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Clippers vs. Memphis - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
December 11th, 2010, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Mike Conley
Eric Gordon SG Xavier Henry
Al-Farouq Aminu
SF Rudy Gay
Blake Griffin
PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan
C Marc Gasol

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The teams split their four games last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers lost a heartbreaking game at the buzzer against the Lakers on Wednesday. But they have to put that disappointment behind them and take care of business today. The simple fact is, that their schedule is relatively soft over the next nine games, starting today with the 9-14 Grizzlies. The first time they reached a soft spot in their schedule, they weren't ready for it. Both Baron Davis and Chris Kaman were hurt, and the U23s were still figuring things out. Unfortunately, Kaman is out again, for at least three weeks, and Davis has looked far less than 100% in the last two games, but it's time for the youngsters to do it on their own. Over the last nine games, the Clippers have played pretty well - they've won four of them, and were within one possession in the final minute of three others. They need to take the step from playing well enough to win to actually winning, particularly against the mediocre teams, particularly at home. As always, if they are to win, it will be Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin leading them. It will be particularly interesting seeing Blake go up against former Clipper Zach Randolph. Blake could have a huge game, as Zach was never particularly known for his defense.

The Antagonist:

The Grizzlies have got to be disappointed with their start this season. They opened last season 1-8, and then went 39-34 the rest of the way. With their young core all returning, the assumption was that they'd take the next step and be in the battle for a low-level playoff seed. They're by no means out of contention yet, but they've lost 10 out of 15 since opening the season 4-4. Rudy Gay and Mike Conley are each having career years, but Randolph and Marc Gasol are both a little off of their production from last season. Meanwhile, O.J. Mayo, once considered to be a rising star, is now coming off the bench and his productivity has plummeted. He's shooting under 40% on the year and playing fewer than 30 minutes per game - just 23 minutes per game in the last 10 as a reserve. Coach Lionel Hollins moved Mayo to the bench in part to try to give the second unit some punch, and indeed it needed it. Other than Mayo, the best second stringer on the team is probably Darrell Arthur, and that's not saying much. The team has been struggling recently, losing four of their last five, but they did end their losing streak with an overtime win in Phoenix on Wednesday. The Grizzlies are in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive efficiency (16th), defensive efficiency (18th) and pace (13th). They're a competent team, with some very nice players in their lineup, but they aren't exactly tearing up the league right now.

The Subplots

  • Mayo. Given recent events, it's easy to forget that O.J. Mayo was, for a time, the darling of the guards from the 2008 lottery. That draft is shaping up as extraordinarily good, especially for guards, with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon all having monster seasons, and all in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring. But none of them began their NBA career more impressively than Mayo. He was a starter from day one in Memphis and had back to back 30 point performances in games 7 and 8 of his career. Unfortunately for him, it's been downhill since. This season is a microcosm of his career - he scored 29 points in the third game of the season, and has scored 18 - total - in the last four games combined. When Rose, Westbrook and Gordon all made Team USA this summer while Mayo was one of the first cuts, it was a sign that his draftmates had all surpassed him. Mayo is really struggling in his reserve role right now. He's got plenty of time to get it back together of course, but as it stands now the Grizzlies will have a very tough decision when it comes time to re-sign him in a couple of seasons. With big contracts already on the books for Gay and Conley, and Gasol needing a new contract this summer, the Grizzlies may decide that Mayo isn't part of their future, which would have seemed impossible two seasons ago.
  • Gay and Conley. When the Grizzlies locked up Rudy Gay with a maximum contract on the first day of free agency this summer, most people thought it was a ridiculous amount of money for a talented but not overly productive player. But that deal looked completely reasonable compared to the 5/$40M extension they gave to the underachieving Mike Conley in November. A little improbably, both Gay and Conley have rewarded Memphis' largesse with significantly improved production this season. More often than not it seems that players become complacent and drop off after signing a big contract, but both of these guys seem determined to earn their money, or at least to try hard to do so.
  • Gay. Rudy Gay gets his own bullet. Of course, he's one of several players who are following up Team USA duty with a major improvement on the NBA court. Statistically, he has improved in basically any category you care to mention, but especially shooting, where he's shooting career high percentages overall, from three point range and from the line. He's also leading the league in minutes per game. Gay always had a world of talent - but it looks like after his summer with Coach K and Team USA he might now 'get it'.
  • Kaman and Baron. The Clippers sent out a press release today stating that Chris Kaman's bone bruise will have him off his feet for two weeks, followed by at least a week of rehab. It's not quite the time warp we were in with Kaman from two seasons ago, but it seems eerily familiar nonetheless. Baron looked really good in his first three games back from injury, but has looked a step slow in the two games since as his hamstring has been bothering him. Perhaps the extra day off has helped him recover. Randy Foye, on the other hand, has been back out of the lineup for six straight games, and 16 of the last 21. He's played a total of 53 minutes since the second game of the season.
  • Three point shooting. The Grizzlies are not a great three point shooting team. Basically, they have three players that take threes - Gay, Conley and Mayo. Of those three, Gay is shooting the best percentage, at better than 41%. As a team the Grizzlies make barely over a third of their threes, which is in the bottom five in the league. This bodes well for the Clippers, since they do better in games where they don't get killed from deep.
  • Gasol needs to shoot more. Marc Gasol is shooting over 61% from the field, which is second in the league. Yet for some reason, he's only taking 7.3 shots per game, which is 2 fewer than he took last season. Gasol's offensive game is underrated - he's got a nice hook shot (one of the only true hook shots remaining in the league), decent range, and some effective low post moves. It's strange that they don't get him some more shots.
  • Matchups. This almost never works out the way I anticipate, but with Blake Griffin being defended by Randolph, and rookie Xavier Henry on Eric Gordon, surely LA's G-Men will both have big games. Gordon has had slow starts in several games in a row now - if he can come out of the gate fast one of these nights, he could easily go for 30 or 40. On the other hand, Al-Farouq Aminu is going to have his hands full with Gay. Vinny Del Negro won't hesitate to bring in Ryan Gomes if AFA struggles defending Rudy.
  • Marko Jaric. I was surprised to see that former Clipper Marko Jaric is still being paid by the Grizzlies. Well, maybe not being paid - they bought out his contract last year, but he's still on their salary cap numbers. Jaric played in Spain last season for Real Madrid, but as far as I can tell he's now out of basketball. It's hard to believe that the contract he signed when he left the Clippers is still active. And of course, Minnesota still owes the Clippers a first round pick from that trade. I guess he didn't quite live up to Minny's expectations.
  • Last season's meetings. It's hard to believe, but the last time the Clippers played the Grizzlies was the water main game. All four of the meetings last season were frontloaded into the beginning of the schedule, and that was the last game of the series. The Clippers of course had a chance to reach .500 in that game, and had a double digit lead when the FedEx Forum had to be evacuated for a burst water main. The Grizzlies staged a big comeback when play was resumed, the Clippers found out the next day that Blake Griffin was out for the season, and the rest of the year was an exercise in playing out the string. On a happier note, the Clippers best comeback in several years occurred against the Grizzlies last November when they outscored Memphis 33-5 to turn an 18 point deficit into a 10 point victory in the fourth quarter.
  • Both teams rested. Both of the teams are well rested, neither having played since Wednesday. The Grizzlies are on the final game of a 4 game trip, so they could be a little road weary overall.
  • Superstar for one game: Xavier Henry. Kansas rookie Xavier Henry has taken over Mayo's spot in the starting lineup. He scored a career high 17 last Sunday against the Nuggets.
  • Famous Quotation:

    The grizzly bear whose potent hug
    Was feared by all, is now a rug.

    Great Caesar's bust is on the shelf,
    And I don't feel so well myself.
    Arthur Guiterman - On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.