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Clippers-Grizzlies Preview: The Rivalry Resumes

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After a slow start to the season, the Clippers will try to increase their current win streak to three by defeating the Memphis Grizzles, the hottest team in the NBA at the moment. The Clippers have looked much sharper on both ends of the court in the first two games of the seven-game road trip, but the quality of their opponents in Florida was suspect. This game will be a much better test of where the Clippers currently stand in the loaded Western Conference.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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7-4

11-2
November 23rd, 2014, 3:00 PM PST
FedExForum
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
2-1 East 4-2
5-3 West 7-0
4-3 Home 7-0
3-1 Road 4-2
3-4 .500+ 4-2
4-0 .500- 7-0
6-4 L10 8-2
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mike Conley
J.J. Redick SG Courtney Lee
Matt Barnes SF Tony Allen
Blake Griffin PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan C Marc Gasol
Advanced Stats
94.3 (8th of 30) Pace 91.6 (23rd of 30)
109.7 (5th of 30) ORtg 108.5 (10th of 30)
106.7 (18th of 30) DRtg 101.0 (4th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Matt Barnes (calf) probable

Tony Allen (illness) questionable
Chris Douglas-Roberts (achilles) out

Quincy Pondexter (illness) questionable

The Back Story (The Grizzlies won the 2013-2014 season series against the Clippers 2-1).

Date Venue Final
11/18/2013 Los Angeles Grizzles 106, Clippers 102 Recap Box
12/05/2013 Memphis Grizzlies 81, Clippers 101 Recap Box
02/21/2014 Memphis Grizzlies 102, Clippers 96 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Los Angeles Clippers roll into Memphis riding high on a two-game win streak, defeating both the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat to open their grueling seven-game road trip.  After an underwhelming and uneven start to the season, the Clippers have finally strung together solid play for two full games.  Granted, neither the Magic nor the Heat was at full strength, and neither can be called a dominant team at this point in the season.  However, we finally saw some consistency from game to game, which is what the Clippers have sorely lacked this season.  The Clippers shared the ball beautifully in both games, were sharp from beyond the arc, and got out in transition for easy buckets.  Lobs, an endangered species so far this season, were finally back in style in Miami.  It will be a tall order to defeat the Grizzlies, but a victory in Memphis will go a long way to putting the Clippers back in the "contender" conversation.

The Antagonist:

The season is still young, but the Memphis Grizzlies look formidable.  At 11-2, they have the best record in the NBA.  In contrast to what we have seen from the Clippers, continuity seems to have helped the Grizzlies start the season off on the right note.  The Grizzlies have retained the services of sophomore head coach David Joerger, and they are fortunate to have another season with their core trio of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley. The Grizzlies are first in the ultracompetitive Southwest Division, which also includes the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs, and the New Orleans Pelicans.  They blew out the 9-3 Rockets on November 17th and are undefeated at home.  The Grindhouse is as solid as ever.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key metrics. The Clippers, top five in offensive rating, are a better offensive team than the Grizzlies.  The Grizzlies are ranked 10th.  However, a simple comparison of the defensive ratings between the teams tells a whole different story.  Whichever way we slice it, the Grizzlies are a top-notch defense, and the Clippers are currently a below average defensive team.  In addition, pace is an important statistic, as the Clippers play at a much faster pace than the Grizzlies (top 10 versus bottom half).  Ideally, the Clippers will force the Grizzlies to play at a much faster tempo and not let the Grizzlies slow the game down too much.
  • The Rivalry between the two teams.  The Golden State Warriors may have slightly stolen the Grizzlies' thunder last season in terms of being labeled the Clippers' "biggest rival."  However, there is more history to the rivalry with the Grizzlies, as the Clippers faced them in the first round of two consecutive playoffs (2012 and 2013).  As the media constantly reminds us during Clippers-Lakers games, true rivalries are forged in the post-season.  The 2012 series turned out well for the Clippers, who did not have home court advantage.  Who can forget the Miracle in Memphis (Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs), in which the Clippers, down 22 points in the fourth quarter, rallied back to defeat the home team 99-98?  Here is a reminder: The Clippers also won an emotional game 7 on the road to advance to the semifinals.  Just one year later, the Grizzlies, down 0-2 in the series, won four consecutive games against the Clippers, who had home court advantage, to advance to the second round.  There have been highs and lows in their rivalry with the Grizzlies, and it is no secret that the Clippers and the Grizzlies do not like each other.  Fireworks generally ensue during every meeting (flagrant fouls, double fouls, and double technicals are hallmarks of a Clippers-Grizzlies game).

  • Grit and Grind vs. Lob City. One of the most compelling narratives of this rivalry is that the two teams play with completely different styles, which is unlike the Clippers-Warriors rivalry.  Since Chris Paul's arrival in Los Angeles, the Clippers have been dubbed "Lob City."  As the nickname implies, the team thrives when it can get out in transition and place with pace.  On the other hand, the Grizzlies take pride in their "Grit and Grind" reputation, preferring to slow the game down and play with physicality.  With Randolph and Gasol, the Grizzlies have an enviable low post presence, and they are extremely successful when they run the offense through Gasol.    Simply put, the Clippers must try to contain Gasol and Randoloph at all costs.  Easier said than done.

  • Rebounding. The Clippers have not been good at all on the boards this season.  Doc Rivers has never emphasized crashing the offensive glass, but the team does need to give more effort in crashing the boards.  The Clippers are currently ranked last in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and are giving up far too many second chance points.  If they fail to secure the defensive glass, they will get creamed by the Grizzlies, a high quality offensive rebounding team (10th in offensive rebounding percentage).

  • The three-ball. Fortunately for the Clippers, they have been hot from beyond the arc on this road trip.  They will need to establish the three-ball early in the game in order to spread the floor for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.  It will be interesting to see how Spencer Hawes fits into this plan, as his ability to hit shots from downtown will force the Grizzlies to adjust.  It may help to pull Gasol out of the paint, making Hawes a more favorable match-up than Jordan on Gasol.  Let's hope Hawes can knock down those shots.  The Grizzlies have been accurate from beyond the arc, shooting 38.2%, but they are just 27th in attempts (the Clippers are 12th in attempts).  The Clippers need to watch out for shooting guard Courtney Lee in particular, as he has been shooting lights out (61.3%) from deep this season. 

  • The Blake Griffin-Zach Randolph Match-Up. If the past few seasons are any indication, this will be a slugfest.  Randolph is a tough match-up for anybody, averaging 16.5 points and 12.1 rebounds.  Tough-as-nails, Randolph seems to take great pleasure in roughing up Griffin, and he seems to get away with it most of the time.  This video gives us all a pretty good example of what to expect: In response to the inevitable pounding he will take from Randolph, Griffin needs to assertive and tough.  Griffin should not merely shoot jumpers.  He needs to take it inside to Randolph and try to get his opponent in foul trouble.  Also, Griffin's rebounding is down this season, and he cannot allow Randolph to abuse him on the boards.  It will be absolutely disastrous for the Clippers, and Griffin will likely end up in foul trouble trying to prevent second chance buckets.

  • The Chris Paul-Mike Conley Match-Up. Mike Conley is growing up in this league, averaging 16.9 points and 6.1 assists this season.  He has been battling a shoulder bruise, but this should not keep him out of the game against the Clippers.  It will be crucial that Paul contain Conley and make him work on the defensive end of the floor.

  • The Stomach Virus that has ravaged the Grizzlies. Seven Grizzlies, including Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, and Kosta Koufos, came down with a brutal stomach virus.  Most, if not all, should be available to play against the Clippers.  It is worth watching the energy level of these players.