Clippers vs. Memphis - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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9-6

10-7
STAPLES Center
January 26th, 2012, 7:30 PM
TNT, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Mike Conley
Chauncey Billups SG Tony Allen
Caron Butler
SF Rudy Gay
Blake Griffin
PF Marreese Speights
DeAndre Jordan
C Marc Gasol

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The two teams split four meeting last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are coming off a tough loss to the Lakers Wednesday night; the Grizzlies are coming off a loss in Portland that snapped their seven game winning streak. So both teams will be looking to get back on the winning track. The good news for the Clippers is that Chris Paul returned to the lineup after missing five games with a strained hamstring. Paul played 27 minutes and showed no particular ill-effects of the injury (though the 10 day layoff did leave a thin layer of rust on his jump shot). It remains to be seen how the leg feels the day after NBA competition, or if it will be ready for a back to back. The Clippers played well against the Lakers -- the Lakers just happened to win. Blake Griffin had 26 points and 9 rebounds. Caron Butler and Mo Williams both scored well and both have been in a very good groove recently. In fact, all of the key Clippers have been playing well with the exception of Chauncey Billups. The key to this game will be limiting turnovers. The Grizzlies thrive on forcing turnovers and the easy points that come from them. Take care of the ball, win the game. In that regard, you have to like this Clippers team (currently sixth in the league in turnover percentage) to last year's team (last in the league in turnover percentage).

The Antagonist:

When Memphis lost Rudy Gay just before the All Star Break last season, most folks figured the Grizzlies would fade down the stretch. Instead, they won 15 of their final 25 games without Gay, beat the number one seed Spurs in the playoffs, and then took the Thunder to seven games in the Western Conference Semis before finally succumbing. Similarly, when Zach Randolph suffered a partially torn MCL on New Year's day, most people thought the Grizzlies would struggle to stay competitive this season. But after struggling early (the Grizzlies with 3-6 after 9 games), Memphis has gotten it's act together and is about the hottest team in the NBA. Their just ended seven game winning streak featured three road wins, a win over Chicago, and a win in which they erased a 20 point third quarter deficit to beat Golden State by one. As they did last season, Memphis thrives on their pressure defense. They lead the league in defensive turnover percentage, and those turnovers fuel their offense. Without Randolph, it's much harder for Memphis to find points in half court sets, but as long as they are forcing turnovers, it doesn't matter.

The Subplots

  • Billups ice cold. Chauncey Billups is in the throes of a terrible shooting slump. He has made just 2 of 17 shots in his last two games, and is 23 for 77 in the last six (that's under 30%). He is just 1 for his last 9 three pointers, but before that he had been red-hot from deep. The Clippers need Chauncey to make open shots, as he will continue to get them playing off of Griffin and Paul.
  • Memphis bench. Last season, Memphis was one of the deeper teams in the league, bringing Shane Battier, O.J. Mayo and Darrell Arthur off the bench. Now Battier is in Miami, Arthur is out for the season, and even youngster Xavier Henry had to be dealt to acquire Marreese Speights as the emergency power forward in the absence of Randolph and Arthur. That leaves Mayo and a bunch of guys you've probably never heard of as the second unit for Memphis. But you can safely assume that Lionel Hollins will have them playing hard and looking for steals.
  • Happy to be in Memphis. Marreese Speights had to be a very happy camper when he found out on January 4th that he'd been traded from Philadelphia to Memphis. In four games with the Sixers this season, he hadn't played a minute. In Memphis, he was immediately installed as the starting power forward. Speights was relatively productive his first two seasons in Philly, but had run afoul of new coach Doug Collins last season. Ironically, while Speights is getting the best opportunity of his young career right now, he's hardly seized the day -- he's getting plenty of shots for Memphis, but shooting only 41% after averaging around 49% his first three seasons.
  • The other brother. A night after battling Pau Gasol, the Clippers are now up against his brother Marc. The Grizzlies gave him a near max contract of 4/$58M in December and he has responded with some great play. He's currently ninth in the league in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots, averaging career highs in both disciplines. He's also an efficient scorer and a clever passer. He's not as skilled as his brother, but no one that size really is. He'll be a difficult matchup for DeAndre Jordan tonight, and DJ will have to resist the temptation to go for his myriad feints and fakes.
  • Griffin. Speights was persona non grata in Philadelphia in large part because of his lackluster defense. Griffin should feast on him if Memphis decides to play the matchup straight across. Hollins may however decide to cross-match and put Gasol on Griffin. In Portland Tuesday, LaMarcus Aldridge torched Speights early, but Hollins switched Gasol on to him and managed to slow him down some. If the Grizzlies do decide to put Gasol on Griffin, he can use his length and high basketball IQ to bother Blake, but at the same time Griffin will have a huge quickness advantage. No matter how you slice it, Griffin should have a significant matchup advantage in this game. In the final game of the season last year against the Grizzlies, Griffin recorded a triple double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
  • Rudy Gay. Gay leads the Grizz in scoring at over 18 per game. But Rudy's never been a particularly efficient scorer, and this season he's been worse than usual. His True Shooting Percentage of just over 50% is not good, and ranks in the bottom 10 in the league for players averaging over 15 points per game. His three point shooting, free throw shooting, and rate at which he gets to the line are all down from his career levels, basically killing his efficiency numbers.
  • Tony Allen. If there's a better perimeter defender in the league, I don't know who it is. I honestly haven't watched the Grizzlies enough to know if they'll put Allen on Chris Paul. He tends to defend the oppositions best wing, whether it's a small forward or a shooting guard -- I haven't seen him defend point guards in the past. But basically, whoever Allen is defending, just write him out of the offense. He's that good. Fortunately for the Clippers they have enough scorers on the perimeter that they can probably afford to have one of them shut down.
  • Tired Memphis. The Grizzlies had Wednesday off, but they've had a heavy slate of games lately. The played four games in five nights before Wednesday, so this will be their fifth game in seven nights. In a normal NBA season, it doesn't get worse than that. Memphis also been traveling a lot -- this will be their sixth different city in their last six game. The Clippers of course are playing the second game of back to backs, following an emotional and draining loss to the Lakers.
  • Turnover, turnovers, turnovers. I can't emphasize this enough. I don't see any way the Grizzlies beat the Clippers provided the Clippers take care of the ball. If they don't get those extra possessions and easy buckets, there's just no way the Grizzlies can score enough in the half court to win.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    grizzly

    adj. cooler than cool, hotter than hot, possessing a quality of complete and utter awesomeness

    We are so grizzly!
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.
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