Raptors?!, Angry Clippers, Rip City Goes Swish, CHRIS BOSH, & a very early Playoff Demo.

Lose Now Win Later Clips?

The Clippers, off a “cowardly” beatdown by the Warriors (it was close, but very physical) and a dueling loss to the Blazers, were rewarded by the NBA schedule makers by a patsy game against the Jazz. Two emotional losses on back to back nights was a tough pill to swallow. But come playoff time, Clips fans can only hope these nights give their team a toughness and clutch-ness ala Tom Izzo’s Spartans (where close losses in December=close win in March).

Chris Paul is angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry:

Oh and by the way, DeAndre Jordan is KILLING the Clippers on offense the same way Ben Wallace used to kill the Detroit Pistons. The only difference is that the Piston’s identity was defense and the Clippers identity is offense. The Pistons could survive a dead offensive player because they could suffocate teams defensively. The Clippers–not so much. It’s amazing the Clips are 5th in points per game when you consider NOBODY plays DeAndre honest on the pick and roll unless he dives to the rim for a lob. I saw the Blazers ignore him in the pick and pop (why he would ever pick and pop is beyond me, except to get out of the way for a CP3 drive) and essentially double team Chris Paul. When a pick and roll means you play 4 on 5 (not the other way around, as intended), you’ve got some serious problems.

If the Clippers replace Jordan with…someone on the level of Greg Monroe, Al Horford, Channing Frye, Nikola Pekovic, Spencer Hawes, Carlos Boozer, or Anderson Varejo… they get to the finals every year and score 110 a game. Jordan is a great fit on a defensively minded team. He doesn’t belong in L.A.

Blazers, Heat, and Aldridge’s Jumper

How ’bout them Blazers? Well chronicled masters of the late game so far this year, they got bit by the Heat. Their late game defense was again great, but when Chris Bosh is nailing 30 footers, you might as well pack up and go home.

The two teams are a combined 57-13, each on pace for a monster 65+ win season. Too bad the Heat were sans Lebron, or we would have seen a tantalizing finals preview. Either way, it was a great game.

As was Blazers-Clippers! 116-112 in OT. Lemarcus Aldridge now officially owns the “I can hit the turn around 20 footer” title. His overtime swishing was the reason the Blazers won. Chris Bosh is still the spot up king, but Aldridge is unstoppable from the post up to fade away–even with Clippers all over him. Portland’s offense is able to cycle around this shot, from the slip screen to the fake screen/cut to the screen and drive–every team has to honor Lemarcus’ dagger shooting. It has opened up driving lanes and lobs–it is the most pivotal reason for the Blazers surprising dominance this season.

Skip to 1:35 to see the Alridge vs Griffin overtime masterpiece:

Rising Raptors

The Raptors…oh those Raptors. 2-1 this past week, which just means they beat the Knick twice. But more importantly, beating the Knicks capped a 4 game road trip at 3-1. This trip saw them beating OKC (when they still had Russell), Dallas, and losing to the Spurs. Those of us who looked up long enough from the Christmas presents and eggnog said, “Bwhu-huh?” Raps are now leaning on such clutch performers as Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry, and Demar Derozan. And it’s working. 

More injuries. Bleh.

Goodbye to Al Horford indefinitely. Torn right pectoral. His Hawks were actually better than their record. Losing close games to teams like the Spurs (102-100) and the Heat (121-119) epitomized their potential to give elite teams trouble in a 7 game series.

Hope for Raptors and Wizards for the #3 seed–though if Bradley Beal keeps getting injured, I’m definitely taking the Wiz off of push notifications on the ole I-Phone.

Time off for Russell Westbrook after what was basically a precautionary knee surgery. I get the feeling the Thunder are doing everything they can to make sure this type of surgery happens now and not in the playoffs.

(After my bemoaning of Damian Lillard’s impending All-Star snub in last week’s Trending Teams, Russell Westbrook goes and gets some surgery, meaning Lillard will almost certainly sneak in as the 12th man.)

Notables:

How about an overachieving team that is injury free? Ah, the Phoenix Suns. A 2-1 week, losing to Golden State on the road, but the outlook is still cheery for Phoenix. Slashing, electric guards; athletic and spry big men; and a savvy new coach means Eric Bledsoe’s coming out party dances on.

Golden State is doing their best to surge upwards in the West. They have won five straight, mainly due to Steph Curry’s ridiculously great play: a triple double in a win over Phoenix, nearly another vs. Cleveland, and a 18-11-7-2(steals) 5 game line for good measure. Andrew Bogut’s ability to create a fake fight was also instrumental in the Warriors win over the L.A. Clippers:

Heading over to OKC, the looming question is: Will Kevin Durant average 34/13/8 and help young guys like Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson score 20 per game for the entire duration of Westbrook’s injury? The Thunder absolutely smoked a healthy Rockets team (as did the Pacers last week) and look just fine without Russ. This will eventually be tested, over the next six weeks, but if the Thunder can simply beat the bottom 25 teams in the league, KD should win an MVP.

As far as major market teams go: The Lakers, Knicks, and Nets have all veered off the cliff and settled into a fiery car crash. See you guys in the lottery.

Merry Christmas: A very early playoff demo:

Since it’s Christmas time, a present for you, the loyal reader, is a playoff preview. If the playoffs happened today, this is what we at Trending Hoops would foresee happening:

In the East:

1 (Pacers) vs. 8 (Celtics): Although Brad Steven’s team fights hard and manages to lose a very close game 3, the Pacers sweep past the C’s.

2 (Heat) vs. 7 (Pistons): The Piston’s tough front line gives the Heat some trouble, taking games 2 and 5. This is old news for Heat fans, who have seen their team unexpectedly extend playoff series. Heat win in 6.

3 (Hawks) vs. 6 (Bobcats): The surprising Bobcats win a game behind Kemba Walker’s heroics. Unfortunately, that’s all they win as the Hawks take it in 5.

4 (Raptors) vs 5 (Wizards): Minor upset alert! The resilient Raptors scrape out 3 wins, but the talent of the Wizards eventually overwhelms them. Washington takes it in 7, finally realizing their season long goal of winning a playoff series.

In the West:

1 (Thunder) vs 8 (Dallas): Dirk and Monta Ellis combine for 75 points to steal game 1, but all this does is awaken a sleeping lion. OKC steamrolls to win the next four, taking the series in 5 games.

2 (Trailblazers) vs 7 (Warriors): An exciting series features 6 games decided by 4 points or less. The Trailblazers win four of those game and send the Warriors home in 6.

3 (Spurs) vs 6 (Suns): The Suns succumb to a “just happy to be here” mindset and get swept by a balanced Spurs attack. Tim Duncan averages under 30 minutes per game, saving his best for next round.

4 (Clippers) vs 5 (Rockets): What happens when two teams with NBA finals aspirations meet in the first round? The hungrier team wins. In this case, that team is the Clippers, who lost to Memphis last year after a record best regular season. Clippers in 6.

Second Round East:

1 (Pacers) vs 5 (Wizards): No upsets here, as the good but not great Wizards lose in 5.

2 (Heat) vs 3 (Hawks): The Heat take care of business against an overachieving Hawks team, winning in 4. Dwayne Wade sits game 4 due to a swelling knee.

Second Round West:

1 (Thunder) vs 4 (Clippers): The Clippers need to make the West finals this year. The Thunder do too–if they want KD to stick around long term. Thunder in 7, as the Clippers take the moral victory (pushing OKC to 7) and trade DeAndre Jordan.

2 (Trailblazers) vs 3 (Spurs): Portland will live and die by the jumper. In this case, they die. Position for position, they match up against the Spurs, but in game 7, the jumpers go cold. Spurs in 7.

East Finals:

1 (Pacers) vs 2 (Heat): Everyone’s been waiting for this one since Game 7 last year. The Pacers, as they wanted, get Game 7 on their home court. Dwayne Wade limps through 37 minutes of a Game 7, but is clearly hampered by his knee. Despite 45 points from Lebron, the Pacers win Game 7 in OT to advance to the NBA Finals.

West Finals:

1 (Thunder) vs 3 (Spurs): Ray Allen, in the corner…it’s good! Fueled by past regret, the Spurs muscle past OKC in 6 games.

NBA Finals:

Spurs vs. Pacers: The new commish, Adam Silver, cringes as the small market championship begins. Age finally catches up to the Spurs as Tim Duncan tears his lateral meniscus in Game 3. Disheartened, the Spurs blow a 2-1 series lead and lose in 6. Congratulations to the Indiana Pacers, the NBA’s 2014 champs!

OKC and Miami go into the off season as favorites for next season. The big three all opt-in for the last year of their contracts, vowing to go out on a high note.

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