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Keys to Blazers evening series with Monday win over Clippers

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Mason Plumlee puts up a shot in Game 3.Five things the Trail Blazers will try to do at Moda Center in Monday night’s Game 4 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers …

Ride Mason Plumlee’s strong play the past two games.

Portland’s 6-11 center was dormant in the opener, managing only four points on 1-for-6 shooting to go with five rebounds in 19 minutes while allowing L.A. center DeAndre Jordan to run wild with 18 points, 12 boards and four blocked shots.

“'Mase' has been a big part of our success this season as far as a playmaker, and he had no assists,” coach Terry Stotts said Sunday. “I told him we needed him to be a playmaker and physical rebounder. Those were the two things lacking in Game 1.”

Plumlee collected 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in Game 2, then was a difference-maker in Saturday night’s Game-3 victory, totaling six points and providing career playoff highs in rebounds (21) and assists (nine).

With the Clippers double-teaming Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and blitzing pick-and-rolls, Plumlee often wound up the recipient of a pass in the high post area. It gave him the opportunity to find the open man and pad his assists total.

“I was (like) a point guard with a good situation,” Plumlee said. “We had four-on-three every time we hit it to the pocket.”

Twice late in Game 3, the recipient of Plumlee’s passing was 6-9 forward Moe Harkless, who worked the baseline and then moved in for the kill.

“In Game 2, Moe was at the 3-point line and hit a couple of 3’s,” Plumlee said. “When he saw the matchup with (6-5) Jamal Crawford (in Game 3), he figured he could get to the basket more and finish around the rim.

“A couple of those, I was going up to shoot, then I’d see him at the last second. I figured his layup was better than me trying to rebound it.”

The Clippers may choose to eschew the double-team and keep Jordan at home more so he can keep a closer eye on Plumlee.

“They have a great coaching staff,” Lillard said. “I’m sure they’ll make adjustments just like we did. But they trap our pick-and-rolls. It seems like that’s the main thing they want to take away. Unless they go away from that, I don’t see how they can take away Mase from being that guy in the middle for us.

“We’re not playing a numbers or stats game. We’re going to go with what works for us. CJ and I have to play more off the ball and depend on Mase to be our assist guy in the middle of their defense. Mase is really good as a playmaker. When they trap, we trust giving him the ball in the middle and allowing him to make the next play.”

Improve their 3-point shooting.

The Blazers shot .370 from 3-point range during the regular season, fourth-best in the NBA. They’re shooting .259 from beyond the arc in the series and have been consistently lousy — 10 for 30 (.333) in the opener, 5 for 26 (.192) in Game 2, and 6 for 25 (.240) in Game 3.

The Clippers, who were 11th in the league in opponents’ 3-point percentage in the regular season, have done a good job guarding the line in the series. But the Blazers have also missed plenty of open looks.

Aside from Gerald Henderson (2 for 4), no Blazers who has taken more than one attempt has shot well from beyond the stripe. Lillard is 6 for 22, McCollum 5 for 17, Harkless 2 for 10, Al-Farouq Aminu 4 for 20 and Allen Crabbe 0 for 5.

The Blazers have averaged 27 3-point attempts in the series, and Stotts sounds as if that strategy won’t change.

“I believe in the percentages,” he said. “It’s going to come around. (In Game 3) we were 6 for 25. We’re due to break out from the 3-point line.”

Lillard and McCollum won’t get shy, either.

“You just have to continue to shoot,” Lillard said. “We have faith that our shots are going to fall from the perimeter.”

Turn around the disparity in bench scoring.

During the regular season, the Clippers were tied for third in the league in bench scoring (38.0 points per game) but only average in offensive efficiency (14th) and defensive efficiency (15th). The Portland reserves were tied for 16th in bench scoring (34.9), but sixth in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency.

The Clippers have had the upper hand in the series, though, outscoring their Blazer counterparts 106-64. Portland had the advantage 42-33 in the first game, but the Clippers bench owned Game 2 (43-10) and Game 3 (30-12).

Henderson had 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting in the opener but has been ineffective offensively in the last two games, scoring a combined six points on 3-for-13 shooting. Crabbe, Portland’s No. 3 scorer in the regular season at 10.3 points per game with solid field goal (.459) and 3-point (.394) percentages, has been a complete nonentity in the series. Crabbe is 2 for 12 from the field, 0 for 5 from 3-point range and has six points in 62 minutes.

“These last two games, I just haven’t found the touch, but I’m going to stay aggressive,” Henderson said Sunday. “I’m confident in what I do. I always feel like the next shot is going to go in. With A.C., same thing. He’s a better shooter than me. It’s only a matter of time before he gets going.

“We have a good unit coming off the bench, but (the Clippers) play good defense. That’s a good defensive team. They have some long defenders. They have guys with good instincts. They help each other. You have to work to score. That’s probably why we haven’t played like we played most of the season, but I’m not worried about what’s to come.”

Hope Jordan and Blake Griffin continue their trend offensively the past two games.

When the Clippers are on offense, Jordan stands at the foul line with no intention of shooting if and when he gets the ball. He almost never takes a pass at the high post and makes a post-up move, scoring only off of put-backs or lob passes. Plumlee is able to sit back and provide help defense at the rim, and it’s a factor in the Blazer center grabbing 31 rebounds the past two games.

Griffin backed Aminu down several times and used his strength on his way to a 19-point, 12-rebound, six-assist performance in the opener. Since then, the Clippers’ All-Star power forward has been pedestrian, settling for jump shots or passing on shots altogether. In the past two games, Griffin has 24 points on 9-for-28 shooting.

In those games, Portland owns a 76-74 advantage in points in the paint. The Blazers can live with that against a team that doesn’t shoot a lot 3’s.

Meet the Clippers’ increased energy in Game 4.

The team that loses the previous game usually comes out with more fire the next time out. The Clippers have plenty of incentive, knowing if they can win Game 4, they can close out the series at home Wednesday night.

“They fought hard in Game 3,” Lillard said. “It wasn’t an easy game. We had to do a lot of things well to win. It’s only going to be that much harder to do it again against a team as good as that one. We have to understand the things we did well and try to do those things better, and also understand they’re going to come with it, that it’s going to be a lot tougher (Monday night).”


Twitter: @kerryeggers