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Clippers-Grizzlies Preview: It starts with a rematch

The most highly anticipated Los Angeles Clippers season in history finally gets underway tonight as L.A. hosts the Memphis Grizzlies, the team they faced in the first round of the NBA playoffs last season. The two teams are very similar to the ones that met last May when the Clippers won an exciting and contentious seven game series.

Kevin C. Cox
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

October 31st, 2012, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mike Conley
Willie Green SG Tony Allen
Caron Butler SF Rudy Gay
Blake Griffin PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan C Marc Gasol
Advanced Stats (2011/2012)
89.2 (27th of 30) Pace 90.8 (18th of 30)
108.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 104.0 (19th of 30)
105.7 (18th of 30) DRtg 101.8 (7th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (Achilles surgery) out
Darrell Arthur (broken leg) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

Grant Hill (knee) out

Matt Barnes (suspended by league) out

The Big Picture:

Don't think for a moment that it's just a coincidence that the NBA has these two teams opening their seasons against each other. The opening round series between the Clippers and the Grizzlies was one of the best series of last season's playoffs, and included an epic Game 1 comeback not to mention a gritty Game 7 road win by the Clippers. The Grizzlies don't like the Clippers much at this point -- Rudy Gay has said as much -- and would like nothing more than to begin their season with a win over L.A. In this budding rivalry, the Clippers need to defend their home court and get the win tonight. The two teams are largely the same as last year -- the Grizzlies lost O.J. Mayo, the Clippers turned over their bench, but nine out of ten of these guys started in the playoffs. The Clippers will be without their backup small forwards, as Grant Hill recovers from a bone bruise on his knee and Matt Barnes serves a one game league imposed suspension. Too bad -- either one of those guys could have come in handy helping to defend Gay. In their absence, Caron Butler will have to play big minutes and coach Vinny Del Negro will no doubt go to a lot of three guard rotations with Jamal Crawford on the floor.

The Antagonist:

The Grizzlies have forwards Gay and Zach Randolph healthy to start the season, something they haven't had much for the past couple years. Then again, Memphis has not always played great with both of them available -- the expectation is that they should be better with them, but that has rarely been the reality. We'll see if it is this year. Sadly for Memphis, they do not have Darrell Arthur. The fourth year forward missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles, and then broke his fibula back in September. Arthur was terrific for them off the bench two years ago, but has been hurt ever since, leaving Mareese Speights as the third big. The estimate when Arthur went down over a month ago was that he'd be out 4 to 6 weeks, but he's not even practicing yet, so he'll be gone for a bit still. The Grizzlies will continue to rely on their formidable front line of Marc Gasol, Randolph and Gay, with the ever-improving Mike Conley running the point. Shooting guard is a wild card with them, with the defensive terror Tony Allen playing a lot of minutes, and journeyman Wayne Ellington trying to fill Mayo's shoes as the scorer off the bench. And no one is going to outwork the Grizzlies, so you have to try to match their effort from the start.

The Subplots

  • Live Video Preview. Today at 10 AM Pacific, assuming I can figure out how to do it without Lucas holding my hand, I'm going to chat with TLorenzo from SB Nation's Grizzlies blog Straight Outta Vancouver. I'm not sure if I'll be able to handle responding to comments live, but we'll see. Check the site at 10 AM for the festivities.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Statistically, these teams were mirror opposites last season. The Clippers won with a terrific offense and middling defense, the Grizzlies won with good defense despite a mediocre offense. Randolph is a more efficient scorer than Gay, so having him healthy should help their efficiency numbers.
  • Which team improved? It remains to be seen, but we here at Clips Nation certainly feel like the Clippers will be better this season with the improvements to their bench, not to mention the ongoing development of DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and, yes, Blake Griffin. Personnel-wise, the Grizzlies have probably taken a step back. Mayo was their sixth man last season and was their best scorer off the bench (fourth on the team overall). Without Mayo, their bench offense would seem to be limited to Speights and newcomer Ellington, though Ellington was pretty terrible in his three seasons in Minnesota. They also signed Jerryd Bayless to back up Conley at the point; Bayless has been a disappointment in the Assoc. but should nonetheless be an upgrade over the various experiments they tried last season at backup point guard. The Clippers won't be anywhere near full strength tonight with Chauncey Billups, Hill and Barnes missing, but Lamar Odom should be back, and if he can play well then he and Crawford and Bledsoe should be enough to give the Clippers second unit a big advantage.
  • Free Throw Shooting. It has the potential to be a factor in every Clippers game, but the foul shooting of Griffin and Jordan could be crucial tonight. The Grizzlies are a very physical team and will not hesitate to put Griffin on the line, and they'll do the same with Jordan if he's hurting them inside. Griffin and Jordan both changed their shooting motion this summer, and they were terrible (much worse than their own poor standards) in preseason. The only ray of hope is that each made 5 of 6 in the final preseason game. The Lakers lost their opener almost entirely because of missed free throws Tuesday -- let's hope the Clippers don't repeat that in the same building.
  • Defending Chris Paul. Heading into last season's playoff series, much was made of the idea that Allen would be able to defend Paul. Allen is a tremendously good defender, but he was not particularly effective against Paul, and I'm not convinced Paul is a good matchup for him. Allen uses a combination of quickness and strength to lockdown scoring wings, but Paul is too clever to allow Allen's strength to be a factor, and is very adept at baiting Allen into committing fouls. Conley on the other hand did a fine job on Paul in the playoffs.
  • Jordan in Preseason. Every year the Clippers have said that DeAndre Jordan worked hard in the offseason to improve his game, but so far it's never translated, at least not on offense. However, during preseason Jordan averaged better than 16 points per 36 minutes while shooting about 70% and made myriad moves that we've literally never seen from him before -- righty hooks, lefty hooks, spins. Against the Grizz he needs to earn his paycheck on defense first, partly by staying down on Gasol's pump fakes. And of course it will be nice if he can make some free throws.
  • Conley in Preseason. If DeAndre Jordan was the Clippers secret weapon in preseason, a player who added to his offensive arsenal in the offseason, then that player for the Grizzlies is Mike Conley. Conley, never a big time scorer, led Memphis in scoring in preseason at 16 points per game while playing just 28 minutes per. He shot a sizzling 59% from the field and made 12 of 17 three pointers. He obviously won't shoot 70% from deep on the season, but he seems to be a different shooter than he was last year, and bears no resemblance to the offensive nonentity from a couple seasons ago.
  • Speaking of three pointers. The three pointer was a non-factor for Memphis last season. They were bottom five in the league in attempts, makes and percentage. On the other hand, it was a major weapon for the Clippers, who were fifth in attempts and makes and around the league average in percentage. Mayo took more threes than anyone else on Memphis and he's gone. Ellington and Bayless may hit s a few, and obviously Conley seems to be improved, but don't expect the Grizzlies to take many. For the Clippers, the loss of Mo Williams and Randy Foye may be felt beyond the three point line, especially until Chauncey Billups returns.
  • Small forward. The Clippers are much, much deeper at small forward this season than they were last year, but not in this game. Without Hill and Barnes, the team will look very similar to how they did in the playoffs, with a big guard getting the backup small forward minutes (last year it was Nick Young, tonight it will be Jamal Crawford). Both Butler and Crawford will likely play big minutes tonight, with Crawford splitting time between the wing spots.
  • Lamar. Lamar Odom remains the Clippers biggest question mark as the season opens. He played in just three preseason games, with mixed results, before being shut down with sore knees. He's back at practice now and expected to play tonight. He should be a major upgrade over the likes of Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin as the first big off the bench, but only if his head and his body are in the right shape. We'll begin to get an idea of where his head's at starting tonight.
  • The rematch. They would never say it, but I get the impression that the Clippers believe they are better than the Grizzlies. They played Game 7 last year with three starters (Paul, Griffin and Butler) hurting and a fourth out entirely (Billups). Closer to full strength, I think they believe they are simply the better team, as close as things were last year. The Grizzlies finished the regular season a game ahead of the Clippers, which was the difference between the four seed and the five seed last year, and determined home court advantage. There's a good chance these teams will be battling for playoff position at the end of the year this time around as well, so might as well send a message early.
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Hot Wax -- Beck

    Stealing pesos out of my brain
    Hazard signs down the Alamo lanes
    Radar systems piercing the souls
    You never get caught with the wax so rotten
    All my days I got the grizzly words
    Hijacked flavors that I'm flipping like birds

    If you don't like Beck, you can just leave my blog... now.