Who: Memphis Grizzlies (30-23) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (37-19)
When: Friday, February 21st, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Watch and Listen: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
Still stuck with a nasty case of the All-Star apathy? Well tonight’s game should do the trick! Who better than the abhorred Clippers of Los Angeles to awaken your rabid Grizzlies fan within? After successfully navigating a relatively breezy patch of the schedule in recent weeks, this game should provide us a telling sign of where exactly the Grizzlies are at as a team right now. And if you’re still not up for this one just yet, let’s note that the Grindfather is expected to return from the hand injury that has kept him out since January 5th. As much as I’d love to see a repeat of the above image, I’m really looking forward to seeing Tony Allen get some burn to show what he and Courtney Lee can do playing alongside one another.
Mike Conley vs Chris Paul
As daunting as this matchup always sounds for Mr. Conley on paper, he’s had so much experience playing against the seven-time all-star, on such a large stage in the playoffs, that the grandeur of the matchup no longer gets inside his skin. Not much rattles him in general lately, to be honest. Against the Knicks on Tuesday, he was able to put a previously poor shooting performance behind him, and work his way into the paint at will, carrying the Grizzlies to their last minute victory. Chris Paul missed 18 games with a separated shoulder, but has wasted no time getting back to his old self, averaging 10.5 assists and 3.7 steals since his return. His shooting percentage took a hit against San Antonio on Tuesday (1-10), but that can likely be chalked up to the post-All-Star doldrums, and is more than likely to be anomalous.
Advantage: Memphis, because I said so
Courtney Lee vs Jamal Crawford
So I guess that Courtney Lee is human. I was hoping that we would never have to reach this realization. He had arguably his worst game as a Grizzly on both ends of the floor on Tuesday night, shooting just 2-8 from the field, and watching his man Tim Hardaway Jr. light up the scoreboard for 23 points on 15 shots. With sharpshooting wing JJ Redick out yet again for an extended period of time, Lee finds himself matched up against Jamal Crawford in this one. Crawford, at 33 years old, has developed his game miraculously with age, and is currently in the middle of one of his most efficient seasons as a pro, with a PER of 17.82, bested only by his first season in Atlanta.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Tayshaun Prince vs Matt Barnes
It’s Friday, February 21st, and Tayshaun Prince is still a Memphis Grizzly. So yes, we’re going to have to get used to accepting it, at least until the end of the season. The good news is that he’s playing against Matt Barnes tonight. Barnes is a great man-defender when given a premier matchup. He’s one of the best in the league at getting inside his matchup’s head. However, he likes to lay off Tayshaun even more so than most. He especially likes giving Prince free lanes to his right hand. Whether or not Prince can take advantage will be another story, but it at least gives a bump to the chance of him giving us a lift. Barnes still gets the edge, however, because he can really hurt the opposition from beyond the arc from time to time.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Zach Randolph vs Blake Griffin
It’s amazing that I made it through a whole Matt Barnes matchup preview without mentioning one of my favorite moments of the 2012-13 playoffs, the infamous Zbo/Barnes pseudo hug moment. We all know Zbo can be as intense as they come on the court, but in recent years, cooler minds seem to have prevailed for him. However, if there’s any team that has been able to push him towards that line, it’s these guys. Specifically, his direct adversary tonight, Blake Griffin. While I would love to be disparaging of the Kia jumping power forward, and endear myself to about 80% of readers in the process, I would be remiss not to mention how fabulous he has played this season. I’m really sorry y’all, but his numbers have been rock steady. He’s basically averaging 24 and 10 a night, with a true shooting percentage that is flirting with 60, and he’s up 18.2 percentage points from two seasons ago, at a mark just over 70%. Randolph will inevitably crawl his way under Blake’s skin, but whether or not it will be enough to knock his game off course varies on a game-by-game basis. Let’s see how it goes tonight.
Advantage: Blasphemous, I know, but… Los Angeles
Marc Gasol vs DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre, oh DeAndre. I’m not sure that many predicted before the season that he would be leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage, but it’s true. Right now he’s killing it by a considerable margin, pulling down 14.1 boards (0.9 greater than the next best qualifier), and shooting 65.9% (5.1% better than the next best qualifier) from the floor. It’s hard to look at those numbers and shrug off Jordan as just a raw athletic shot-blocker/alley-oop finisher, any longer. The good news is that he’s still a putrid sub .500 free throw shooter, so you can mitigate his aggregate impact on the game by putting him on the line. Marc Gasol is getting back into form and is an incredibly smart player, who can use the aggressiveness of the Clips’ frontline against them. The only downside is that he has been more than a step slow this year thanks to his knee and that brace, so we might have to see a good deal of Kosta Koufos/Ed Davis trotted out there to keep up with Jordan, athletically.
With Jamal Crawford slipping into the starting role, the bad guys’ bench is fronted by point guard Darren Collison, who was plastered all over the trade rumors heading into yesterday afternoon. He filled in admirably as the starting point in LA, when Paul was down nursing his injury, but is probably best suited for bench duty. He’s joined on a temporarily lackluster Clippers bench by Jared Dudley, who lost the starting gig to Barnes due to less than stellar performance, Hedo Turkoglu, who I’m somewhat surprised is still in playing shape, and Ryan Hollins, who is less than optimal as your 3rd big. On the good guys’ side, Mike Miller is coming off his most prolific display of shooting prowess of the season, while James Johnson looks to redeem himself for last game’s foul-fest, on the Grizzlies’ neck tattoo giveaway night in his honor. Lastly… TA!!!