Sunday night the Clippers and Blazers will end the first weekend of the NBA Playoffs with Game 1 taking place in Los Angeles. The Clippers got a one of the tougher first round matchups. The playoffs are defined by individual matchups. Here is a look each matchup and how they should play out:
Point Guards: Chris Paul vs Damian Lillard
This is the premiere matchup of this series. Arguably two of the top point guards in the league going head-to-head. Paul certainly has experience on his side. He’s playoff tested. This isn’t Lillard’s first playoff, and he’s already had his big playoff moment that the Rockets won’t ever forget.
Lillard is Portland’s biggest threat. Stopping him won’t be a realistic option, slowing him down and containing him a bit is. If CP3 can put some defensive pressure and make Lillard defer to his teammates, that might slow him down from putting up 30 or more a game. Paul plays a completely different game as Lillard. Paul is a pass first point guard that plays some pesky defense. Lillard is a shoot first and score at will kinda point guard. He’s having his best statistical averages of his career, averaging 25.1 points, 6.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. Each one is extremely effective in their own style. This matchup ultimately doesn’t favor either.
Shooting Guards: J.J. Redick vs C.J. McCollum
J.J. is back in the lineup after battling a bruised heel. Redick has had his best year shooting the three ball, at 47.5% on the year. That’s a sharpshooting for you. Redick’s defense is a bit underrated but he’s no defensive savant. McCollum has had a breakout year. After a couple injury plagued seasons, the roster turnover and health has led to a resurgence. McCollum is averaging a shade over 20 points per game on the year, so you know he will be putting the ball in the bucket a LOT in this series. Unfortunately for Redick a bruised heel might be a much lesser issue than a bruised ego after McCollum lights him up.
Small Forwards: Jeff Green vs Al-Farouq Aminu
This is why the Clippers traded for Green at the deadline, for series like these. Green has finally brought some stability to the wing position. Green has been solid, but unspectacular, just what the Clippers expected from him actually. Aminu has been a pleasant surprise for the Blazers. The former Clippers lottery pick that was traded as part of the deal that netted CP3, has played in all 82 games this season and averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds. He’s a potential sleeper for the Blazers, but Green is the better overall player.
EDGE: Jeff Green
Power Forward: Blake Griffin vs Noah Vonleh/Mo Harkless
Come on. This isn’t even a legitimate matchup. Blake Griffin blindfolded on one leg is better than Mo Harkless at his best. Griffin is a superstar, Vonleh is a serviceable young role player that gets to start due to the team’s lack of inside presence. Vonleh will split the minutes with Ed Davis, but you can put Superman’s cape on both and they still will be Noah Vonley and Ed Davis at the end. This is a no-brainer, injured or not, it’s Blake.
EDGE: Blake Griffin
Center: DeAndre Jordan vs Mason Plumlee
DeAndre Jordan is a beast. One of the premiere defensive forces in the league. Averaging 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. His .430 free throw percentage on the other hand–yeah, I won’t talk about that. Hack-A-Jordan will certainly be employed. Lots of miserable free throw shooting will be unfortunately witnessed. Luckily the Blazers have the better Plumlee brother (sorry Miles). Plumlee has been a productive center for the Blazers this year. He can rebound, score a little, and jump out of the gym with his crazy hops. One of these players is considered a top 3 center and the other you’re not sure what team he plays for (Blazer fans excluded). I’ll let you guess which one is which.
EDGE: DeAndre Jordan
Bench: Clippers vs Trail Blazers
The Clippers worked on boosting their bench this offseason. The signings of Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, and Paul Pierce haven’t workout out too well. The best addition might have been Cole Aldrich. Now, if Cole Aldrich is your best free agent signing that usually means you’re in a whole hell of a lot of trouble. Smith and Stephenson are gone already. Pierce can prove his worth in the playoffs, but having Jamal Crawford, who routinely is in consideration for Sixth Man of the Year is a nice bonus. Luc Mbah a Moute is a nice defensive stopper. Austin Rivers and Wes Johnson can have their moments also.
The Blazers have a fringe starter in shooting guard Gerald Henderson coming off the bench. Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Mo Harkless are young and serviceable bigs. Former Clipper Chris Kaman will give you 10 good minutes a game. What they have as the ultimate strength in their starting backcourt, the opposite can be said for guard depth on the Blazers bench.
Coaching: Doc Rivers vs Terry Stotts
Doc Rivers is one of the top coaches in the NBA. His championship experience can’t be overlooked. Rivers has guided the Celtics to long postseason runs and has taken the Clippers to the playoffs in every season since he came over from Boston. You won’t find many coaches that have the pedigree and experience that Rivers has.
Terry Stotts is a Coach of the Year winner and no slouch. He’s one of the better underrated coaches in the league. Stotts riding this Blazer team into the playoffs as a sixth seed. This team was supposed to be in the lottery, but they are here. Credit for Stotts for maximizing on his roster and bringing along his young bigs. A compelling coaching matchup, but there is a clear winner here.
EDGE: Doc Rivers
This wasn’t the matchup the Clippers were hoping for, but it’s the hand they have been dealt. The Blazers will be a tough out. Don’t expect any blowouts. I do feel the Blazers have been overrated heading into the playoffs. Their dynamic backcourt is just that–dynamic. Aside from Lillard and McCollum no one on that roster scares you a bit. The Clippers are loaded with talent, it’s finally time for the Clippers to make that Finals push this season. The young Blazers will find out quickly that they overachieved this season and aren’t at the Clippers level.
Clippers in 5
Here are some expert predictions for the series:
— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) April 15, 2016
*Photo Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports