The Los Angeles Clippers, fresh off of a 106-84 decimation of the rival San Antonio Spurs, will head to Portland tonight to face the upstart Trailblazers. Though they are among the league’s most talented teams, the Clippers have gotten off to a pretty inconsistent start. Sandwiched between impressive victories over the Lakers and Spurs and bad losses to the Warriors and Cavaliers, two teams projected to miss the playoffs.
The problem so far has been defense. The Clippers are putting up a very impressive 104.6 points per game, but are allowing their opponents to keep it close by scoring 98.6 points per game. If the Clippers are going to improve in that area Blake Griffin is going to have to step up his game on defense. They could also benefit by giving Eric Bledsoe, one of the most exciting defensive players in the league, more playing time. Whether or not Vinny Del Negro can make adjustments will determine how far these Clippers go.
Meanwhile the Blazers have started out a very respectable 2-2 led by the fantastic play of star rookie Damian Lillard. Lillard has averaged 19.3 points per game and 8 assists to give All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge a legitimate partner in this Blazer resurgence. Thursday will mark the first matchup between Lillard and former rookie sensation Chris Paul.
The key for the Blazers going forward is determining who their third star is with Lillard and Aldridge. They have several solid players in Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, J.J Hickson and rookie Meyers Leonard, but one of them has to step up and be the third guy.
Betting Preview: Blazers (+1) vs. Clippers
Before making any bet, you have to look at two things. The first is home court advantage. Home teams have a very significant edge in basketball, so always try to avoid picking road teams unless the line is very favorable. The second is whether or not the team played the night before. Teams play far worse on the second night of a back-to-back than the first.
The Blazers have the edge in both areas here. Not only are they the home team here, but Portland has one of the best home court advantages in all of the league. The Lakers couldn’t beat the Blazers in Portland and the Clippers should struggle as well.
The Clippers are also coming off of a big game against San Antonio. The veteran-laden Clippers aren’t going to be fresh coming into this one. Veterans like Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford will likely be worse than usual. Chris Paul has also made a point of pacing himself early in the season after a few knee injuries, so don’t expect him to be at his best either.
The Blazers have everything in their favor in this one. It’s tempting to pick the surefire playoff team here, but picking against the Blazers at home in any situation is a risk. Go with home court advantage and grab the free point.