PREGAME REPORT | APRIL 16, 2013
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. PT | STAPLES Center | Los Angeles, CA | Game Notes »
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LOS ANGELES – It comes down to the last two games.
About 24 hours after Tuesday’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, the final home game of the regular season for the Clippers, they will know all the particulars of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
Home court advantage is a distinct possibility. The Clippers (54-26) are assured Game 1 and 2 at Staples Center as the No. 4 seed with a victory over the Blazers (33-47) Tuesday and another the following night in Sacramento (28-53). A Denver Nuggets loss Wednesday versus Phoenix and the Clippers can pop up to No. 3.
“One thing we will know, if we take care of business, our fans will be rewarded with two home games at the start and that’s what we want for our team and our fans,” Grant Hill said.
That business starts against a Portland team that has lost 11 in a row and could be without All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle), small forward Nicolas Batum (shoulder), shooting guard Wesley Matthews (ankle) and backup point guard Nolan Smith (knee).
In Portland’s loss to Denver on Sunday, they used a starting lineup that featured four rookies and fifth-year forward J.J. Hickson. The Clippers have won five-straight games and are looking to keep pace with Memphis and Denver, who both won Monday night, in the West.
“We don’t want to give away any games or put ourselves in a position we don’t have to be in,” said Blake Griffin, who is averaging 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists in three games against Portland this season.
BILLUPS A GAME-TIME DECISION
Chauncey Billups, who has played 11 minutes since Mar. 19 at Sacramento and has missed eight consecutive games due to a strained right groin, may be in the lineup Tuesday.
“I am optimistic, but hopefully nothing strange happens. I’ve had too many strange things happen this year,” Billups said Monday. “Hopefully, that’s over.”
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, who has only had Billups available in 20 of the team’s 80 previous games, said in an ideal situation Billups would be able to play Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’d like him to play both,” Del Negro said. “It’s important to get the chemistry down and the rotation as much as possible. But that’s been the situation all year for us. We’ve just got to manage through it. Guys have to stay ready. Things happen, foul, trouble injuries, schedule, whatever.”
Shooting guard Willie Green filled in with Billups out, and has shot a league-high 63.9% from long distance since Mar. 10, rocketing up to No. 7 in the NBA in 3-point shooting overall. If Billups plays it will likely send Green back to a reserve role.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 91, Grizzlies 87: In what in many ways could be Game 1 of 8, if the Grizzlies and Clippers meet in the first round, the Clippers beat Memphis at FedEx Forum Saturday for the fourth time in the last six meetings there (including two out of four in the 2012 Playoffs). The win came in the kind of gritty fashion that usually typifies the Grizzlies. The Clippers held Memphis to 41.0% shooting and used a 14-0 run in the early stages of the fourth quarter to gain control.
DeAndre Jordan led the Clippers with 16 points and 12 rebounds and had arguably the best first half of his career. He scored eight points in a row to start the game, including a fast-break alley-oop from Griffin and battled with one-time All-Star Marc Gasol, who had 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. Jordan’s biggest play may have come in the fourth quarter when he swatted a Mike Conley floater out of bounds with the Clippers up by just two. A few seconds later, Conley’s entry pass to Zach Randolph was tipped away by Griffin and the Clippers held on.
Nuggets 118, Trail Blazers 109: Despite a rally Sunday that pulled them to within three points in the fourth quarter, Portland could not complete the comeback in the Mile High City. It was the 22nd home win in a row for the Nuggets, who would have fallen into a tie with the Clippers had they lost. Andre Iguodala scored 28 points with 10 rebounds and rookie Evan Fournier had 24 points starting alongside Ty Lawson, who had not started in two weeks as he recovered from a heel injury. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 30 points for a Blazers team that went 12-of-32 (37.5%) from 3-point range.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Avoiding any letdowns. While the Blazers cannot make up any ground in the standings either way, the Clippers talked Monday about avoiding any kind of letdown with so much on the line. Griffin said the team can’t waste two good road wins by failing at home.
“They’re going to play hard,” Griffin said. “Portland always plays hard. They’re a well-coached team. They’re a little bit banged up right now, but no team wants to give up any games, no matter if they’re in the playoffs or not.”
Particularly with as many as five rookies expected to play, it would be reasonable to expect, according to Hill, that Portland is still trying to gain some momentum heading into the offseason.
“They have talent and they have pride,” Hill said. “They’re going to come out and try to get a win. I think for them against us is good for them as far as momentum going into the offseason.”
One of those talented players is rookie sensation Damian Lillard, who has often been compared to Billups. In three games against the Clippers Lillard has scored 17.3 points with two steals per contest. The likely Rookie of the Year has five 30-plus-point games this season, including two in the last week.
The Clippers have a chance to win the season series with Portland for the second year in a row. They haven’t done that since the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons… Portland has the worst scoring bench in the league (18.4). They are the only team getting fewer than 20 points per game from their reserves. The Clippers, on the other hand, are No. 4 in bench scoring (40.4)… The Blazers are 4-20 on the road when trailing at halftime… Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford needs four 3-pointers in the final two games to tie Rasual Butler’s franchise record for 3-pointers in a season. Butler made 145 shots from beyond the arc in 2009-10…