Twice already in the first half of this seemingly lost Clippers' season, they've ended nasty losing streaks at the expense of the Memphis Grizzlies. Way back on November 29th, the Clippers snapped a 5 game losing streak with a 105-90 win in the Staples Center. Then, 10 days later, they got their first away win of the season in Memphis after opening the season 0-7 on the road. That win on Dec. 9th made the Clippers 10-9, and that was the last time they had a winning record.
With the Clippers in seemingly continual disarray, Memphis is once again a welcome sight on the schedule. True, the Clippers did win their last game, but it was far from a masterpiece, as the Warriors played with seven players, 3 of them only technically 'professionals' in the sense that they were indeed being paid to play basketball. So the Clippers have lost two of three, but it certainly feels like a three game losing streak.
But, this is not the same Memphis team the Clippers handled easily earlier this season. Specifically, their best player, Pau Gasol, was injured and did not play in those first two contests, but has been back since mid-December. He appears to be as good as ever, averaging almost 22 points and over 9 rebounds in his last 11 games. In addition to Gasol, the Grizzlies have a new coach, Tony 'Goodfella' Barrone. Barrone could not be more different than former coach Mike Fratello. Fratello ran a regimented offense that made the MDSr Clippers look free-wheeling by comparison. Barrone on the other hand likes to run-and-gun. If Fratello was paint-by-numbers, Barrone is Jackson Pollack.
In the 10 games under Barrone, the Grizzlies are among the highest scoring teams in the league. They've scored at least 109 in 8 of the games, been over 120 three times, and topped out at 144 (in regulation!) in a win against the Warriors. The results (4-6) under Barrone have been better, though still not good.
So if the Clippers are expecting another easy Grizzlies game today, forget it. Just adding Gasol changed that. But in their new up-and-down offense, they can run you off the floor if they make shots. Just ask the Lakers, who let a 5 point halftime lead turn into 19 point deficit during a 46 to 22 third quarter in Memphis. Stro Swift, Hakim Warrick, Rudy Gay and Dahntay Jones can all get up and down the court, Mike Miller is thriving in the wide open style both shooting the three and finishing on the break, Damon Stoudamire and Chucky Atkins relish the green light Barrone has given them, and Gasol is, frankly, a stud.
So, it's yet another 'contrast in styles' game. Oh goody. They've been so good for the Clippers so far. Brand and Kaman should have the advantage on the low post. And Cassell and Mobley should have a field day posting up little guys like Stoudamire and Atkins. If the Clippers can play good transition defense, limit their turnovers, limit fast break points, and find the shooters in the open court, Memphis will have trouble scoring in the half court. Of course, those are some big ifs, considering that we're talking about a veritable check list of things the Clippers have done astoundingly poorly this season.
Kaman is still limited by his sprained ankle, and has missed practice the last two days. Livingston is expected to miss his second straight game because of his sprained ankle. The good news (if you can call it that) is that Tim Thomas is over his ear infection and is expected to play.
For the Clippers to win, several players are going to have to have good offensive games. Memphis is going to score points, and Brand can't outscore them alone. Maggette would seem like a good candidate, given his recent scoring and Memphis' porous defense. Cassell is due for a big game, and it would be very nice if Mobley could break out of his slump. And then there's Quinton Ross, coming off back-to-back career highs. But if it's just Brand, or just Brand and Maggette, the Clippers will not win this game.
This is the second game of a five game homestand. If they win all five, the Clippers can climb back above .500 for the first time since that Grizzlies game December 9. Against the team with the worst record in the Western Conference, playing at home, this needs to be the second of five wins in a row.
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