No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers
This may be the most interesting first-round matchup in the Western Conference. The Clippers and Trail Blazers both feature high-powered offenses, with strong starting backcourts.
The Trail Blazers will go as far as guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can take them. These two combine to make one of the most explosive starting backcourts in the NBA and will be key in Portland’s attempt to upset the favored Clippers. Both Lillard and McCollum have been held below their season averages against the Clippers this season, which is partially a result of Chris Paul’s tough defense. The Clippers have also managed to limit the Blazers’ three-point shooting, which is a big weapon for Portland. If Portland can’t get this part of their offensive attack going, they’ll be in for a tough series.
The Clippers are powered by Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. These four consistently make up one of the league’s most efficient starting lineups, regardless of who happens to be starting at small forward. The Clippers’ offense isn’t quite as elite as it has been in past seasons, but it’s still one of the best in the league.
In addition to their offense, the Clippers feature a stingier defense than you might expect. In fact, since the middle of February, the Clippers have been the fourth best defensive team in the league, giving up just 100.7 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers have been even better against the Blazers this season, holding them to just 95.3 points per game in four meetings.
However, the Clippers are a poor rebounding team, which is something Portland has and can continue to exploit. The return of Blake Griffin may help the Clippers offset this weakness, but Ed Davis, Mason Plumlee and the other Blazers bigs can certainly hurt the Clippers with their work on the boards. Also, if Griffin turns out to be limited by his lingering quad injury, the Blazers may be able to attack him early and often, neutralizing his effectiveness and forcing Doc Rivers to adjust accordingly.
This is an interesting matchup and Portland certainly has a chance at pushing the Clippers in this series. However, the Clippers have the offense to match Portland and a stingy defense, which the Blazers lack. Chris Paul and company are certainly motivated after suffering an epic collapse against the Houston Rockets in last year’s playoffs, and with Griffin back in the fold, the Clippers are in a good position to win this series.
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Prediction: Clippers win Game 1.
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