There are only two games Thursday in NBA land, but the second one is a West Coast matchup that is sure to turn some heads as the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers head north to face the young upstart Portland Trail Blazers.
The Clippers are riding the momentum of last season and with the rival Lakers at 1-4, are in a prime position to overthrow Kobe & Co. as the true Kings of LA. They did a lot of work during the offseason in acquiring both Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom, and head coach Vinny Del Negro has the team playing some fine basketball.
Portland is a younger squad, but rookie point man Damian Lillard has the team looking competitive. His teammates have responded well to him and new coach Terry Stotts, and there's no doubt that he'll have a bright future with the team.
Still, the Clippers aren't going to make this game easy for the Blazers. Both are young teams that like to play a fast-paced game, but which team will lead the more balanced attack on the defensive side?
No matter how you look at it, this game is certainly going to be better than it may appear.
Time: Thursday, November 8th, 10:30 p.m., EST
Records: Los Angeles (3-2) vs. Portland (2-2)
Betting Line: Not Available
Injuries: Trey Thompkins (knee), Chauncey Billups (Achilles), Blake Griffin (elbow, neck), Sasha Pavlovic (quad).
Key Storyline: Clippers Look To Keep Momentum in Portland with Lakers' Continued Struggles
As much as the Clippers have improved in the past year, they are still in the shadow of the well-established Los Angeles Lakers. However, if current trends hold, that could change this season.
You see, the Lakers have stumbled out of the starting gate en route to a 1-4 start despite acquiring both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard during the offseason. Instead of blowing every team out of the water, they're unable to close games out or break away.
This puts the Clippers in a good position to usurp the Lakers as Los Angeles's most popular team and when they head into Portland tonight, their cohesive attack could help them maintain momentum in the battle for LA. Against a young team like Portland, whose point man is still learning the ins and outs of the game, this should be fairly easy.
Key Matchup: Chris Paul vs. Damian Lillard
It's another case of youth vs. experience, as the veteran Paul is sure to give the rookie Lillard a lesson in one department that Blazers' young floor general needs to do some work: defense.
Though Paul has done his fair share of scoring and distributing throughout his career, his defense is also incredibly pesky, to the tune of 2.4 steals per game. Throw in his career marks of 18.8 points and 9.9 assists, and he's truly one of the most dangerous point guards in the league.
Which brings us to Lillard, who was taken by Portland with the No. 6 pick in this year's draft. He has done a fine job adjusting to the professional level thus far, averaging 19.3 points and eight assists. However, the score-first point guard still has a lot to learn about picking his shots, shooing just 41 percent from the field.
That said, if Lillard hasn't had a "welcome to the NBA" moment yet, Paul is certainly going to give him one Thursday night. As talented as he is, his defensive game is borderline nonexistent and Paul is going to take full advantage of his inexperience.
When the final stats are accumulated, look for the numbers to be highly skewed...in the Clippers' floor general's favor.
X-Factor: Blake Griffin
As important a facilitator and contributor as Chris Paul is, the Clippers' offense rises and falls with their explosive power forward. Normally a lock for 20-10 a game, the former No. 1 pick has gotten off to a slower start this season, averaging 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds a game.
Those numbers aren't bad by any means, but some recent news regarding the star dunker may be cause for concern. According to head coach Vinny Del Negro, Griffin has been playing with both a neck strain and a burst bursa sac in his elbow, probably because his game relies so much on being explosive on the inside, which would get anybody banged up.
However, in his team's recent win against the San Antonio Spurs, Griffin appeared to be on track to put up the usual eye-popping numbers once again. He scored 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as San Antonio was handed its first loss of the season.
Simply put, if his injuries aren't bothering him too much, Griffin is going to have a field day with the Blazers'' young and inexperienced (albeit talented) frontcourt.
Though the Portland Trail Blazers could keep this game close on the backs of young hotshots like Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, Lillard's inexperience running the point is going to be exposed so long as Chris Paul is guarding him. The team may go on a run here and there, but it's not going to be nearly enough.
More importantly, if the Blazers try to keep the game in the paint and wear down the Clippers' bigs, that's going to be an even tougher battle. Center DeAndre Jordan has great size at 6'11", 265 pounds and has averaged 10 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game this season. Have a young team like Portland try and beat him under the basket, and it could turn into a battle of the lion vs. the lamb in seconds.
Who will win?
That said, expect Lob City to be in full effect tonight as the Clippers walk into Portland to make a statement. While the Lakers may have more history in the NBA, their days are over as the Clippers are no longer lovable losers.
The offense tonight will be established early and when you add in the fact that the game is on national television, the adrenaline will surely be pumping too. In the end, the Clippers will walk away with a win, and by a decent margin too.
Los Angeles Clippers 112, Portland Trail Blazers 94