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Clippers vs. Grizzlies Preview: Grit and Grind Meets Grit and Grind 2.0

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The 16-7 Clippers and 13-9 Grizzlies have both been surprise teams to start the season, with both squads near the top of the Western Conference Standings. Who will come out on top in Memphis on Wednesday night?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee

When: 5:00 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, Fox Sports App, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marc Gasol

Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Marcin Gortat

Injuries:

Grizzlies: Dillon Brooks (Knee) - OUT, Chandler Parsons (Knee) - OUT

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) - OUT, Jerome Robinson (Foot) - OUT

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are still atop the Western Conference after a heart-racing win against the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night followed a heartbreaking loss against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday. The Clippers are in the midst of a four game road-trip through the Western Conference that has seen them travel from NorCal to the southeast of the country. The Clippers have had the fourth hardest schedule so far this season according to ESPN metrics, and have traveled a lot, including having multiple road back-to-back’s. However, this team shows no quit, and has shown a special brand of toughness most nights on the floor. They aren’t at the top of the crowded West because they finesse teams and win with talent. They play with massive chips on their shoulders and will themselves to victory with energy, toughness, and chemistry. Some members of the NBA media, however, still aren’t too keen on the Clippers chances moving forward this season.

The Clippers and the Grizzlies have had quite the history this decade, and both teams have followed a similar trajectory since 2010. They both relied on talented, multi-skilled bigs and small-stature point guards who could score, pass, and execute an offense at a high level. Both teams were previously afterthoughts: the Grizzlies play in one of the smallest markets in the league (and are still a relatively young franchise) and the Clippers always played little brother to the Lakers. Style of play and market-share is where the similarities ended, however, as the Grizzlies relied on a tough brand of basketball coined “Grit and Grind” by the local media. With notorious ball-hawk Tony Allen, Mike Conley at point, Marc Gasol in the middle, and former-Clipper Zach Randolph lurking around the basket, this Grizzlies team was never going down without a fight.

The Clips however, in their “Lob City” era, were known more for finesse. Dunks, transition, threes, iso-ball, and a knack for playing bad defense when it mattered. These styles came to a head in back-to-back seasons, as Memphis and L.A. met in the first round of the playoffs in 2011-12 and 2012-13. While L.A. and Memphis both took a series, these games were memorable for historic comebacks on both sides and a true clashing of styles that made for some riveting basketball.

The story six years later is different, but we are currently seeing a resurgence of two teams who had down years in 2017-18 and are picking up wins without conforming to the modern NBA. Both teams are comprised of hard-nosed, underrated players who know their roles and play within a system. With no big stars between the two teams, this is not a match-up made for TNT, but has already seen one of the better finishes of this young NBA season in the Clippers 112-107 overtime victory on November 23rd. We are probably bound for another close game in Memphis Wednesday night.

The Antagonist:

The Grizzlies always seem to stay under-the-radar in any given year. Yes, they are in a small market. Yes, they have mostly stuck with what has worked for the last decade. No, they aren’t boring despite what some say, and they will always try to find a way to eek out a game. Expect nothing less than this Wednesday night.

The Grizzlies are currently being led by their stalwarts in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, who are both playing at All-Star levels and winning games surrounded by younger players. Conley is making a killing, averaging 21.1 points, 6.6 assists and 1.09 steals a game. He is the Grizzlies’ rock and is now fully healthy. Conley has always had an affinity for knocking down clutch shots, getting into the paint, and being a nuisance defensively. A true lead guard, Conley had 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 11 assists against the Clips last month, and if he hadn’t fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, the result probably would have been different. Avery Bradley, SGA, and Patrick Beverley will have their work cut out for them guarding Conley.

Gasol is back to his normal bucket-getting ways after a wasted season in 2017-18 with a depleted squad. He is averaging 18 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4 assists a game on 47.1 percent shooting. This includes shooting 41.6 percent from deep. Gasol is a matchup problem for the Clippers (always has been) as he is too agile for Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic and a lot bigger than Montrezl Harrell. This was in full effect last game, as Gasol torched the Clips to the tune of 27 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists on 11-of-19 shooting. The Clips will need to throw multiple bodies at Gasol Wednesday to try their best to contain a potential scoring outburst.

Another matchup problem the Clips had against Memphis the first time was with star rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. JJJ had one of the best games of his young career, going for 20 points and seven rebounds in L.A. He causes problems for a weak interior team, like the Clips, because he is 6’11” and can take you inside and out. He is also incredibly long-limbed and is starting to get hot shooting-wise (shot 54.1 percent from the field and 43.2 from three in November). If he is doing whatever he wants on the floor, as he did for the first three frames against L.A. last game, it’s going to be a long night.

Outside of Memphis’ “big-three,” they get contributions from Garrett Temple (11.1 PPG), JaMychal Green (9.7 PPG) and Kyle Anderson (6.2 PPG), all of whom are tough matchups defensively and can score in a variety of ways. This is going to be a close game the whole way, let’s hope the Clips show enough grit on the road to pull one out.

Notes:

Avery Bradley finally looking like his old self: A surprising aspect of the Clips season thus far is the roller-coaster that Avery Bradley has taken us on. Early on in the season he looked like he belonged more at a YMCA pickup game rather than on an NBA floor. However, in the last three games he is shooting at a high clip, playing his usual tenacious defense and scoring in double-digits. If Avery is hitting shots, the Clippers offense can open up even more. Hopefully he keeps it up.

Maybe try Motley?: Marcin Gortat has had varying levels of effectiveness as a Clipper, but he’s certainly been unable to stay on the court against all opponents. Perhaps the Clippers should turn to two-way player Johnathan Motley instead? Motley has been making a killing with the Agua Caliente Clippers of the G-League, averaging 24.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 57 percent shooting in 10 appearances. It wouldn’t hurt to try considering he’s a two-way player and can spend 45 days with the Clips this season. Against a long, tough team like Memphis, Motley’s presence would more than likely be a positive.