PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (27-22)
at LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (25-24)
Tip-off: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
This Blazers-Clips matchup could have playoff implications down the line.
The Portland Trail Blazers will enter Staples Center on Tuesday night as the winners of two straight, and five of their last six games. While most of those wins came against less than stellar competition, a 123-114 home win over the Timberwolves last Wednesday was a statement win for Portland, which is out to prove that it can hang with the class of the Western Conference. (Golden State excluded). With only a slight cushion in the race for a playoff spot out West, the Blazers will be playing to maintain that advantage against the Clippers. It looks like it will be a four-team race for the final three spots in the playoff picture, and LA is currently fourth in that race. With a win over Portland, Los Angeles would give itself a significant boost as the trade deadline approaches, possibly impacting whether they plan to buy, sell or hold at the deadline. The Clips have also won two straight games, the most recent of which came over another one of those four fringe playoff teams in a 112-103 victory in New Orleans on Sunday. It was the Pelicans' first full game without the unfortunately injured DeMarcus Cousins, whose absence could send New Orleans plummeting in the weeks to come.
After two straight years being snubbed of an All-Star appearance, Portland PG Damian Lillard will finally be returning to the NBA's flashiest weekend. In the wake of his naming to the team—and Russell Westbrook's disparagement of it—Lillard showed out against the Wolves with 31 points, six assists and four rebounds. Two nights later, he kept it up with 28 points in a 107-93 road win in Dallas. He's pretty much the same player he has been for several seasons now, and the same goes for his sidekick, SG CJ McCollum. McCollum will likely never see an All-Star bid in the star-filled Western Conference, but he is one of the best scoring guards in the sport. He was just as integral as Lillard in sinking Minnesota, dropping 28 points on 12-of-20 shooting. He's down to a .450 field goal percentage from last year's .480, but is still shooting around a deadly 42% from three. After rejuvenating the squad as a midseason acquisition last year, C Jusuf Nurkic remains an integral part of Portland's lineup. He leads the team in rebounds and blocks. Those three are the team's only players averaging double-digits in scoring. Other key contributors include PG Shabazz Napier, who has recently made the leap into a valuable NBA player, and PF Ed Davis, who is averaging 7.0 RPG in under 19 MPG.
One of the most fun stories in the league this year has been the continued ascendance of 31-year-old SG Lou Williams. Williams averaged a career-high 17.5 PPG as a sixth man for the Lakers and Rockets last season, and this year he's the Clippers' leading scoring option and a top-ten scorer in the Western Conference at 23.5 PPG. He's also active on defense, averaging over a steal per game. He's working a 12-game streak of scoring 20-plus points off the bench, the longest such streak in the NBA since the '70s. PF Blake Griffin has been in and out of the lineup, as is seemingly always the case. When he's in, he's still one of the league's most versatile offensive players, and perhaps now one of its most underrated. He had a 32-11-12 triple-double against Minnesota last week, and dropped a 27-12-7 line against New Orleans on Sunday. C DeAndre Jordan's name has been widely mentioned in trade rumors almost this entire year, something that will surely intensify these next couple weeks. He had 19 boards on Sunday. SG Austin Rivers continues to improve as a player, and he's been a pleasant surprise at 15.8 PPG and a 40.5 3P% this year. But both he and SF Danilo Gallinari have been out lately. Rivers will be out on Tuesday, and Gallinari almost certainly will, as well.