We're LIVE at the Rose Garden as your Portland Trail Blazers open up a weekend home-and-home with the best professional basketball team in Los Angeles.
Yes, that would be the Clippers(!), who are off to a historic start thanks in large part to the 17-game winning streak in December. And while Lob City's rise is a tad less of a surprise than their Staples Center flat-mate's early season doldrums, the once abysmal franchise is now being seen as legitimate conference contenders. But one of the main catalysts behind the Clips' success is also the reason they've dropped three straight: Chris Paul is in street clothes for a third consecutive game tonight, meaning Portland may just be catching the Pacific Division leaders at the right time.
With a pleasantly surprising .500 record midway through what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Blazers are managing to hang around playoff contention and raise fans' hopes for a postseason run (sigh). LaMarcus Aldridge is once again an All-Star, Nicolas Batum is having himself a career year and Damian Lillard has likely already made room on his mantle for the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy. Ah, but with a bench that's on track to average the fewest points in the NBA in 22 years, Portland still has a ways to go.
What better way to start than to beat LA? Even if it's the other LA.
Lob City (32-12)—F Caron Butler, F Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan, G Willie Green, G Eric Bledsoe.
Rip City (21-21)—F Nicolas Batum, F LaMarcus Aldridge, C JJ Hickson, G Wesley Matthews, G Damian Lillard
An impressive number of Clippers fans in the arena tonight pregame. They do exist! I've got my eyes peeled for a Tom Tolbert jersey.
The last time these two teams met, Jamal Crawford ('memba him?) torched the Blazers with 25 points off the bench. Coach Vinny Del Negro will be looking for a similar performance tonight with Paul out.
12:00—Aldridge and Griffin embrace at midcourt before the tip. They may not guard each other much tonight, but they're a matchup to watch, stat-wise. Clips win the tip and we're underway ...
11:20—The Clippers' first possession results in a fall-back 3-pointer from the corner while the shot clock expired. Probably not how Vinny drew it up. On the other end, Hickson follows a Lillard miss for the game's first bucket. 2-0 Portland.
9:33—Batum lobs one to Hickson, who jams it home two-handed. WHO'S LOB CITY NOW!?!
8:17—Yeah, it's still LA. Clips answer with a lob of their own as Jordan rises to grab Bledsoe's toss. Clippers lead 9-5.
6:46—Aldridge with a jumper from the top of the key. His first basket of night as Jordan leaves him open right in one of the All-Star's favorite spots.
6:00—Clippers lead 13-9 and it's been all Hickson for Portland. He has seven points and three boards in the early going. Aldridge's All-Star nod is noted by the PA announcer during the first TV timeout, and the Portland crowd offers an ovation to the sixth-year forward averaging 20.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per.
5:20—Hickson picks up his second foul. Meyers Leonard will replace him as Griffin sinks a pair of free throws. LA leads 15-9.
3:28—Blazers take the lead for a moment after Lillard and Batum can a pair of jumpers. Bledsoe hits two free throws to put LA back on top, and Blazer fans rain boos on the court as Crawford checks in between foul shots. Portland goes back up 18-17 after Jeffries follows a miss with a put-back dunk.
1:44—After Crawford surprises the Portland defense with a laser pass under the hoop to Barnes, Batum surprises Barnes with a big block on the layup attempt. That leads to a Matthews hitting a jumper from the right baseline and Portland is back within a point at 21-20.
0:00—An ugly final possession of the quarter for Portland ends with an awkward leaning 3-pointer from Matthews as the clock winds down. Still, Portland leads 25-22 behind seven points from Hickson and six points apiece from Lillard and Matthews. The leading scorer on the floor? Willie Green, who has eight.
11:52—Grant Hill checks in for the Clippers. The NBA's second-oldest player has battled injury in this his 18th season. He was born in 1972, which is nine years earlier than anyone on Portland's roster.
9:39—After a Barton 3-pointer puts Portland up seven, the Blazers go inside and feed Aldridge for a left-handed leaner in the lane. Blazers with their biggest lead of the night, 33-25.
9:11—Now Ronnie Price nails a 3-pointer and Portland is up double-digits, 36-25. Portland on a 16-3 run.
8:56—Huge dunk by Barton off a lob from Price. Lobs!
8:23—Another trip down the floor, another lob to the hoop for a basket. This time it's Leonard putting it home on a Batum flip and the Blazers lead 40-27. LOBS LOBS LOBS!
5:15—The Blazers are cleaning up on the offensive glass. The latest example is a Batum tip off a missed jumper. On the other end, Jordan hits a hook shot inside, but Portland is controlling this one thus far. They're up 45-33.
2:32—Timeout on the floor as the Clips have cut the lead to nine. The balanced Blazers have five players with at least six points. Batum, Aldridge and Hickson have seven each, while Lillard and Matthews have six. Batum leads everyone with six assists.
2:20—Aldridge hit with his second foul in 15 seconds. Griffin sells it well, then hits one of two free throws to pull LA within eight points, 47-39. Before that happened, Crawford abused Matthews with a double-crossover and jumper, much to the chagrin of the Rose Garden crowd.
1:31—Speaking of, Griffin slams home a gif-worthy left-handed jam in transition and the Clips have gotten right back into this one.
Tune into SportsCenter later tonight Click here to see that jam. Blazers lead 47-43.
0:23.3—Clippers take a timeout after Portland answers with four straight points. During the break, former Sonic and Oregon State star Gary Payton is shown on the big screen to a warm applause.
0:00—Another quarter ends with an ugly possession for Portland. Matthews again somehow ends up with it as time winds down but he can't manage a shot. But the Blazers lead 51-45 behind nine points from Aldridge.
The Blazers led by as many as 14, shooting just under 49% in the opening half. LA is shooting a cool 50%, with Griffin leading all scorers with 13 points.
11:49—Portland starts the ball and Batum lobs one to Hickson for a quick jam. LOBSLOBSLOBSLOBS!
11:10—No lob needed there. Griffin gets one in transition, goes behind his back to shed a charging Batum and slams it home two-handed. Monster dunk that bends the rim down the elementary-school height. Oohs and ahhs echo through the arena after Griffin gives another glimpse of his world-class athleticism.
9:23—Matthews with a 3-pointer from the left wing as the shot clock expires and Portland with a 6-0 run to go back up by double digits, 59-47.
8:02—Clippers come out of the timeout with a five-point run, but Batum answers with a looong 3-pointer from the left wing. Blazers back up by ten, 62-52.
5:23—Batum hits his third 3-pointer of the night and the crowd loves it. On the other end, Matthews with a steal and breakaway before Green grabs his jersey for a clear-path foul. That'll be two shots and the ball for Portland. Matthews hits them both, and it's 71-59.
4:43—Now it's Lillard with a 3-pointer, the ninth of the night for Portland. 74-61. Who needs lobs?
2:40—Bledsoe with a give-and-go lob to Crawford, who jams one home. SO. MANY. LOBS. After a Blazer miss, Aldridge tips a rebound into the Clipper's hoop (own goal!) to pull LA within nine.
1:01—Crawford with a rainbow 3-pointer from the left wing to pull the Clips within six points. They're not going away and you know Crawford would love to stick it to this crowd with one his infamous fourth-quarter runs.
0:00—The Blazers are 3 for 3 in terms of bad final possessions to close out quarters. This time the clock winds down while Price is dribbling and the crowd is a bit uneasy as the Clippers have hung tough to stay within a couple possessions. Portland leads 82-76 with five players in double-figures. Lillard and Matthews lead the way with 15 each, while Griffin leads all scorers with 22 points. Batum having another productive night—he has 13 points and 11 assists.
10:46—Shot clock violation as Price throws up a desperation shot. Ninth turnover for Portland, still clinging to a six-point lead.
9:33—Hill pulls the Clippers within three points with his first 3-pointer of the season. Odom with the assist and it's nervous time for a crowd of 20,672 (which is the best crowd of the season for Portland).
8:54—The Blazers give the Clippers about 46 extra chances on a single possession and it culminates in a dunk-miss-rebound-tip-back for Barnes. Portland clings to an 84-83 lead, but the momentum is on LA's side. The Clippers have 12 offensive rebounds this half after just two in the first half.
8:19—Crawford hits a pair of free throws and the Clippers lead 85-84. They're on an 11-2 run.
7:44—Batum with his fourth 3-pointer of the night and Portland goes back up a pair. The Blazers have hit 10 from long range tonight, and that one was set up by pure hustle from Hickson.
5:56—Barnes cleans up a Griffin miss and the Clips are back on top, 90-89. The Blazers' defensive rebounding has disappeared and LA is taking full advantage during this physical fourth quarter.
4:46—Clippers are showing why they're tops in the division. After Griffin reads a lob attempt from Batum on one end, Crawford hits a floater in the lane to put LA up 94-89.
4:13—Crawford is abusing Matthews tonight, that's no easy task against a defender of Wes' caliber. Crawford is fouled on the way to the hoop and hits a pair of FTs. Clippers are on a 12-0 run and they lead 96-89. Once up 14 in the third, the Blazers may be letting this one slip away.
3:17—Crawford with another dagger. He has 19 on the night, 11 this quarter and the Clippers lead by seven. Blazers are 2 of 11 from the field this quarter. That's not going to get it done.
2:19—Lamar Kardashian with an uncontested dunk, which wakes up Lillard. He hits a 3-pointer to pull Portland within two possessions. Clips lead 100-94.
1:36—Blazers with a bit of a disorganized possession, but it ends well enough as Aldridge finds Hickson under the hoop for a two-handed dunk. Clippers up four.
1:09—Crawford finally misses and that spurs the Blazers into transition. Batum gets it ahead to Matthews, who goes to the hole for the bucket +1. He converts the FT and it's an 8-0 for Portland. Clips lead 100-99.
0:45.2—Loose ball foul on Griffin and Hickson will go straight to the line. Hickson hits both and Portland leads 101-100. Clutch free throws from the hustling big man and the Blazers seize the lead.
0:23.7—After a huge steal by Batum, the Blazers bring it down poised to build on their lead. Batum drives and instead of going to the hoop, he tries to dish to Lillard in the corner. It sails past the rookie and that's an ill-timed turnover for Portland. LA ball. Blazers lead by one.
0:12.4—Crawford to the hoop and misses the circus layup. Scramble for the ball and Crawford and Batum will jump for it.
0:00—Clippers win the tip and get it to Crawford. He dances around in front of Matthews and pulls up to take a jumper for the win...but it clangs off the iron. Batum grabs the board as time expires. GAME OVER, BLAZERS WIN!
The Blazers hang on for a 101-100 victory after nearly blowing a 14-point second half lead. What a finish for Portland, which hands LA its fourth straight defeat. Five Blazers in double figures, led by Batum and Lillard with 20 points each. In fact, Batum has a triple-double, adding 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Matthews adds 18 points, Hickson has 15 and Aldridge chips in 12.
Griffin with a virtuoso performance, scoring 24 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing eight assists and finishing with four steals. Crawford adds 19 points—11 in the final frame—while Barnes and Bledsoe chip in 11 each. Did ya like this matchup? Well, friend, you don't have to wait long for the next one: Both these teams head to Los Angeles for a 6:30 p.m. tip tomorrow night. The Blazers return home on Tuesday, when they host Dallas.