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Clippers vs. Grizzlies - Game Preview

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
March 4th, 2009, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Mike Taylor
PG Mike Conley
Baron Davis
SG O.J. Mayo
Al Thornton
SF Rudy Gay
Zach Randolph
Steve Novak
PF Darrell Arthur
Marcus Camby
C Marc Gasol

The Back Story:

  • December 5, 2008 in Memphis - Memphis 93 - Clippers 81  box score   recap
  • February 6, 2009 in Memphis - Clippers 126 - Memphis 105  box score   recap

The Big Picture:

In 2006, the Clippers met the Grizzlies late in the season under strange circumstances.  The two teams were virtually tied for the 5th best record in the Western Conference.  Because the playoff seeding system gave the top three seeds to the Division winners, and because the Denver Nuggets were going to be the Northwest Division champ with a worse record than either the Clippers or the Grizzlies, it was actually highly advantageous to finish sixth in the conference, and face the third seeded Nuggets, rather than finish fifth, forcing a matchup with the fourth seeded Spurs Mavs.  The Clippers lost that vital tankfest, and eventually beat Denver in the first round, while the Grizzlies were swept out of the playoffs by San Antonio Dallas.  Hard to believe that only three short seasons ago, the Clippers and Grizzlies were both playoff teams.  Tonight's game could likewise be a game where it would be better to lose.  Both teams have 15 wins on the season - only two teams in the NBA have fewer.  So a loss in this one could make a difference in the ping pong balls in the off-season.  The Clippers have a leg up, in that Eric Gordon is not expected back until Saturday, and Mardy Collins is also out of this game.  I have no official information on whether Zach Randolph is planning to be back, but with two days off before to the next game, I just have a feeling that he'll stay in Indiana for a few more days to be with his family.  (UPDATE:  There is official word now.  Zach is listed as "Not with team" for this game.  Collins and Ricky Davis are listed as Questionable.)  If indeed the Clippers are again without Gordon and Randolph, they will again be dependent on Al Thornton and Baron Davis to provide offense.  That didn't work out so well last time.

The Antagonist:

I can't decide if the Grizzlies are on the right path or not.  Let's put it this way.  There's plenty to keep you interested if you are a Grizzlies fan.  They have potential stars in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay.  They have nice young talent at two other positions in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.  And they have some draft picks stockpiled to try to find bodies to put around them.  So in theory, four of the five starters are set for the foreseeable future, and they have the opportunity to add lots of talent via the draft.  The problem of course is that the plan is more or less dependent on ALL four of their early 20s guys to develop - Gay and Mayo need to be a top level one two punch, Gasol and Conley need to be legit, in the two most important positions in basketball.  And the simple truth is that it's still early for all four of these guys.  The talent level obviously isn't enough as of yet - the Grizzlies have lost 8 straight.

The Subplots:

  • Mike Taylor.  I'm once again hoping that Mike Taylor gets the start.  For one thing, Conley is a super quick point guard, the kind that gives Baron fits.  Conley scored a season high 18 the last time these teams met.  For another, the Clippers have been much more fun to watch with Taylor on the floor the last two games.  And finally, the kid just needs the court time to develop - he's young, he's signed and he's got talent.  Let's get him some experience.  Alas, it would not surprise me if Fred Jones gets the start.  I think one reason MDsr went with Taylor against the Spurs was that Jones back was still gimpy, but he looked good against San Antonio, so I assume he's ready to go tonight.
  • Last meeting.  The Clippers won in Memphis last month by a score of 126-105.  It was most unexpected, given how poorly the team had been playing.  They shot a season-high 59% from the field, and 55% from three point range.  It was an offensive clinic, from the team with the worst field goal percentage in the league.  Go figure.
  • Zach Randolph.  Zach Randolph was particularly good in the game, scoring 35 and shooting 13 for 19.  The Grizzlies just had no one who could deal with him.  He was too quick for Gasol, too clever for Milicic.  Unfortunately for the Clippers, it's unclear at this point if Zach will be back from his family health emergency for this game.  If he's here, I think you have to favor the Clippers.  If not, it's the Grizzlies game to win.  (UPDATE: He's not.  More ping pong balls for us.  Yea, us!)
  • O.J. Mayo.  In that last meeting, Eric Gordon badly outplayed his fellow rookie O.J. Mayo, 23 points to 10.  Unfortunatly, Gordon is expected to miss his third straight game tonight.  That will leave it to Fred Jones and Baron Davis to try to stop the highest scoring rookie in the league.  He's adept at creating his own shot, he has great range, and he also has a terrific mid range game.  He's a handful, no doubt about it.
  • Rudy Gay versus Al Thornton.  The guy for Memphis who has killed the Clippers this season is Rudy Gay.  He has scored 25 and 26 in the two games.  Meanwhile, his counterpart at small forward for the Clippers has scored 9 and 10.  Interestingly, Thornton had his career high of 39 against the Grizz last March, so he's had success in this matchup.  Al will have to play well for the Clippers to have a chance, particularly if Gordon and Randolph are out.
  • Marko Jaric.  Former Clipper Marko Jaric ended a remarkable streak last night.  He had missed 21 consecutive field goals attempts, including 0 for 20 since the All Star break, before he made his only shot against the Lakers.  As it happens, he married Brazillian supermodel Adriana Lima during the All Star break.  It's almost as if he came back from that distracted.  Like his mind was elsewhere, not concentrating on basketball.  Weird, I know.  It's fun to joke about and all, but the Grizzlies have traded away a couple of different point guards this season, most recently sending Kyle Lowry to the Rockets.  So Marko is the one and only backup to Conley, and they need him to play well.
  • Back to back for the Grizzlies... kind of.  The Grizzlies are on the easiest back to back in the NBA.  They played last night in Staples Center against the Lakers, they play tonight in Staples Center against the Clippers.  Someone should track the league average winning percentage in road back to backs, and then compare it to the the winning percentage in the LA back to back since Staples opened.  I would do it, but it sounds hard.
  • Superstar for one game. Mike Conley.  Quick guards give the Clippers trouble, he had his previous season high in the last game.  I smell a career high tonight.
  • Movie Quote: 

    Flick says he saw some grizzly bears near Pulaski's candy store!

    Ralphie, justifying his need for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas - A Christmas Story (1983)
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at 3 Shades of Blue, and be sure to check out the Q&As in advance of tonight's game on Clips Nation and 3 Shades.