|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|March 14th, 2011, 5:00 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM|
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have a chance to do something tonight they've never done before - win four games on a five game road trip. As sad as it is, the Clippers have never in their franchise history, even going back to the San Diego and Buffalo days, won 4 or more games on a 5 game road trip. They've already had an exceedingly good trip - even with a loss tonight, they tie their best ever results for a 5 game trip. But they've got a very good chance to make it four in five against the Grizzlies. When the Clippers played Memphis three months ago, they dominated almost every aspect of the game. In fact, the dominated every aspect except for one - turnovers. The Clippers committed a season high 27 turnovers in that one and lost the game by a single point. Ouch. The Clippers were missing Chris Kaman and Randy Foye in that game, and Baron Davis was just returning from injury, so they were starting the U23 lineup, which helps explain the ridiculously high turnover number. The Clippers of mid-March have several things working well for them - new point guard Mo Williams has played well in all but one of his Clippers appearances, Kaman is back and playing well, DeAndre Jordan is on a nice roll, Eric Bledsoe is playing well, and Blake Griffin is Blake Griffin. In short, the team has more weapons now than it did in December, even with Eric Gordon still out of the lineup.
The Grizzlies have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA in the 2011 calendar year. They were 14-19 after losing to Utah on January 1, but since they have gone 22-12 and have taken over the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, they lost second leading scorer Rudy Gay with a dislocated shoulder in mid February, and they've gone 5-5 in their last two games without him. They're coming off their worst loss of the season, a 33 point drubbing against the Heat. In the absence of Gay, Zach Randolph has to carry the scoring load in Memphis. He's one of only four players in the NBA averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, and the only one that didn't make the All Star team (Dwight Howard, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are the other three). The Grizzlies will have to fight to hold onto the final playoff spot - the Suns, Jazz and Rockets are all within three games of them in the standings.
- Trying something new. Tonight's recap will be written by Dennis Lin. Dennis, you may be aware, has been writing for Clippers.com this season. You may also have noticed him hanging around the comments at Clips Nation lately. He was looking for more exposure for his excellent writing, and I was looking for some help with the workload, so it looks like a win-win situation. Tonight will be his first effort on the front page. Please join me in welcoming Dennis to Clips Nation.
- Too Bad Gordon's Out. Eric Gordon has had some of his best games as a pro against the Grizzlies. Whether it's the matchup with his old pal O.J. Mayo or some other reason, EJ has scored 29 and 23 against Memphis in past seasons, and scored 25 in the first meeting this season. Hopefully some of the other backcourt players can pick up the slack in Gordon's absence.
- Big Shot Mo. The leading candidate to fill the gap left by Gordon is Mo Williams. Williams has made big shots in each of the Clippers three road wins so far on this trip. It was also the absence of any big shots from Williams that contributed to the lone loss in New Jersey (he was 3 for 17 in that game). He's not afraid to take those shots - and so far, most of the time, he's been making them.
- Battier Back. At the trade deadline the Grizzlies brought Shane Battier back to Memphis, where he started his career and played for his first five seasons. It cost the Grizz Hasheem Thabeet, the second pick in the 2009 draft. Thabeet was taken just behind Blake Griffin, but has not worked out quite as well as Griffin. Since rejoining the Grizz Battier has struggled - in 8 games he's averaging less than 5 points per game, shooting under 37% from the field and 26% from three point range. Of course, he's not on the team to score but rather to play defense. He'll be a free agent this summer, and he may be a candidate for the Clippers small forward position.
- Zach and Blake. As I mentioned, Randolph and Griffin are both members of a very exclusive club, the 20-10 club. They play the same position, and put up similar numbers, but other than that, they couldn't be much more different. Griffin is the most athletic power forward in the league, while Randolph may be the least athletic. Randolph gets his rebounds below the rim, using his size and instincts to track them down. On offense, he has a soft touch around the basket and good range on his jump shot. He's got some of the best hands in the league, which serves him well be rebounding and scoring.
- Grizzlies Going Forward. The Grizzlies re-signed Gay to a maximum deal this summer, and then gave point guard Mike Conley a 5 year/$40M extension as well. Now they have two other starters, Randolph and center Marc Gasol, who will be free agents this summer and will also be looking to get paid. Gasol is a restricted free agent, and the Knicks are purportedly interested in him, while Randolph will be an unrestricted free agent (assuming such things exist in the new CBA). Battier will be an unrestricted free agent as well.To complicate matters, O.J. Mayo will be eligible for an extension, and will be a restricted free agent himself in summer 2012. The Grizzlies have built a nice little team that almost made the playoffs last season and is hoping to do so this year - but can they afford to keep them all together in small market Memphis?
- Get Used to the Grizz. The Clippers and Grizzlies have only met once in the first 67 games, but will meet three times in the final 15. In addition to tonight's meeting, the teams meet twice in April. So the Clippers could conceivably play spoiler to Memphis' playoff hopes.
- Mayo. Given the events of this season, 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 winning gold medals for Team USA in Turkey and all having monster seasons. 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, but lost his starting job shortly thereafter. 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 struggling in his reserve role and his shooting percentages are down across the board. 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 summers. With big contracts already on the books for Gay and Conley, and Gasol and Randolph needing new contracts 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' largess 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.
- Three point shooting. The Grizzlies are a poor three point shooting team, especially without Rudy Gay. With Gay out of the lineup, Conley and Mayo are the only two who make more than 30% from deep. As a team the Grizzlies make fewer than a third of their threes, which is second worst in the league. This bodes well for the Clippers, since they do better in games where they don't get killed from deep.
- Superstar for one game: Battier. He has struggled since returning to Memphis, but he always plays well against the Clippers.
if you ever, ever, dareMary Austin - Favorite Poems Old and New
To stop a grizzly bear,
You will never meet another grizzly bear.
- Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.