The Back Story (The season series is tied, 1-1):
|11/18/13||Los Angeles||Grizzlies 106, Clippers 102||Recap||Box|
|12/05/13||Memphis||Clippers 101, Grizzlies 81||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
The Clippers laid an egg in their first game after the All Star break, losing to the Spurs as Chris Paul shot 1-10 and the team missed 15 of 21 three point attempts. Things don't get any easier on a tough three game trip that takes them to Memphis, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. These were supposed to be the halcyon days, with a fully healthy roster completely comfortable in Doc Rivers' system, building momentum over the final eight weeks of the season and heading into the postseason strong. But J.J. Redick's bulging disc postponed that "healthy" thing and the Clippers continue to limp along at less than full strength. They didn't get any help at the trade deadline either, though some help may be on the way soon in the form of players getting buy outs from their existing teams. Glen Davis was the first player to be bought out, and as a former Celtic under Doc Rivers, the Clippers are considered the front-runners to sign him. But that's not going to help tonight (nor Sunday in Oklahoma City). Tonight they'll rely on the new and improved Blake Griffin to win this round of his ongoing battle with Zach Randolph, and hope that DeAndre Jordan can hold his own with the clever Marc Gasol. And they'll need Paul to make some shots, and to be able to hit something from the perimeter.
Memphis remains just out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference for the time being, one game behind Dallas for eighth place (tied in the loss column). They're an obvious candidate for "most disappointing" but don't be fooled -- similar to the Clippers, this team has been impacted by coaching changes and injuries, and the glimpses of full-strength Memphis have revealed a team as strong as ever, if not stronger. They started poorly under new coach Dave Joerger, then started to figure things out and went on a four game winning streak before Marc Gasol was injured and missed 23 games. When they got Gasol back they won 11 of 12 -- and then Mike Conley twisted his ankle. With apologies to Zach Randolph, Gasol and Conley are the most important players on this team and since November 14, they are 13-1 when both of those guys play. Guess what? They're both playing tonight. Both are coming back from injuries (Conley has only been back from his ankle sprain one game and he didn't exactly light it up against the Knicks while Gasol re-injured his knee slightly before the All Star break) but they'll be out there. Tony Allen could return from his own injury tonight, which would make the Grizzlies as close to fully healthy as they're going to be this season. This is a better team than the one that beat the Clippers in STAPLES Center in November -- Courtney Lee is an upgrade over Jerryd Bayless in the backcourt, Nick Calathes gained confidence and experience while Conley was out and James Johnson is a key reserve at this point. Don't be fooled by their ninth place standing -- these guys are as worrisome as ever.
- Comparison of key metrics. For all the talk of how bad the Clippers have been defensively, they are currently allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions, compared to 105.2 per 100 for the Grizzlies. So these are two teams that really need to get their act together on the defensive end.
- The West. Well, we were hoping prior to San Antonio game that the Clippers would be in striking distance of second place in the Western Conference heading into this game, but the Spurs had other ideas on that subject. The bad news is that the Clippers have fallen 3.5 games back of second after getting to within 2 games, but the good news is that Portland and Houston both lost since Tuesday, so the Clippers remain in a virtual tie for third.
- Playoff rematch looming? The Clippers are tied for third, still with hopes of climbing up to second. The Grizzlies are in ninth, just two games behind sixth place Phoenix. Could a 3-6 or 2-7 first round playoff meeting between these two teams be in the cards? After seeing the Grizzlies in the first round for two straight seasons, this is one team the Clippers would dearly love to avoid. There won't be any easy series in the West this season, but a Memphis series will be hard fought and physical -- even if you win it, it takes a toll. Not to mention that this team, when healthy, is really freaking good.
- Trade deadline. The Clippers made two moves, dumping Antawn Jamison on Atlanta and Byron Mullens on Philadelphia in order to free up roster spots and money to sign veteran free agents (like Big Baby Davis potentially). They came close to completing a trade of Darren Collison and Matt Barnes to the Knicks for Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton, but stopped short of pulling trigger. The Grizzlies were deep in discussions for their own guard/forward swap, but a proposed Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince for J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger deal never materialized. Prince is on his last legs and has been one of the worst starters in the NBA this season, but Allen more than anyone else personifies the Grizzlies, so I would have been surprised if the deal had gone through.
- Familiar foe. In the past 24 months, these two teams have played each other 22 times. The Clippers have won 12 of those meetings -- and yet it's the four straight losses in the playoffs last May that everyone remembers. Hopefully the Clippers remember those also.
- False narrative. The narrative of the playoff collapse has always struck me as incorrect. The way the story goes in the media, the rough and tough Memphis bigs dominated the soft as tissue Clipper bigs so Memphis won. Certainly DeAndre Jordan was terrible in the series -- perhaps because Vinny Del Negro had systematically ruined his confidence over the course of the regular season. Griffin was fine until he got hurt before game 5. Besides, you absolutely expect the Memphis bigs to produce, because they're really good and the Grizzlies lean heavily on them. The real story of the series, the unexpected problem that doomed the Clippers, was that they were completely outplayed on the wings. Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen absolutely dominated their matchups with Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups. It's the reason that the Clippers went out and got J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. But with Redick hurt and Dudley unimpressive in his tenure as a Clipper, it doesn't feel like the "new and improved" Clipper wings will make a difference in this one.
- Griffin vs. Randolph. The battle of this game will be fought at the power forward between Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph. Randolph clearly doesn't like Griffin -- doesn't like him at all -- and these guys always play a very physical game with each other. Maybe Randolph doesn't like it that Griffin pushed him out of LA. Maybe he doesn't like it that Griffin jumps so high when Randolph has no ups at all. Whatever it is, it's going to be mean down there. Doc Rivers has Griffin facing up more, using his quickness, not trying to back guys down and overpower them as much. Griffin is an evolving and improving player, and he's shown an ability to make adjustments against different types of defenders he didn't really possess before. The strength of Chuck Hayes? No problem, shoot over him. The length of LaMarcus Aldridge? Get into his body and get him off-balance. And in all cases, the quickness advantage and ball-handling that Griffin has facing the basket sets him apart from other power forwards. Z-Bo hasn't really seen this new Blake Griffin yet and it should be interesting.
- Defending Paul. The Grizzlies have three excellent perimeter defenders in Mike Conley and Tony Allen and now Courtney Lee. Allen has missed the last 21 games with a broken hand, but is expected to be available for this one. The Grizz will probably start the game with Conley on Paul, but will switch to Allen at some point, and Lee will take his turn as well. Sometimes I actually think that assigning those stopper types like Allen to Paul can backfire -- when he's aggressive and challenged is when he's at his best.
- Slumping Paul. Chris Paul had his worst shooting night of the season, 1-10 against the Spurs on Tuesday. Against a good team, that's difficult to overcome. The Clippers offense relies heavily on the middle pick and roll, and Paul gets a lot of open mid-range shots off of that. If it's not falling, it presents a big problem. Strangely, Paul shot pretty well in his first two game back from his separated shoulder (14-24 combined) so it wouldn't seem to be directly related to the injury (though he does seem hesitant to take three pointers since his return). Hopefully he just had a bad game against the Spurs and he'll come back strong tonight.
- Three point shooting. In a league that is continually placing more emphasis on the three point shot, the Grizzlies are a throwback to a team that pounds the ball into the post. Last season they were 30th in three point attempts per game, and in fact two teams (the record breaking Knicks and Rockets) each shot double the number of three pointers taken by the Grizz. So they went out and added Mike Miller in the off-season, and this year they are ... again dead last.
- Three point shooting continued. The Clippers are 23-0 when they make nine or more three pointers this season. That leaves them well below .500, 14-19, when they make fewer than nine threes. All teams play better and win more when they make shots -- that's not really a shock. But rarely if ever is the difference this stark. If the Clippers can make threes, they are almost unbeatable -- if they can't, they are very, very beatable. That's a big part of why having Redick out of the lineup is such a big deal. Nine is a tall order for the Redick-less Clippers playing the Grizzlies -- but they have to hit some. Otherwise Memphis is just going to wall off the paint and smother Griffin and this will be a very, very long night.
- No love lost. These teams don't like each other. Hard fought playoff series two years in a row will do that to teams, not to mention regular season games laden with playoff implications. Randolph in particular seems to have a real beef with Blake Griffin and will take every opportunity to rough him up. How the Clippers handle the Grizzlies' physical nature -- and perhaps more importantly, how the refs call the game -- will be a big factor tonight. If the refs allow a lot of pushing and shoving, then advantage Memphis.
- Connections. Zach Randolph is a former Clipper who they traded to Memphis to make room for Blake Griffin after winning the lottery and drafting Griffin with the first overall pick in 2009. Tony Allen played for Doc Rivers in Boston, and was part of the 2008 championship team.
- Get the Memphis perspective at Grizzly Bear Blues.
- Shakespearean reference:
King Lear -- Act III, Scene 1 -- Gentleman
Contending with the fretful elements;
Bids the wind blow the earth into the sea,
Or swell the curled waters 'bove the main,
That things might change or cease; tears his white hair,
Which the impetuous blasts, with eyeless rage,
Catch in their fury and make nothing of;
Strives in his little world of man to outscorn
The to-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain.
This night, wherein the cub-drawn bear would couch,
The lion and the belly-pinched wolf
Keep their fur dry, unbonneted he runs,
And bids what will take all.