Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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30-47

44-33
FedEx Forum
April 5th, 2011, 5:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Mike Conley
 Eric Gordon SG Tony Allen
Jamario Moon
SF Sam Young
Blake Griffin
PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan
C Marc Gasol

 

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Just when we thought the Clippers would not be competitive again this season, they came out and played one of their best halves of the year Saturday night against the Thunder. They erased a 12 point half time deficit and won by 8 against a team that had been red hot since the beginning of April Tonight they start their final road trip of the season, a four game swing taking them to Memphis, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Houston. It remains to be seen if they can play with the same sort of energy on the road that they had at home in the second half on Saturday. It goes without saying that Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon will need to have big games tonight. Griffin has been playing well lately, and although Gordon has been in a bit of a slump, he did swish the massive three pointer that broke a 92-92 tie in the final minute against the Thunder. Chris Kaman has missed the last two games with a virus - after two more days off, one presumes that he'll play in this game, but I have not heard anything definitive. Ryan Gomes missed the last game as well, with sore knees, and I have to think that the Clippers will just shut him down for the rest of the season with absolutely no reason to put him out there. Jamario Moon has gotten the start in the last two games. Al-Farouq Aminu looked good at small forward against the Thunder.

The Antagonist:

Way back on January 19th, the Clippers had raised hopes to the point that someone was actually stupid enough to write a detailed analysis of how they might reach the .500 mark by the end of the season. It didn't seem likely by any means, but maybe it was possible, and maybe it would be enough to get them into the playoffs if some of the other Western Conference teams faltered down the stretch. Well, part two of the plan worked to perfection - the Suns and Jazz, who were playoff teams last season and were in the top 9 in the Western Conference at the time, are now below .500, leaving one spot available that was taken back in mid-January. In fact, the first part of the plan has worked out as well - for the Grizzlies. On January 19th, the Grizzlies were 19-23 and the Clippers were 16-25, a mere two game difference in the loss column. The Clippers were about the hottest team in the NBA at the time, having won 11 of 15 games, while over the prior 16 games the Grizz had won just 7 games. So logically, which team seemed poised to make a run at the playoffs? Since then, the Clippers are 14-22 - a respectable mark given where the team had been, but far from what they needed to make any sort of postseason push. The Grizzlies on the other hand have gone 25-10 since January 19, a .714 winning percentage that I think I can safely say was completely unanticipated by even the biggest Memphis proponent. The fact that they have done it for the most part without Rudy Gay, their second highest paid player and second leading scorer, is all the more unexpected.

The Subplots

  • Turnovers. The Grizzlies lead the league in steals and in turnovers forced. The Clippers are second in the league in turnovers committed. It's a very, very bad combination, and it manifested itself in ugly fashion in the first two games. The Clippers committed 27 and 19 turnovers in the first two games, an absurd average of 23 turnovers per game against Memphis this season. It will not be easy to win in Memphis tonight - it will be impossible if LAC does not take care of the ball.
  • Winless. It's been mentioned before (beaten to death, really) that the Clippers have some wins against some good teams this season. For what it's worth, only two West teams (and four East teams) have completed sweeps against the Clippers to this point. Portland (4-0) and Utah (3-0) did not lose to the Clippers this season. Memphis is up 2-0, but the Clippers have two more chances to keep the brooms in the closet, tonight and on the last night of the season eight days hence. Dallas is currently 3-0 against the Clippers this season with the final meeting coming up on Friday. After getting several monkeys off their backs this season, ending long losing streaks to the likes of San Antonio and New Orleans and Phoenix, the last thing the Clippers want is to start another losing streak against a conference foe.
  • Playoffs. Given how well they've been playing (25 and 10 since mid January) exactly who is going to want to face the Grizzlies in the playoffs? If they end up facing either the Spurs or the Mavericks in the first round (and either is possible, since the Grizz and Hornets are tied at 7 and 8, while 6th place Portland is just a game ahead), it would be tempting to bet on Memphis, given the way they are playing today, and the fact that the Texas teams are limping into the postseason. It also helps that Memphis is 3-1 against the Mavs this season, and 2-2 against San Antonio, having won two straight against the Spurs. 
  • Playoff history. Of course, if they do make the playoffs (and it certainly appears that they will), the Grizzlies will have to face their dubious history. The franchise has never won a playoff game. That's game, not series. In their 15 year NBA history stretching back to their expansion days in Vancouver, the franchise is 0 for the playoffs. The Pau Gasol Grizzlies made the playoffs three straight seasons from 2004 through 2006, but were swept 0-4 each time. That third and last trip in 2006, the Clippers played a part in their demise. Recall that the bizarre NBA seeding at the time matched the sixth place team with the third best division winner - so the Clippers tanked their way to sixth used their first round home court advantage to eliminate Denver, while Memphis was once again swept out of the postseason by the mighty Dallas Mavericks, with the second best record in the NBA but somehow the fourth seed in the Conference.
  • Grizzlies revenge. Memphis seems to be exacting their revenge for that 2006 playoff fiasco on the Clippers at this point. The Grizzlies have now won three games in a row against LA, in a series in which the Clippers had won 11 of the previous 19. Each of the last three wins was excruciating in its own way. The first game was of course the broken pipe game last January, in which the FedExForum in Memphis was evacuated while the Clippers held a 13 point lead. Memphis mounted a comeback after play was resumed, and that game was widely credited with scuttling the Clippers' 09-10 season. This season, LA thoroughly outplayed Memphis in the first meeting, only to lose by a point in a game in which the Clippers turned the ball over 27 times. Then last month Memphis simply manhandled the Clippers in one of LA's worst losses this season, a 105-82 rout.
  • Hard to explain. How is it that Memphis is on a pace to win 47 games, and playing as well as almost any team in the league right now? How did they improve over last season's team? Well, they benched their lottery pick from 2008, and then tried to trade him just to get rid of him, only to have the trade rescinded at the last minute. They managed to dump their 2009 lottery pick (second overall, behind a guy named Blake Griffin). Gay, their second highest paid player, got hurt. Marc Gasol's numbers are off significantly from last season. In short, it's pretty damn hard to figure how this team has gotten better rather than getting worse. Former Clipper Zach Randolph is having one of the most productive years of his career, but he was awfully good last season as well. Point guard Mike Conley has been better, but not great. So what is it? Two of Memphis' most productive players are guys who were not necessarily expected to be major contributors, Tony Allen and Darrell Arthur, who are both having career years (I'm talking real outliers, as in Allen's PER last season and for his career was around 14, and he's at 19 this season, while Arthur has gone from career PER around 11 in his first two seasons to 16+ this season). They go deep into their bench, everyone plays hard, they play good defense, they force a lot of turnovers. But still - on paper, it's pretty hard to figure how this team is 25-10 since mid-January.
  • Mayo. For two seasons, meetings between the Grizzlies and the Clippers were an occasion to compare and contrast Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo, drafted 3rd and 7th respectively in the 2008 draft. But since Gordon made Team USA this summer while Mayo was among the first cuts, it hasn't been a fair fight. It's easy to forget that Mayo was an early favorite for Rookie of the Year in 08-09 before eventually coming in second to Derrick Rose, in a field that also included Gordon and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love and Brook Lopez. Now Rose is an MVP candidate, four of those guys are gold medalists, three of them are All Stars and Mayo is... a (reluctant) sixth man. For what it's worth, Gordon used to win his battles with Mayo, and has had some huge games against Memphis. He's averaged 24 points in his last three games against Memphis and was out during the last meeting, which may explain the lopsided score at least in part.
  • Tony Allen. Allen, who appeared to be no more than a role player in his six seasons in Boston, has become a bigger and bigger part of the Memphis team as the season has progressed. Since the All Star break, he is playing almost 29 minutes  and scoring 14 points per game, while shooting almost 56% from the field (he's a career 48% shooter). Given that it was his defense that kept him in the league for six seasons, the new found offense is all gravy. It was Allen's defense that turned around the first meeting between these teams, way back in December in LA. He had 4 steals in 16 minutes that night, as Memphis stole a game that the Clippers should certainly have won. He had another 3 steals in the second meeting. Allen's defense on Eric Gordon tonight will be a key to this game.
  • Demon Deacon reunion. This isn't my usual type of bullet, but I happened to notice that Wake Forest teammates Al-Farouq Aminu and Ish Smith will be going up against each other tonight.
  • Battier Back. At the trade deadline the Grizzlies brought Shane Battier back to Memphis, where he started his career and played for his first five seasons. It cost the Grizz Hasheem Thabeet, the second pick in the 2009 draft. Thabeet was taken just behind Blake Griffin, but has not worked out quite as well as Griffin. Since rejoining the Grizz Battier has struggled - in 18 games he's averaging just 4 points per game shooting 39% from the field. Of course, he's not on the team to score but rather to play defense. He'll be a free agent this summer, and he could conceivably be a candidate for the Clippers small forward position.
  • Zach and Blake. Randolph and Griffin are both members of a very exclusive club, the 20-10 club (20 points per game, 10 rebounds per game). Only two other players are in that fraternity this season - Dwight Howard and Kevin Love. Zach and Blake play the same position, and put up similar numbers, but other than that, they couldn't be much more different. Griffin is the most athletic power forward in the league, while Randolph may be the least athletic. Randolph gets his rebounds below the rim, using his size and instincts to track them down. On offense, he has a soft touch around the basket and good range on his jump shot. He's got some of the best hands in the league, which serves him well both rebounding and scoring. Randolph won the last meeting in a landslide - Zach scored 30 points on 12 for 18 shooting, while Blake scored a season low 8 - the only time this season he's been kept below double digits.
  • Bounce back Blake? It's a safe bet that Griffin remembers how ineffectual he was in the last meeting, and that he'll be motivated to play better. Of course, none of the Clippers played well in that game. This may be a break for the Clippers - they need to find additional motivation where they can, and on the final road trip of a season in its final weeks, avenging an ugly loss may be the best motivation they can hope to find.
  • Grizzlies Going Forward. The Grizzlies re-signed Gay to a maximum deal this summer, and then gave point guard Mike Conley a 5 year/$40M extension as well. Now they have two other starters, Randolph and center Marc Gasol, who will be free agents this summer and will also be looking to get paid. Gasol is a restricted free agent, and the Knicks are purportedly interested in him, while Randolph will be an unrestricted free agent (assuming such things exist in the new CBA). Battier will be an unrestricted free agent as well.To complicate matters, O.J. Mayo will be eligible for an extension, and will be a restricted free agent himself in another summer. The Grizzlies have built a nice little team that almost made the playoffs last season and is almost certainly headed for the postseason this year - but can they afford to keep them all together in small market Memphis?
  • Three point shooting. The Grizzlies are a poor three point shooting team, especially without Rudy Gay. With Gay out of the lineup, Conley and Mayo are the only two who make more than 30% from deep. As a team the Grizzlies make fewer than a third of their threes, which is fourth worst in the league (just behind the Clippers). This theoretically bodes well for the Clippers, since they do better in games where they don't get killed from deep.
  • Superstar for one game: Tony Allen. I have a bad feeling he's going to have a big game.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    The world has room to make a bear feel free;
    The universe seems cramped to you and me.
    Robert Frost - The Bear.
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.
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