The All-Star break is this weekend! Enjoy your dunk contest, love the three-point shooting contest, and watch Giannis’ freakish athleticism in the Skills Challenge. Here are some undercard treats before your Game of The Night.
At first glance, Dallas-Indiana, Atlanta-Toronto, and Denver-Minnesota all standout. While Indiana is clearly the better team, the Mavericks are an interesting team to watch, mainly because of Dirk Nowitzki, who’s still in range for a 50-40-90 shooting season, but also the backcourt combination of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion’s defensive versatility, and the bench trio of Vince Carter, Brandan Wright, and Devin Harris propelling a Dirk-less offense. The Hawks and Raptors, two of the four teams in the imaginary “B level” of the Eastern Conference (I didn’t forget you, Chicago and Washington), face off in a game with more talent than you think. Two All-Stars in Paul Millsap and DeMar DeRozan, a ASG snub in Kyle Lowry, one of the best shooters in the league in Kyle Korver, and Jonas Valanciunas, who’s averaging a modest 13.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. Denver-Minnesota is almost a given on my list of games these days. Denver is playing so poorly at the moment, creating a ton of intrigue as to whether they become players at the trade deadline. As for the T-Wolves? I love them. Kevin Love is awesome, Ricky Rubio is an offensive mastermind the way he creates offense, and recently, I saw some Shabazz Muhammed NBADL video, so the #FreeShabazz movement travels to the NBA.
The Game of the Night goes to the Los Angeles Clippers against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Clippers sit with a record of 36-18, while the Blazers come to town with a 36-15 mark, adding a bit of intrigue to this matchup. The Blazers are slumping, going 5-5 in their last ten, after winning five in a row. LaMarcus Aldridge is the lead man of the Blazers (24.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 51.6 TS%), but it’s Damian Lillard who receives the shine (20.8 points, 5.7 assists, 57.2 TS%), actively running the team and pushing the number two offense in the NBA, in terms of efficiency. Nicolas Batum does a little of everything for the Blazers (12.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 57.9 TS%) and the rotation, one through nine, work perfectly. The problem, however, is the lack of defensive stoppers. Robin Lopez effectively alternates shots at the rim, but the perimeter defense allows too much penetration, and thus, the Blazers find themselves allowing opponents to drive and kick for open threes or settle for the mid-range jumper. Per NBA.com’s Media Stats, the Blazers are allowing the third highest three-point percentage (36.3%) on the second fewest attempts (364), but they also allow the third highest percentage on shots from 15-19 feet (42.9%) on the ninth-most attempts (713) . The Blazers rank 20th in defensive efficiency, and ultimately, that’s the reason pundits believe the Blazers will be a playoff team, but not a championship contender.
The Clippers are…living up to expectations? Other than Jared Dudley (who disappointed me more than anything. I’m rooting for you Jared), Blake Griffin has effectively taken his game to another level on the offensive end, averaging 33.2 points and 11.2 rebounds with 4.4 assists in February, and 25.7, 8.1, and 4.3 before that. DeAndre Jordan (9.9 defensive rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 52% allowed at the rim, which is poor, but the eye test suggest he’s better than that) has become a better, smarter defender under Rivers’ tutelage, and they’ve seem to find the right amount of shooting to make Chris Paul drives even more dangerous. Even Jared Dudley is shooting 35% from three, giving them four players with 35% shooting or higher, while taking at least three three-pointers per game. The Clippers are great, quietly flying under the radar in the Western Conference, and unlike Portland, the Clippers can bring it defensively too, ranking 8th in defensive efficiency. The Clippers aren’t one without need (a legitimate third big man, I say), but they’re good enough to push both Oklahoma City and San Antonio in the playoffs, and that’s all you can ask for at this point.
The Call: I’m going Portland. Honestly, this is just a hunch. Chris Paul just returned from injury, and maybe Lillard can take advantage of that. While I pointed out Los Angeles’ three-point success, the Blazers match that, but one of their shooters, Mo Williams, is out with personal issues. Give me big performances from Batum and Lillard, and the Blazers eek out a victory. Blazers 109, Clippers 106.
Looking to see the game live? Grab Clippers vs. Trail Blazer tickets for what will surely be a great game.