The Portland Trail Blazers will head to the City of Angels for a 2020-21 NBA meeting with the LA Clippers at the Staples Center on Tuesday. Both teams have been quite successful over the past three weeks.
The LA Clippers have won seven of their last nine games, which includes a 104-86 trouncing of the injury-depleted LA Lakers on Sunday. Even without Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka, the LA Clippers' defense was enough to trip the LA Lakers and snap a two-game slide.
Meanwhile, the return of CJ McCollum has paid dividends for the Portland Trail Blazers, who have won five of their last six games and eight of their last 11. The addition of Norman Powell has only added to their offensive arsenal, as he is another player who can consistently score 15+ points and could be a problem for the LA Clippers.
Portland Trail Blazers vs LA Clippers - Prediction
The Portland Trail Blazers (30-19, 6th) are just two games behind the LA Clippers (33-18, 3rd) in the Western Conference standings. Despite the superior season record of their opponents, the Portland Trail Blazers have been the more impressive team.
The Portland Trail Blazers had to endure the lengthy absence of McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins while staying in playoff contention. Now that they have two of the three back in their lineup (Nurkic has also returned but will miss this game), it’s easy to see why they could be a force heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
As good as the LA Clippers have been, it is the Portland Trail Blazers who look like the better team at this point. They are the favorites to win this game as well. On that note, let's take a look at a hypothetical combined 5 of the two teams.
Portland Trail Blazers vs LA Clippers - Combined 5
Point Guard - Damian Lillard l Shooting Guard - CJ McCollum l Small Forward - Paul George l Power Forward - Kawhi Leonard l Center - Enes Kanter.
To get the most from our hypothetical combined 5, we have moved one of the LA Clippers’ swingmen to the power forward spot to make way for a certain Portland Trail Blazers guard - Damian Lillard - to join our team.
Taking our point guard position is none other than MVP candidate Damian Lillard. If there’s one player responsible for keeping the Portland Trail Blazers afloat amidst their injuries to key players, it’s Lillard.
The 6' 2" guard has been playing sensational basketball over the past two months, averaging 31.9 points and 8.7 assists during McCollum’s absence. During this period, he has had four games of more than 40 points, which includes a 50-point outing against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Meanwhile, CJ McCollum is the starting shooting guard in our combined 5.
It has been a slow climb back to where he was prior to being injured. But in the 11 games since his return, the Portland Trail Blazers sharpshooter has put up averages of 20.4 points and 4.5 assists per game. He’s only making 41.2% of his shots, but that will improve with time.
Paul George, one-half of the LA Clippers’ dynamic duo, would be the small forward of our imaginary team.
He was an All-Star once again this season, the seventh time in his career that he accomplished the feat. In his second season in Los Angeles, the five-time All-NBA player is playing much better than he did last year, producing an improved shooting range.
He has had career-high percentages from the field (46.9%) and from the three (42.3%) as well.
Kawhi Leonard would be the power forward of our hypothetical combined five. The two-time Finals MVP has barely missed any games this season while shooting over 50% from the field for the third time in his career.
He isn’t high on the MVP radar, but he has arguably been more important to the LA Clippers’ success this year than last. He is no. 1 on the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.
At center would be Enes Kanter, who has thrived for the Portland Trail Blazers while Nurkic was out. He gets the nod ahead of the LA Clippers' Ivica Zubac.
In his last ten starts, Kanter has registered averages of 14.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per outing.