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Clippers-Grizzlies Preview: No Bear Market

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The Clippers welcome their old rivals, the Memphis Grizzlies, but the two teams are on very different trajectories.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

When you play like this, you enter nearly every game as the favorite. The pre-game question shifts from “Will they win?” to “By how much?” On most nights, the answer to the second question has been “A LOT.” This SB Nation piece yesterday identified the Clippers’ 11-game point differential as fourth-best all time, four points better than last year’s Warriors. The FIRST-RANKED defense may fall back toward the pack some — they’re outpacing the field by nearly three points per 100 possessions — but the offense can still improve to counter that, seeing as they ranked first in the last two seasons in which Blake Griffin was healthy. So, are the Clippers rolling? Oh yeah. For how long? I guess we’ll find out.

The Antagonist:

The Grizzlies entered this season confident that their veteran core could still produce enough to make a playoff run. They just needed to stay healthy, and they’re off to an iffy start. Both Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons played in Monday night’s road win in Utah, Memphis’ first of the season, but both are banged up. First-year head coach David Fizdale has already started 10 different players. With that kind of uncertainty, Memphis should continue to fight along the playoff fringe. But the Clippers can be sure of one thing: no matter who’s on the floor for the Grizzlies, a fight is what they’ll bring.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of key metrics: It’s tough picking nits with these Clippers, but after 11 games they’re only a middling team at limiting opponent free throws. Nearly a fifth (19.9%, 4th in the NBA) of the Grizzlies’ points come from the charity stripe. One formula for the Grizzlies tonight: live at the line.
  • The schedule: The Clippers take a quick trip north to Sacramento Friday night, then return home to host the Bulls on Saturday and the Raptors on Monday.
  • Shooters shoot: Austin Rivers’ 2016-17 campaign is off to a cold start. Rivers has converted just 6 of 29 three-pointers (20.7%) and is under 39% overall. The man has never lacked for confidence though — he’s shooting at a higher volume than ever before. He’s hoisting a career-high 8.2 shot attempts per night.
  • The Bench took a night off: The Clipper reserves have been outstanding thus far, but Monday night’s dismantling of the Nets came solely by way of the starters’ domination. Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers each managed a -11 in more than 22 minutes of game action. You know your team is deep when the bench struggles and the team can still run up a 32-point victory.
  • Plus-Minus Masters: One follow-up bonus note to Monday’s smackdown, the Clippers now own the top three individual, single-game plus-minus performances for the NBA season and a share of the fourth (JJ Redick +43, DeAndre Jordan and Luc Mbah a Moute +40, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul +39).
  • Zach Randolph, Bench Bully: The longtime Memphis mainstay at power forward now begins games on the bench, and his efficiency has seen a small benefit. The big brute with the deft touch is scoring at his best rate per 40 minutes since 2006-07, his final season in Portland, and his PER is at its highest since 2010-11.
  • Old Man Carter: Vince Carter just keeps rolling along. Now 39 and the oldest active player in the NBA, his 27.7 minutes per night are fifth on the team, and his true shooting % is a ridiculous 60.5% (a career-high if he could keep that up for 72 more games). He, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce are the lone remaining members of the 1998 draft. You might be familiar with the first overall pick of the 1998 draft, Clippers’ choice Michael Olowokandi, who hasn’t played professionally in NEARLY 10 YEARS.
  • For the Grizzlies’ point of view, check out Grizzly Bear Blues.