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Clippers Return to the Grindhouse in Friday Night Showdown with Grizzlies

Clippers. Grizzlies. Just like old times?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Backstory:

So much is different but so much is the same. Forty-two months to the day after these teams last faced off in the playoffs, the once-riveting rivalry has been largely muted. The rise of a low-level playoff team to being the greatest of all time, LeBron moving back to Cleveland and winning a ring, etc., etc.—it’s been a long four years of NBA drama since that first-round series.

Yet as the league landscape has shifted, a lot has stayed the same for these two teams. The Clippers feature Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick. The Grizzlies are led by Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, with Tony Allen and Zach Randolph still hanging around. Sure, Caron Butler became Matt Barnes, who became Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, while Rudy Gay became Jeff Green, now replaced by Chandler Parsons. Somewhere, Lance Stephenson got in the mix for both sides, too.

With both squads fighting for relevance in a Warriors-dominated Western Conference, this game will either re-kindle the rivalry, or perhaps prove that it’s gone for good.

The Big Picture:

A 3-1 start is fine for the Clippers considering their early schedule, but the opponents aren’t getting easier in the coming week, and the performances thus far have been underwhelming at best. Everyone, including the players and coaches themselves, is ready for this team to kick it into gear and start clicking on offense. With a crucial game coming up against the San Antonio Spurs, now would be a good time.

The Antagonist:

After losing their season last year to injuries (literally, more than any team ever), the Grizzlies are trying to prove that they’re still a homecourt-level team in the West. So far, results are mixed: two okay wins against the Timberwolves and the Wizards, an overtime win against an abysmal Pelicans squad, a bad loss to the Knicks and a blowout loss in a thrown game against Minnesota where Conley and Gasol sat. The Grizzlies have to be looking at this Clippers match-up as a chance to announce their legitimacy to the league, and they won’t get another opportunity until they come to L.A. two weeks from now.

Clippers Grizzlies preview

The Subplots:

  • Shooters: Don’t think the Clippers are going to start playing better? Look at these numbers: J.J. Redick, 31.3%; Wesley Johnson/Blake Griffin/Marreese Speights, 28.6%; Austin Rivers, 22.2%; Jamal Crawford, 7.7%. All six of those guys are going to get going eventually, and the offense will look a lot better.
  • Tony Allen: Speaking of bad shooters, Tony Allen has gone just 3-15 in his first two games back from a knee injury that caused him to miss the first three games of the regular season. — (Adithya)
  • 18 Million Dollar Man: the Clippers took their full Mid-Level Exception—the biggest tool they had this summer—and used it to give Wesley Johnson a three-year, $18 million contract to return. WeJo is probably too limited all-around to be the team’s starting SF, but he provides utility off of the bench as a combo forward who is an average three-point shooter with the tools to be a good team defender. Early in the year, he found himself as the 10th man, with Raymond Felton, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Marreese Speights playing more minutes than him, understandably. But against the Thunder in the Clippers’ last game, Johnson was out of the rotation in favor of Brandon Bass. It’s hard to imagine GM Doc prioritizing a free agent who Coach Doc isn’t going to have in the 10-man rotation.
  • James Ennis: The Clippers were interested in the young wing in free agency, but ultimately chose Wesley Johnson instead. On a two-year, six-million-dollar contract, Ennis probably already has Doc feeling regrets. In five games starting for Chandler Parsons, Ennis is averaging 12 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 44.4% from deep. Oof.
  • Old Dogs: It’s never too late to learn a new trick. This year, new coach David Fizdale has Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (both proficient midrange shooters) stepping back and regularly hoisting deep shots for the first time in their careers. Results have been mixed so far: Randolph’s 2-7 (29%) on the year while Gasol is shooting 39% on 4.5 attempts a game (but only 3-12 outside of a 4-6 performance against the Wizards). — (Adithya)