Clippers Vs. Grizzlies - Game Preview - Can the Clippers Get Well on Home Cooking?

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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26-21

25-20
STAPLES Center
March 24th, 2012, 12:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Mike Conley
Nick Young SG Tony Allen
Caron Butler
SF Rudy Gay
Blake Griffin
PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan
C Marc Gasol

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

We're going to have to stop calling games "must-win" -- they can't all be "must-win" games, though it does start to feel that way. Let's just say this game is of the utmost importance. Utah beat Denver last night, and now the Jazz, Nuggets and Rockets have identical 26-22 records -- which is what the Clippers will be if they lose today. That would make nine teams at 26-22 or better in the Western Conference, and it turns out that only eight teams get to go to the post-season. The Clippers might have thought they could stave off this reality a little longer -- I did at any rate -- but that day is here. Lose today, find yourself just a tie-breaker away from missing the post-season, not to mention that the Clippers are clearly playing worse than any of the other teams in that group at the present time. But win today and the Clippers are by themselves in fourth place. It's that tight -- a game or two from home court advantage in the first round to out of the playoffs. I do see a glimmer of hope right now, and it's this -- the five game home stand that opens today with Memphis is tailor-made for getting the season back on track. Of the five teams coming to STAPLES to face the Clippers between now and the end of March, two are currently sandwiching the Clippers in the conference standings and two more are lurking just outside the top nine. The fifth game is against New Orleans Monday, the team that handed them an embarrassing defeat (and delivered a dirty foul) on Thursday. If the Clippers have lacked a sense of urgency, have wanted for motivation, that should not be a problem on this homestand. If they can't get up for the teams trying to knock them out of the playoffs and/or for a revenge game, then something is wrong with the players. There should not be any need for Vinny Del Negro to provide a motivational speech before any of these games; the motivation is self-evident -- it's survival.

The Antagonist:

Here's an interesting fact I dug up about the Grizzlies today. In the last two seasons, they are 32-31 when their star forwards Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay are both healthy and in the lineup. In that same time frame, they are 39-25 when one or the other is hurt. The Grizzlies thrived when Gay missed the end of last season and the playoffs, and they've done quite well this season as Randolph missed 37 games. But since Randolph returned to action last week, Memphis has lost 3 of 4. It's probably just a coincidence, a random series of events, that has caused this -- but still, it's interesting, right? Is it possible that Gay and Randolph -- two high scoring, high usage forwards who need the ball in their hands to be effective, aren't actually very effective together? The Memphis starting lineup, on paper at least, is ridiculously good. In addition to Gay and Randolph, there's All-Star center Marc Gasol, Mike Conley an ultra quick point guard enjoying his best season and leading the league in steals, and Tony Allen, in my opinion the best perimeter defender in the league. That's a scary talented group -- again, on paper. For some reason, the team has actually done better when that group has not started together. Memphis is absolutely at their best when they are generating turnovers -- limit the turnovers, and you make it much harder on them to score. Simply put, while it's always important to protect the ball, it essentially counts double against the Grizzlies because their defense fuels their offense more than any other team in the league.

The Subplots

  • Today's Special Guest Recapper - Citizen Newton Pham.
  • The Questionable Blogger. Check out today's questionable blogger, Tom Lorenzo from Straight Outta Vancouver. Also be sure to head over there to see my answers to their questions.
  • Key Grizzlies Metrics:
    Pace: 91.8 (14th of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 102.9 (21st of 30)
    Def Rtg: 101.2 (8th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.0 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 107.6 (6th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 106.4 (23rd of 30)
  • Noon tip. For some reason this is a noon start instead of 12:30.
  • Vinny still standing. The chatter got really loud there, but when the Clippers take the court today at STAPLES Center, Vinny Del Negro will still be the coach. I feel like this means that he'll be the coach for the rest of the season. It's awfully late in the season to be making a change with 19 games left -- it's even later with 18 games left. If the only thing that will make you happy right now is for VDN to be fired, you better be prepared to be disappointed. Of course the Clippers are nothing if not unpredictable, so who knows.
  • Grizzlies struggling too. We're focused on the slumping Clippers of course, but the Grizzlies have been struggling just as much if not more, at least over the last two weeks. The Grizz are 2-5 in their last 7 games, 1-4 in their last 5. All five losses were by single digits, and two of them were in overtime. The bad news for the Clippers is that the Grizzlies need this win just as badly as LA does.
  • Shooting woes. As I detailed in this post, a major factor in the Clippers' current malaise is the simple fact that they can't seem to shoot anymore. The Clippers are simply going to have to start hitting some shots if they hope to maintain a playoff spot.
  • A tiny bit of good news? After their just completed 9 games in 12 days stretch (they were 3-6), the Clippers are no longer a team that has played a light schedule overall. In fact, the Clippers have played slightly more than the average -- and only six teams have played more games. That means that the Clippers' workload won't be any greater than any other team's for the remainder of the season. It's still intense -- but it's the same for everyone now, and for the Clippers it's certainly less busy than the last few weeks have been. They have no back-to-back-to-backs left, and only five more back-to-backs in the last 19 games. That's still a lot for a normal season, but it's nothing compared to their recent schedule. They played on no days rest six times in three weeks from March 1 to March 22; they do it five more times the remaining five weeks of the season.
  • Turnovers. I'm pegging the magic number at 15. When the Grizzlies have come up with 15 or more turnovers, they have gone 21-11. When that number is 14 or fewer, the Grizz are 4-9. Happily for the Clippers, they are still second in the league in lowest turnover percentage. The Clippers average a little over 13 turnovers per game; the Grizz generate almost 18 from their opponents. Something's gotta give. The team that stays closer to their average will have a major leg up in this game.
  • Steals leaders. This game features the two leading thieves in the NBA this season. Point guards Mike Conley of the Grizzlies and Chris Paul of the Clippers are 1 and 2 in steals per game, with Conley just under 2.5 per, and Paul at 2.4.
  • Z-Bo and Griffin. When these two teams met in Memphis a little more than a year ago, former Clipper Zach Randolph demolished Blake Griffin. Did Z-Bo have a little extra motivation, going against the youngster who made him expendable in LA? Maybe. Whatever the reason, Z-Bo outscored Blake 30 to 8, and outrebounded him 12-9. The 8 points tied a career low for Griffin -- at least it did until Thursday in New Orleans when he scored just 7. Blake has plenty incentive therefore, both to bounce back from Thursday and to bounce back from that very bad meeting with Randolph last season. As it happens, Blake also had his second career triple double against the Grizzlies in the final game of last season -- but the Grizzlies already had the playoff spot locked in for that game, and rested Randolph among other starters.
  • Memphis bench. Last season, Memphis was one of the deeper teams in the league, featuring Shane Battier, O.J. Mayo and Darrell Arthur in the second unit. 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 (Henry was a Clipper killer in their loss to New Orleans Thursday). That leaves Mayo (and now Speights) and a bunch of guys you've probably never heard of as the second unit for Memphis. Oh, and now some guy named Gilbert Arenas.
  • Arenas. The Grizzlies took a chance on the former All-Star this week. He appeared in his first game of the season on Thursday night in Portland, registering 2 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in 12 minutes.
  • The other Gasol. One Gasol made the Western Conference All-Star team this season, and it wasn't Pau. The Grizzlies gave younger brother Marc a near max contract of 4/$58M in December and he has responded with some great play. He's currently 11th in the league in rebounding and 7th 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. In the first meeting between these teams this year, Speights picked up 3 quick fouls and was basically never heard from again -- he played 8 minutes. The Grizzlies played most of that game without a real power forward on the floor, which is an interesting decision when facing Blake Griffin. It should be a very different situation today.
  • 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.
  • Williams out. Mo Williams will not play in this game because of the big toe he injured on Thursday. X-rays were negative and an MRI revealed no serious damage, so at this point he's listed as day to day. In Williams' absence, the Clippers need Nick Young and Randy Foye to have good games. Young is shooting 32% as a Clipper and Foye was 1-14 from the field on Thursday -- the worst non-zero shooting percentage in any NBA game this season.
  • Simmons back. Bobby Simmons will likely be signed and back with the team for today's game. He previous played on two 10 day contracts. When the second of those expired, the Clippers waived Simmons, on the hopes that something better might come along off the waiver wire. But the team prefers Simmons to the likes of Terrence Williams and Boris Diaw and J.J. Hickson, so he'll be back. League rules require that he be signed for the remainder of the season at this point.
  • Memphis Tams. I've never quite figured out where they keep the schedule of ABA throwback nights, but please FSM don't let the Grizzlies be wearing those hideous green and yellow Tams unis today.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    grizzly

    adj. A word to describe ones deteriorated state of self grooming. A lapse in self maintenance.

    Man, you've gotta get a haircut, you're lookin' mighty grizzly!
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.

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