1. Can Damian Lillard outplay or at least match Chris Paul?
Don’t over think No. 1 on this list. There were a lot of things that got the blame last year when the Blazers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies last year in the playoffs. But the No. 1 reason the Blazers were such an easy out was Damian Lillard being so clearly outplayed by Mike Conley, until CJ McCollum accidentally broke Conley’s face.
The Clippers have been beaten in the playoffs before but usually when the opposing point guard managed to play Paul, coming off the heels of another All-NBA caliber season at the age of 30, to a standstill or better.
Lillard’s history against Paul is not a good one.
Lillard has averaged 16.5 points and shot only 38 percent from the field, salvaged by 38 percent from 3, but weighed down by almost four turnovers and worst of all: a 3-9 record.
Lillard set the world on fire in his first career playoff series, capped off by the greatest shot in Blazers history, but he has struggled in the postseason since.
If the Blazers are to walk out of Staples Center with a split or better, Lillard must rise to Paul’s level, if not above it.
2. Can the small ball Blazers keep it together on the glass?
Moe Harkless has suddenly become a key figure and the role of Al-Farouq Aminu, a starter for the whole season, has grown in his move to power forward.
But can they, and the Blazers as a group, keep the rebounding battle respectable.
The Blazers can win this series without winning the rebounding battle because if you make enough shots, the rebounds don’t matter.
We can’t expect the Blazers to suddenly start winning like the Grizzlies, but the Clippers are the second-worst rebounding team in the league.
Jordan and Griffin will get theirs but the Blazers need to keep it close, if not edge the Clippers out.
If the Blazers can create match-up problems but rebound, especially on the defensive end, they’ll have a real chance.
3. We know CJ McCollum can step up in the playoffs, but who will join him?
I don’t think we need to worry about CJ McCollum producing. But who else is going to join him?
They have had a rotating cast of characters and each of them have had moments. Crabbe in the fall, Henderson in winter, Harkless in spring and Ed Davis for all seasons.
And although the little things matter more in the playoffs, the Blazers need other guys to knock down shots.
Al-Farouq Aminu has often been called upon late in games and has gotten open shots in key situations.
Against the Boston Celtics on Mar. 31, Aminu had 28 points and knocked down open threes that will likely be there in the playoffs.
The way Boston guarded the Blazers guards is a blueprint teams will follow and making shots from the outside will be a deciding factor.
The bench has been a strength since Christmas and outside Jamal Crawford, the Clippers don’t have a whole lot.
A rotating cast of characters making impact plays is a must for the Blazers.
4. Can they get DeAndre Jordan off the court?
DeAndre Jordan is a bad free-throw shooter. But he’s also a game-changing presence for the Clippers and the Blazers will almost certainly employ every tactic available to limit his effectiveness. One card up the Blazers’ sleeve, that won’t make the game completely unwatchable, could be to push the game to the extremes, put Aminu at center and dare Rivers to not be tempted to match. The Clippers are 13 points per 100 possessions worse when Jordan is on the bench according to NBA.com.
The Hack-A is one way to encourage Doc Rivers to take him out, but the Blazers also have some interesting roster options thanks to an advantage in wing depth. With a wing in Aminu who plays like a big man, the personnel match-ups in this series could be some of the best in any of the first round series.
5. If Blake Griffin catches fire, what do the Blazers do?
Paul has been the leader for the Clippers all season, but the Clippers are truly at their best when Blake Griffin is the best player on the court. He hasn’t been that in his recent return from multiple injuries, including a broken shooting hand.
The Blazers are loathe to double team even the best post scorers, but if Griffin is a game-changing force finds his stride in the series, what do they do?
Double teaming a gifted passer like Griffin will lead to open looks for JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and Paul.
Aminu has been Portland’s best post defender and will have the challenge of chasing Griffin all over the court and staying out of foul trouble.
Players with athleticism and length like Harkless and even Noah Vonleh will get a chance if fouls become a problem for Aminu.
All the Blazers will carry an important load, but those tasked with guarding Griffin at different times are among the most important jobs in this series.