|2011/2012 NBA Regular Season|
|April 9th, 2012, 5:00 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM|
The Back Story:
- January 26th, 2012 in Los Angeles - Clippers 98, Memphis 91 Recap Box Score
- March 24th, 2012 in Los Angeles - Clippers 101, Memphis 85 Recap Box Score
The Big Picture:
Stretch run basketball -- who knew how nerve-wracking it could be? It's amazing the frequency with which the Clippers are playing their direct competitors in the standings. For the third time in eight days, the Clippers tonight face a team either directly ahead of them or directly behind them in the playoff race, in a game with major playoff implications. The good news is that the Clippers already own the season series with the Grizzlies, having won the first two games with only tonight's game left. The bad news is that those games were in L.A. and this one is in Memphis. The other bad news is that Memphis may be the hottest team in the league right now. How else would you describe a team that has beaten Oklahoma City, Miami and Dallas in the course of a week? The Clippers are hot as well, winners of eight of their last nine games, and that run just happened to start with an impressive win over these same Grizzlies 16 days ago. We've said it before when facing the Grizz -- Memphis thrives on their pressure defense; they love to turn teams over and score easy baskets off of their steals. But they sometimes struggle to score in the half court, and if you can take care of the ball and keep them from getting those easy points, they become beatable. That's why Chris Paul is bigger in this game than ever -- if he controls the game rather than allowing the Memphis defense to control it, the Clippers should win. A win would give the Clippers the season sweep as well as moving them 2.5 games ahead of Memphis with just nine games left. But a Memphis win puts the teams even in the loss column.
Just as the Clippers started their current hot streak with a win over the Grizzlies in STAPLES Center, Memphis started theirs the very next day on the same court. A solid win over the Lakers launched the Grizzlies on a series of seven wins in nine games,and their list of victims includes the last two NBA champions, last season's NBA Finalists, and three road wins over some of the best teams in the league this season. Zach Randolph returned from injury on March 16, but Memphis lost four of their first five games after his return, including the last Clippers meeting. Then coach Lionel Hollins moved Randolph to the bench, returning to the starting lineup he'd used during Z-Bo's injury, and the team started clicking. So superficially, that seems to be the explanation for their turnaround, but without having watched the games it's difficult to say. Memphis also added Gilbert Arenas in mid-March, and after struggling early, Agent Zero has started hitting shots -- to the tune of 10 for 15 from three after missing his first 8 as a Grizzly. Talk about getting the lid off the basket. Memphis attempts the third fewest threes in the league, so adding a deep threat makes a big difference in the way you defend them. The Clippers have looked pretty good in two games against the Grizzlies this season -- it's difficult to reconcile how well Memphis has been playing the last two weeks with the team that the Clippers handled pretty easily back in March, but I have a feeling the Clippers are walking into a buzz saw. In some late news, Zach Randolph was in a minor car accident this morning in Memphis. It doesn't sound very serious, but his status for tonight's game is unknown.
- Today's Special Guest Recapper - Citizen johnnyoc21.
- The Questionable Blogger. Check out the latest Questionable Blogger, where Tom Lorenzo from Straight Outta Vancouver answered your questions. There's tons of great information in there -- better than any silly preview I can write. Also be sure to head over there to see my answers to their questions.
- Key Grizzlies Metrics:
Pace: 91.4 (16th of 30 NBA Teams)
Off Rtg: 103.2 (21st of 30)
Def Rtg: 101.6 (8th of 30)
Don't the Grizzlies FEEL like they're better than 8th in the league defensively? They wreak so much havoc defensively.
- Key Clippers Metrics:
Pace: 89.2 (27th of 30)
Off Rtg: 108.2 (3rd of 30)
Def Rtg: 105.4 (18th of 30)
The Clippers have shaved a full point off their D-Rating since they last played these guys 16 days ago. Amazing what a little 8 of 9 streak can do for your team stats. They've moved from 23rd to 18th -- and are less than a point above the league average defensively at this point. Still not good, but much MUCH better than before.
- Z-Bo in a car wreck. Apparently Zach Randolph was involved in a traffic accident this morning in Memphis. I know what you're thinking, but he was rear-ended so it sounds like it wasn't his fault. According to the Memphis paper Randolph said his "back is just a little sore" -- he skipped the team's shootaround, but his status for the game is unknown. It's hard to imagine, if he is actually sore, that the team would risk him playing on the day of the accident, but we'll see.
- The playoff race. With 22 losses for the Lakers and Clippers and 23 for Memphis, those three teams seem to have settled into the mini-race for seeds 3, 4 and 5 in the playoffs. The Spurs and Thunder are out of reach at the top, and 25 loss Houston would have to get really hot to catch this group. If you ask me for a prediction today, I'd have to say that the Grizzlies will wind up third. The Lakers have by far the most really tough games left -- four total against the Spurs and Thunder. The Clippers have this game and two more with the Thunder, and seven of ten on the road. Memphis on the other hand, has tough games left tonight and at San Antonio, but they close the season with six of their last seven games against sub-.500 teams. They have by FAR the easiest remaining schedule of the three. Which they'll need, since they've already lost all the tie-breakers with the L.A. teams. If you're curious, in a three way tie, even if the Clippers win tonight, the Lakers will still be the three seed by virtue of owning pretty much all the other tie-breakers (Division record, Conference record, etc.) as well. In case it hadn't occurred to you, if Memphis does indeed jump up to third, it sets up a first round 4-5 matchup between the L.A. teams. This much is certain -- we'll know a lot more about all of this after tonight. Let's say that my prediction is that the winner of this game will finish with the third seed.
- Playoff matchups. I've been saying in Q&As for a while now, when asked what team the Clippers want to meet in the playoffs, that the Grizzlies would be a good matchup. I've based that on the Clippers success against them, and on the fact that the Grizzlies need to force turnovers to thrive, and the Clippers usually take good care of the ball. But given what they've been doing lately, you'd have to be crazy to want to see the Grizzlies in the playoffs. Getting to third and seeing Dallas or Houston or Denver would be the best case scenario for the Clippers. Retaining home court advantage in the fourth seed is the next priority, but that almost certainly means seeing either the Grizzlies or the Lakers in the first round, neither one a picnic for the Clippers. Falling to five and having to play one of those teams WITHOUT home court advantage would be a big problem. Right now, every team -- the Lakers, the Spurs, the Thunder, everyone -- is quaking in their boots at the prospect of seeing the Grizz in a seven game series. I still think the Clippers match up really well against them -- but that doesn't mean they're not a scary, scary opponent.
- Tony Allen questionable. Defensive terror Tony Allen is questionable for tonight's game with 'facial lacerations'. Scary, right? I guess he caught an inadvertent elbow from teammate O.J. Mayo in Dallas last week and came up bloody. He's missed their last two games. One reason that the Clippers match up pretty well with the Grizzlies is that there's not really anyone for Tony Allen to shut down -- with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as the primary weapons in the Clipper attack, those aren't really the positions Allen defends. Against teams that depend on a high scoring wing, Allen can be a game-changer, as he can take a player completely out of a game. Quincy Pondexter has been starting in Allen's absence.
- Steals showdown. Mike Conley has been the NBA's steals leader for most of the season -- but Chris Paul has been on a crime spree lately and has jumped ahead of Conley in steals per game, 2.47 to 2.37. In two games against the turnover-prone Kings Paul had a dozen steals, catapulting him into the lead. Maybe it's the Grizz who should worry about getting turned over tonight.
- Randy Foye. Foye has made 25 threes in his last six games. It's been a bit of feast or famine, as 23 of those came in just four games while the other two games he was 1 for 6 in each. The Clippers are so much better when they are hitting perimeter shots -- if Foye (or someone else) can hit some shots in Memphis tonight it will make a huge difference.
- Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has been an absolute dynamo lately -- but Memphis might not be the best team for him to face. His defense on Mike Conley could be a great asset -- but EBled's tendency to get out of control and turn the ball over is like spawning salmon to hungry Grizzlies (I was going to say blood in the water, but they're grizzlies, not sharks). Bledsoe MUST stay under control and protect the ball tonight. If he doesn't, he'll need to sit back down, as the Clippers should have plenty of other options tonight. Because...
- Mo Williams back? Mo Williams could be back in the Clippers lineup tonight. Williams has missed the last nine games -- the same nine games the Clippers have won eight of. So Mo must be getting a big of a complex at this point. Getting Mo back will be a good thing for the offense -- he's still the team's best bench scorer by quite a bit, since Nick Young is shooting just 37% as a Clipper. Mo's return will create some rotation challenges for the Clippers, but these are good problems to have. I assume Bobby Simmons will lose his spot in the rotation, with Young moving to small forward.
- Tough, tough road trip. Memphis Monday, Oklahoma City Wednesday, Minnesota Thursday. Only the hottest team in the league, followed by the most talented team in the league, followed by the only team that has beaten the Clippers three times this season. A winless trip like the last three game roadie would be a disaster at this stage of the race -- but it's a distinct possibility. It doesn't help that the most beatable team on paper also happens to come on the second night of a back-to-back.
- Turnovers. I'm pegging the magic number at 15. When the Grizzlies have come up with 15 or more turnovers, they have gone 25-12. When that number is 14 or fewer, the Grizz are 7-11. Happily for the Clippers, they have the third lowest turnover percentage in the league. The Clippers average a little over 13 turnovers per game; the Grizz generate over 17 from their opponents. Something's gotta give. The team that gets closer to their average will have a major leg up in this game. In the last game the Clippers turned the ball over just 11 times -- a major factor in the outcome.
- Z-Bo and Griffin. When these two teams last met in Memphis 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 the time. Blake has plenty of incentive to bounce back from that very bad meeting with Randolph last season.
- Speights. Marreese Speights was acquired when both Darrell Arthur and Zach Randolph were hurt to be the starting power forward for the Grizz. It was always assumed that he'd return to the bench when Z-Bo returned, but the Grizzlies recent run of great play has coincided precisely with Randolph's move to the bench and Speights' return to the starting five. But Speights has been terrible against the Clippers in the first two games -- he's only played 21 minutes total in two games because of foul trouble and ineffectiveness. I expect Z-Bo will be back in the starting lineup at some point before the playoffs, and given Speights' lack of effectiveness against the Clippers this season, this might be a good night for it. Of course, that could all change with the car accident thing.
- Three point shooting. After being a non-factor in his first few games with the Grizzlies, Gilbert Arenas is suddenly a major contributor. Not only is he making threes -- his shooting seems to be contagious. Memphis has made seven or more threes just seven times this season -- and they've done so in their last four games in a row. They're 5-2 when they make that many -- though ironically they did make nine in the last game against the Clippers and still got badly beaten. So your key stats for tonight are Clipper turnovers (we want 14 or fewer) and Memphis threes (we want 6 or fewer). The fewer the better.
- 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 14th 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.
- 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 tonight.
From the Urban Dictionary:
n. Women who chase after younger men but are older than Cougars. Typically, Grizzlies are women in their sixties.
"She got younger dudes when she was still a cougar, but now she should be running with the grizzlies."
- Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.