The Clippers will once again be without star point guard Chris Paul, who has recently been hobbled by a bruised knee. Paul has missed Los Angeles' last two losses, and was hurting in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday. It's little coincidence that the Clippers have lost three games in a row with Paul either out or ineffective.
It's also little coincidence that the Clippers' normally potent offense has struggled without the services of their star point guard. Los Angeles is seventh in the NBA in scoring at 101.2 points per game, but they have not reached 100 points during their three-game losing streak. Eric Bledsoe is a very serviceable backup and did score 15 points in a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, but the Clippers are simply not the same team with Paul out of the lineup.
Blazers rookie Damian Lillard will look to take advantage of Paul's absence and continue his excellent rookie season. Lillard scored 20 points and dished out eight assists in Portland's impressive 100-80 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. For the year, the point guard is averaging 18.3 points and 6.6 assists, and seems to be almost a lock for Rookie of the Year if he stays healthy.
This will be the second meeting between the Clippers and Blazers this season, with Los Angeles taking the first one 103-90 on Nov. 8 at the Rose Garden. Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 25 points off the bench, while Paul and DeAndre Jordan each had 21 points. Nicolas Batum had 23 to lead Portland.
Crawford's scoring off the bench was the difference in that first meeting, and it may have to be once again on Saturday, especially with Paul out. Crawford's 16.7 points per game leads all NBA reserves, and the Clippers' bench as a whole leads the league in scoring at 41.5 points per game. That's a far cry from the Blazers' bench, who are averaging a league-worst 16.5 points, putting a huge burden on their starting lineup. Lillard, Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge are all over 38 minutes per game on the season, and Wesley Matthews is over 35 minutes per game.
With the Paul/Lillard matchup disappointingly taken away from us, the marquee individual battle in this one is between Aldridge and Blake Griffin. Both players are having excellent seasons and will be representing the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. Griffin was voted in by the fans as a starter, while Aldridge was voted in by the coaches as a reserve.
Taking a look at their numbers, we see some similarities:
Griffin is a better rebounder and a bit more efficient with his scoring, which is natural because he does a lot more of his work in the paint whereas Aldridge likes to shoot a lot of long twos.
It will be interesting to see just how much Griffin and Aldridge actually go against each other. There's a good chance the Clippers use Jordan and his length to try and disrupt Aldridge. And on the other end, J.J. Hickson may be used to defend Griffin so Aldridge does not have to exert as much energy on defense.
Time and TV: 10 p.m. ET on FS Prime Ticket and KGW-TV
Odds: Portland is a 1.5-point favorite.