8.8 points and 9.3 rebounds. The Clippers will need Johnson to stifle Turner on defense and Reed to keep Davis off of the offensive boards in order to leave Portland with a record of 4-0.
Beverley and Rivers vs Lillard and McCollum:
The Trail Blazers have one of the best offensive backcourts in the league with Lillard and McCollum, but the Clippers have one of the better defensive backcourts in Beverley and Rivers. Rivers and Beverley’s defense on the Blazers backcourt could be the deciding factor in whether the Clippers leave Portland still undefeated or with their first loss of the season. Damian Lillard and Patrick Beverley are no strangers as the two have faced off multiple times in the past. The two players beefed during the 2014 season when Lillard criticized Beverley’s tactics on defense:
“You’ve got somebody out there who wants to try to be bumping and doing little slick stuff,” Lillard said after the Blazers’ loss to the Rockets. “I’m not going to buy into it but I’m almost not going to let it fly. I’m going to say something. That’s what he does. I don’t really care for that. I’m not just going to let somebody be all in my chest and do all this extra stuff. That’s not basketball. Everybody knows what he does to get under people’s skin.”
Over the years, Lillard’s distaste for Beverley has turned into mutual respect between the two players and the matchup will be one of the highlights of Thursday night’s game.
“Going up a defender like him is going to bring out the best in me,” Lillard said after the Blazers’ recent practice. “I’m always up for that challenge. When he was in Houston those first couple of years, we hated each other. We had some real bad blood, there was a dislike there. But I don’t take it personally, I see him do it all the time. He’s a guy that came from the bottom and had to work his way into sticking in the league. He’s made a name for himself doing that, and I respect it and I know he respects me. When he goes out there I know he’s gonna put his best foot forward and I’m gonna do the same.”