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Clippers vs. Memphis - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
FedEx Forum
January 12th, 2010, 5:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Mike Conley
Eric Gordon SG O.J. Mayo
Rasual Butler
SF Rudy Gay
Marcus Camby PF Zach Randolph
Chris Kaman C Marc Gasol

The Back Story:

November 7, 2009 in Los Angeles - Clippers 113, Memphis 110 - Recap  Box Score

November 18, 2009 in Memphis - Memphis 106, Clippers 91 - Recap  Box Score

November 29, 2009 in Los Angeles - Clippers 98, Memphis 88 - Recap  Box Score

The Big Picture:

So many unusual things going on with this game.  For one thing, it's not often that you finish a four game season series against an opponent in game 36.  The Clippers and Grizz/Funk met three times in the month of November, and this is their final meeting of the season.    For another, these are two teams that finished in the bottom of the NBA last year, but are now battling to get into the playoff picture as the season near its midpoint.  And while the teams picked one and two in the draft, it hasn't been the draft that turned them around; number one overall pick Blake Griffin has yet to play for the Clippers of course, while second overall pick Hasheem Thabeet has turned out to be an even bigger project than expected and is averaging 3 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes per game.  And then there's the whole Zach Randolph thing - the untradeable Zach Randolph, the crazy Grizzlies who were stupid enough to take him off the Clippers - you know, the guy who has put them back on the NBA map.  More on all of that later.  Focusing on the Clippers current situation, they are on a four game winning streak, all of the wins by double digits.  I haven't gone looking for the data, but I'm confident that hasn't happened in at least three seasons, probably longer.  The defense and rebounding have been tremendous lately, and the stops have led to easy scores on offense.  In fact, it's amazing what a feedback loop basketball is.  If you're playing well on offense, it helps your defense because the opponent is forced to play more half court.  If your defense is playing well, it helps your offense.  And if you've got momentum, you tend to keep it.  That is, until you lose it.  The Clippers can pass Memphis in the standings with a win tonight.  I know the same may be true of the Hornets tomorrow night, but let's not look past the Grizzlies.  First things first - let's get funky.

The Antagonist:

When they started the season with a not terribly helpful Allen Iverson on their team, the Grizzlies opened up 1 and 8 1 and 8.  They then won 16 of their next 24 and are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now.  Their top four scorers of Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol are as talented offensively as any foursome in the NBA.  Having said that, the Grizzlies are still, at least statistically, a very poor defensive team - 26th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions.  So It's pretty clear that they just outscore people.  If you'll recall, the last meeting between these two teams featured an amazing final six minutes in which the Clippers out scored the Funk 22-0 to turn a double digit deficit into a double digit lead.  I'm assuming that that game will be pretty fresh in Memphis' minds, and they'll have a little extra to prove tonight.  However, they are a little beat up for this game.  Mike Conley is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, and Marc Gasol evidently has a sore elbow.  I haven't found any details on the Gasol injury, but he has had three consecutive sub-par outings, so he definitely seems to be a bit off.  Then again, the way he's torched the Clippers this season, he may get back on for this game.

The Subplots

  • The last time a Clippers-Grizzlies game mattered.  I'm sure we all remember it well.  In April of 2006, with the season winding down and the Clippers and the Grizzlies fighting over the five/six spot in the playoffs, the teams met in Memphis.  But as you'll recall, the bizarro playoff seedings they used that season actually meant that the sixth seed would face the barely .500 Northwest champ/automatic 3 seed Nuggets, while the fifth seed would face the second best record in the West Mavericks.  The Clippers lost, secured the sixth seed, and beat the Nuggets in five in the playoffs.  The Grizz were swept by the Mavs.  It was a very strategic loss.  It's obviously early in the season still, but this is a big game.  Only this time, you want to win.  An LA win also gives the Clippers the season series, which could be a tie breaker in the playoff race.  A Memphis win knots the series.
  • Turnarounds.  At this time last season, the Grizz/Funk were 11-27 and the Clippers were 8-27.  So Memphis has improved by 7 games so far, the Clippers by 9.
  • Reigning Western Conference Player of the Week.  It's pretty ironic that Kaman won the Conference Player of the week award again this week, given how much better he could have been.  I have him at 0 for 10 in jump shots Sunday against the Heat, 1 for 6 against the Lakers before that.  He's done his best to make up for that by converting almost all of his close ones - the thing that Mr. Flippy frustratingly often didn't do.  He's also been rebounding much better, which I like to see.  14 boards in each of his last two games are among his best totals all season.  His opposite tonight, Marc Gasol, probably should be his competition for the All Star reserve spot, at least among true centers.  But the reality is that despite his 60.7% shooting he just doesn't score enough because he doesn't take any shots.  Gasol is the fourth option on offense for Memphis - Kaman is the first option for the Clippers.  Make no mistake though - Gasol is among the top centers in the league right.
  • The real Baron Davis.  I don't know who that other guy was, but the last few games we've seen the real Baron Davis playing for LA, and it's no surprise they're winning with this guy.  Baron has been absolutely fierce lately and his passing has been amazing.  With Sebastian Telfair still questionable tonight, Baron may have to play some big minutes.  
  • Energy.  The Clippers have been coming out with great energy the last two games.  They need to do that in Memphis.  I really think the Funk will be looking for some revenge after falling apart in the last meeting so I expect them to be pretty pumped.  If the Clippers come out flat, they could get jumped on.
  • Matchups galore.  We say it every time, but there are just great matchups everywhere when the Clippers play the Grizz/Funk.  You start with Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo, who have been playing basketball against each other since they were 8th graders.  Gordon has more or less owned Mayo in their four pro meetings thus far, winning three in a row scoring 18.5 points to Mayo's 11.5.  It's worth noting that when the Grizz/Funk beat the Clippers earlier this season, Gordon was hurt and did not play.  The next time out, EJ hung a season high 29 on OJ.  Gordon's been through the current star shooting guards of the league - time to take care of one of the youngsters.
  • Matchups galore.  Marcus Camby started side by side for the Clippers most of last season.  Marcus has seemed to do a good job on his former teammate, holding ZBo to a 15 point average in the three games, and under 35% - both way below his season average. 
  • Matchups galore.  Rudy Gay is the guy the Clippers can't really handle.  Rasual Butler will get the start against him, but Gay lit him up in the first game.  And you can't just put all of the team's attention on stopping Gay the way you can with the beat up Blazers, the Pau-less Lakers or the Heat.  Strange though it may be, the Grizz are just much more talented on offense than those other recent opponents.
  • Matchups galore. It may actually work in the Grizzlies' favor if Mike Conley can't go, because I have a feeling that Baron Davis would destroy him.  Jamaal Tinsley is better equipped physically to deal with Baron.  Then again, Tinsley was on the floor when the wheels came off in the last game, so maybe we want him out there after all.  Regardless, Baron has a major matchup advantage yet again.  I'm beginning to enjoy having the best point guard on the floor night in and night out.  (I guess that streak comes to an end tomorrw against CP3.) 
  • Longest active winning streak in the league.  The Clippers' four game streak is the longest in the NBA right now.  There's only one way to have that be true tomorrow.  They have to win.  Oh, and LA is also still undefeated for the decade.
  • The bench.  Craig Smith is on his best three game stretch of the season so far so hopefully he can keep that going.  Al Thornton scored 39 against the Grizzlies as a rookie.  It seems to me that both of them are better than any of the options off the Memphis bench.
  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/12/10 10:02 AM PST ] Bonus Bullet.  I meant to write this last night, but as you could tell from the typos, it was getting late, and frankly I just forgot.  Again, it just shows how much is going on in this game.  The Zach Randolph angle is fascinating to me.  I could write an entire post about it.  Randolph has been widely characterized as a stat-machine who does little to actually help teams win.  The evidence, by and large, is that he has never played a significant role on a winning team.  But it goes without saying that points and rebounds, which ZBo produces in abundance, help teams win, at least at some level.  This season the Grizzlies are one of the biggest surprises, with a roster that is essentially identical to last season - plus the addition of Randolph.  Sure, the rest of the core is young and improving, but Randolph has been a great fit, and, yes, a stat machine.  He is one of three players in the NBA averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds - the others being Tim Duncan and Chris Bosh.  In all the talk about Chris Kaman as an All Star reserve, Randolph is a candidate as well - and although he won't get center votes, he could be competing with Kaman for a spot if voters slide Duncan to the center to make room for ZBo.  Both the Grizzlies and the Clippers currently have records that will get them considered - but it's hard to imagine both of them making it given all the talented (and frankly more popular) bigs in the West.  So who would be the bigger snub?  I say ZBo, but it may depend on how much importance you place on defense.
  • Movie Quote: 

    I asked my father for a dollar for the school picnic, he told me how he killed a grizzly bear with his loose-leaf notebook.

    Bill Cosby, Bill Cosby, Himself (1983) -  Four quotes is a lot of quotes to come up with for "Grizzly".  So whereas I didn't really want to go to this Cosby concert film I've never seen, I had little choice.
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.