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Friday, March 30, 2012
What to watch: Clippers-Trail Blazers

By Arash Markazi

Clippers (29-21) vs. Portland Trailblazers (24-27) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Streaking: The Clippers are in the midst of their first three-game winning streak since Jan.26-Feb. 1 and their longest home winning streak (5) since the end of January. It’s the Clippers’ fourth win streak of at least three games this season and a win would match their longest win streak of the season of four games. The Clippers actually haven’t won five straight games since 2006. Not surprisingly the Clippers current record is their best 50-game start to a season since beginning the 2005-06 season 30-20. “The time is now,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “The guys have to make a move now and they know that.”

2. Billups back: Since Chauncey Billups went down with a season-ending Achilles injury last month, the Clippers have not been the same. They were 15-7 while averaging 99.4 points and shooting 46.3 percent from the field with him. Without him they are 14-14 while averaging 95.2 points and shooting 43.9 percent. Bilups, however, has made a difference since he has returned to the bench in a suit. The Clippers are 5-0 with him on the sidelines at home and 0-3 without him on the road since his injury prevents him from traveling. “I told Chauncey he’s got to stop being selfish and come on the road with us too,” Chris Paul said. “It’s no secret that we’re undefeated when he’s there. Me and Mo [Williams] told him so his Achilles doesn’t swell up on the flight he needs to jump on a Greyhound bus a day before we play and get to where we’re going.”

3. Ides of March: The month of March was always seen as a make or break month for the Clippers. They are playing 20 games in 31 days, the most played by an NBA team in 45 years. So far, the Clippers haven’t exactly risen to the challenge. They are 9-9 in March and have had three losing streaks; including losing three games in three days on the road last week. The Clippers, however, have responded well following their fruitless back-to-back-to-back with three straight wins at home by an average margin of 15 points; their most dominant stretch of game so far this season.

4. Playoffs? Playoffs?: Going into Friday night’s game against the Trail Blazers the Clippers are in sole possession of the fourth seed in the Western Conference and are just 1.5 games behind the Lakers for first place in the Pacific Division. A win against Portland would put them just a single game back with a game against the Lakers coming up on April 4. As good as the Clippers look right now in the standings they are less than three games away from dropping down to the nine seed and completely out of the playoffs. “If you lose a game you drop to eighth, ninth or even tenth. If you win a game you might shoot up to third,” Caron Butler said. “I don’t want to look at [the standings]. I just want to win games and look at it at the end of April.”

5. Lob City: Despite going a couple of games this month without having one of their signature lob dunks, the Clippers lead the NBA this season with with 78 alley-oop dunks. The Lakers are second with 68 and the Knicks are third with 58. Chris Paul's total of 43 alley-oop assists this season ranks him first in the NBA after he only had 12 assists on lobs all of last season with the New Orleans Hornets. Blake Griffin leads the NBA this season with 140 dunks and DeAndre Jordan is fourth with 110 dunks. They are the only teammates ranked in the top five this season.