The five-game road trip hangs in the balance.

With the Toronto Raptors having split four games out west so far, a Friday night date with the Los Angeles Clippers looms as the swing game. It’s a battle of Dunk Contest winners as Terrence Ross and the Raptors tip off with Blake Griffin and his Clippers at 10:30 on TSN.

And we say Griffin’s Clippers, because Chris Paul is still not expected to play. Most sources have Paul returning on Sunday but there are a handful of beat reporters who still seem to expect a surprise return on Friday night. That makes the task far more difficult if it comes to fruition but even if it doesn’t, recall that the Clippers won 126-118 without Paul, in Toronto, on Jan. 25. Not even Tre Rozay scoring 51 points could make up for a laughable defensive effort.

Looking Back

And let’s take a quick look back at that 51-game performance, because it was truly incredible. I mean, he was the first player ever averaging less than 10 points a night to drop a 50-piece. Sure, there are Tony Delks, but it was a sign that Ross has more natural scoring ability than he’s maybe given credit for.

Somehow, Zarar only gave him an “A” in the quick react, citing that there are two sides to the game. I give Zarar an “F” for fun sponge for his analysis. Big Z was more complimentary in the post-game breakdown. Anyway, here’s Ross’ insane shot chart from that night:

tross

 

That’s a beautiful thing. Here’s some video:

Unfortunately, in the six games since he’s gone back to averaging just 10 a night, shooting 36.1 percent during that stretch. Hot and cold. Way she goes.

Handsome Gentlemen Email Exchange

In any case, the Clippers sans-Point God are no joke. They’ve gone 11-6 without him and while the schedule hasn’t been a murderer’s row, they’ve remained firmly afloat without one of the five best players in the NBA. Nobody should be getting a “Chris Paul will not play” alert and thinking the road trip’s a 3-2 certainty.

To help us set the stage for the game I reached out to the homie Jovan Buha of Clipper Blog, who kindly responded.

So, it sounds like no Chris Paul on Friday. That’s a major blessing for the Raptors and a pretty major drawback for fans of the Clippers or excellent basketball. But it hasn’t been too bad without the Point God. The schedule hasn’t been daunting, but how else have the Clippers been able to stay afloat without CP3?

Blake Griffin, Point Forward God. That’s the simplest way to describe it. There are other factors — Redick’s return, DeAndre Jordan’s defensive improvement, the surprisingly steady play of Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison — that have certainly helped, but Griffin’s play is chief among them. In the words of Jamal Crawford, he’s been an MVP candidate lately. I wrote about this a couple weeks ago.

Our sources tell us you were named one of L.A.’s sexiest sports writers. Who would win in a Zoolander-style walk-off, you or J.J. Redick?

I’d have to give the nod to J.J. Redick. I have a slight height advantage (I’m 6’5) and plenty of experience staring at myself in the mirror, but his suit and watch game are on point. His hair might be better, too. Might. The fact of the matter is that he’s an NBA player and I’m not, so he wins by default.

We heard all Blake Griffin can do is dunk. How does one lead such a successful team and average 23.7 points while taking less than half their shots in the restricted area by only dunking? (Feel free to just link any of the number of pieces on the matter, or just give us a Cliff’s Notes.)

The “All he does is dunk” myth has been outdated for two years now — Griffin is probably the most versatile big man (note: I said versatile, not best). He can score on the block, from the elbow, facing up, rolling to the rim, popping out, spotting up, in transition, etc. Basically any way.

He’s one of only a few bigs who can lead a fastbreak and have it not look awkward, and his passing out of double teams from the pinch post and block is unparalleled. He’s a vastly improved defender; not only in his individual D, but in the Clippers’ strong-side schemes as well. The “biggest” weakness in his game is his short wingspan — which he can’t change, of course — but if paired with a defensive-minded center like Jordan, he’s as valuable as any PF in the game.

Hedo Turkoglu: Scum of the earth or merely a human pile of garbage?

This may upset you and the rest of Raptors fans, but I actually really enjoy Hedo Turkoglu on the Clippers. He’s unintentionally hilarious, and I like his nonchalant attitude toward everything. He’s not the answer to the Clippers’ backup big man needs, but I think he can provide valuable minutes if he regains his shooting stroke.

We just saw this match-up a few weeks back and the Clippers, sans-CP3, won despite being unable to contain T3RR3NC3 RO33. If the Raptors couldn’t do it with a 51-point outburst from him, what CAN they do to win this one?

The key to beating the sans-CP3 Clippers is turning them into a two-man offensive team (i.e. making Griffin and Crawford the only scoring options). If J.J. Redick (if he plays), Darren Collison and Matt Barnes are held in check or have off shooting nights, the Clippers’ spacing will suffer.

Defensively, the Clippers are susceptible to poor pick-and-roll defense against speedy and athletic guards/wings (Lowry, DeRozan, Ross), so the Raptors need to take advantage of that and try to get Jordan and/or Griffin in foul trouble.

And because I’m writing this at 3:15 a.m. on a Thursday night, let’s allow Jovan’s takes to stand as a full preview and move on to the breakdown.

Breakdown
Vegas Says: Clippers -5.5 with 65 percent of the action going to Lob City. The Over/Under is 204 with 71 percent laying on the over, obviously expecting another fast-paced game.
Hollinger Says: Clippers -7.5
Great Big Sea say: Way, hey hey, it’s just an ordinary day, and it’s all your state of mind.

Blake Says: Actually, I kind of agree with my dudes Great Big Sea. It is all your state of mind. Maybe you see the fourth quarter from the Sacramento game and figure an angry team will come out ready to take it to the Clips. Or perhaps you see a loss of any sort to the Kings as an indictment of the team’s actual talent level, or indicative of a level of fatigue settling in. You could also split the difference, like I’m doing, and just realize that the Clippers are a really good team, the Raptors are merely “good,” and there is no answer for Blake Griffin because he has the greatest combination of first name and offensive versatility in the league.

FYI, there will also be a ClipperBlog 3-on-3 preview up sometime tomorrow which I took part in. I won’t be able to throw a link in because I’ll be offline, but head over there around noon or 3 p.m. or so (I forget which) if this didn’t satiate your Raptors-Clippers preview hunger quite enough.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!