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Clippers could find answers to offensive struggles against Trail Blazers

Clippers could find answers to offensive struggles against Trail Blazers
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Since their friendship began as teenaged opponents on the travel-ball circuit, Tyronn Lue and Chauncey Billups have always found ways to help the other out.

When Lue arrived in the NBA in 1998 out of college, it was Billups, already one year into his career, who showed him the ropes. When the pandemic began more than two decades later and Lue was looking to get out of Los Angeles, it was Billups who hosted his friend at his Colorado home — where Lue, in turn, hosted a coaching crash-course clinic that Billups has credited for helping prepare him for the job he has held since July, as Portland’s coach.

Their reunion Monday, in the fourth and final meeting this season between Billups’ Trail Blazers and Lue’s Clippers, finds each once again seeking help. And the other’s roster could be uniquely prepared to provide it.

Since their seven-game winning streak ended Nov. 14, the Clippers (12-12) have lost eight of their last 12 games and own the league’s fifth-worst offensive rating, better only than Houston, Orlando, Detroit and Oklahoma City, a quartet in various stages of extensive rebuilding projects. In only 24 games this season, the Clippers have already failed to exceed 100 points as many times (eight) as they did all of last season.

“It’s tough to kind of put our finger on it just because of the fact we do have a lot of people going in and out” of the lineup, forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. “You got to plug in and replace people game by game, and that’s tough for any coach, that’s tough for any team.

“…It’s still early in the season. Think it’s a lot of teams that’s hitting that block and once we get down and we get going I think everything’s gonna be OK.”

Their antidote could be a Portland defense that, since these teams’ last meeting Nov. 9, has turned into a sieve, producing the NBA’s worst defensive rating, at 118.5 points per 100 possessions allowed, and allowed the highest opponent effective field goal percentage of 56.2.%. Billups was hired to clean up a defense that had dropped deeper in the rankings under former coach Terry Stotts, but the roster’s personnel has struggled to execute his aggressive ball-screen defense, ranking 27th in points allowed off of pick-and-rolls that include passes, per Synergy Sports.

With weaknesses that align this well, it’s easy to see why this matchup comes at an important time for each team, more than a quarter of the way through the season. But only one will depart with what is needed most — a victory.

After seeing Portland (11-13) allow 145 points in a loss Saturday to Boston — only the third time since 1992 the Celtics had scored at least that many points — Billups ripped the Blazers.

“I’ve never seen a team that needs its bench to inspire our starters,” Billups told reporters. “That s— is crazy to me. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”

Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups, center, talks to guards CJ McCollum, left, and Damian Lillard during the second half against the Clippers in Portland, Ore., on Oct. 29.

(Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)

Portland’s defense isn’t its only issue. The franchise on Friday fired its president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey, a former top Clippers executive, after launching an outside investigation that concluded Olshey violated the team’s code of conduct.

Though the Kings ranked in the league’s bottom third in defensive rating, the Clippers (12-12) made just one of 15 shots during a key second-quarter run that effectively decided Saturday’s 104-99 loss in Sacramento.

“We just have to do a better job of spacing, honestly, understanding where we need to be at,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “Got guys coming in and out of the lineup, figuring that out as well, just kind of have our designated spots, making sure we get to them so then the game becomes easy for us, playing out of those spots rather than being, at times, jumping up on top of each other, not necessarily knowing where the next guy is to make plays.

“We also always, every now and then we have to be willing to just move it, move the ball, move the defense, and continue to play with pace in the half court.”

The prospect of Nicolas Batum’s eventual return after nearly two weeks in the league’s health and safety protocols will help clean up some issues, with Jackson calling him “vital” to our success but won’t fix the poor free-throw shooting and passes into traffic that contributed to Saturday’s loss. The Clippers are now 1-11 when shooting a lower field goal percentage than their opponent.

“We’re not necessarily where we want to be but we also don’t feel like we’re in bad shape so the more we continue to get these bodies back, get all our guys back, more time we get together, we feel like we’re going to start turning the corner,” Jackson said.

UP NEXT

At Portland

When: 7 p.m. Monday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: Portland guard C.J. McCollum suffered bruised ribs in Saturday’s loss to Boston and his status for Monday’s game is unclear. McCollum has averaged 20.6 points this season, though only 15.7 points, and 30% three-point shooting, in three games against the Clippers.





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