Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
The Memphis Grizzlies open their 2013 NBA Playoff run in Los Angeles today against the Los Angeles Clippers at 9:30 CST. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN. They have the desire to win the series. The question now is: Do they have the attitude to do so?
The rivalry started last year in the playoffs when the Clippers came back from 27 points down in Game 1. That game set the tone between these two teams that hasn’t eased over the following 12 months. The teams have clearly not liked each other as all four games this season have been emotional affairs for the players as well as the fans.
The teams aren’t exactly the same as met last year. Gone from the Grizzlies are leading scorer Rudy Gay, Mo Speights, and O.J. Mayo who were important components to last year’s team. Gone from the Clippers are Randy Foye, Nick Young, and Reggie Evans. In their place the Grizzlies have acquired Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, and Jerryd Bayless, The Clippers have added Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, and Lamar Odom. The names have changed in spots, but the intensity of the rivalry hasn’t diminished.
While things are different this time, a lot remains the same. The Clippers are still led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The Grizzlies still rely on defense and their inside power game with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The Clippers should have confidence. The Clippers’ series win last year was disheartening for the Grizzlies. The team had fought back from the embarrassing loss at home in Game 1 to force a Game 7 in the Grind House. Fans were pumped, but the team was flat and fatigued. The loss took a lot of wind out of the sails of Grizzlies fans. The Clippers have continued their advantage over the Grizzlies opening the season with a win in L.A. and taking the final game at the FedEx Forum last week to claim the season series 3-1 and home court advantage in the playoffs.
“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
Should the Grizzlies have confidence? Yes! The Grizzlies learned from their mistakes and are a more mature team this year. This year’s team is better than last year’s. The players have to believe that.
The Grizzlies were thin behind their starting front line last season. Darrell Arthur was injured and unable to play. The Clippers’ bench clearly manhandled the Grizzlies’ bench forcing the starters to play harder for longer and eventually they ran out of gas. This season, the bench is healthier and deeper. Along with Arthur, the Grizzlies have added Ed Davis to bolster their frontline. Last season the Grizzlies juggled their lineup before the playoffs by inserting Randolph into the starting five and moving Speights back to the bench. This season, the rotation is set and everyone understands their role. The consistency should give confidence to the team.
The Grizzlies are stronger on the perimeter off the bench, as well. Quincy Pondexter is a solid defensive presence and has added a corner 3-point shot to his arsenal. Keyon Dooling, a late season addition, brings playoff experience and a deft outside shot as the back up PG, something the Grizzlies truly need against the Clippers pressure from Eric Bledsoe.
Most importantly, the Grizzlies have found a true bench scorer in Jerryd Bayless. Bayless struggled becoming a true pass-first PG, but has flourished as the primary bench scorer, often teaming with Conley to give the Grizzlies two capable ball handlers to deal with pressure. Bayless and Dooling are players who welcome the challenge and have proven themselves capable under the bright lights. Their presence on the team also allows Conley time to rest, which he didn’t get last season.
So, the Grizzlies bench is improved.
“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
Mike Conley will be under the spotlight. Conley’s has risen from a role player to a leading man this season, especially since the Rudy Gay trade. He had become more aggressive, particularly late in games, and his confidence has sky-rocketed. People have even discussed him possibly being an All-Star candidate himself next season.
He will now need to prove he deserves such praise, and he must prove it against the best in the game today. Conley doesn’t need to outplay Paul — that would be an unfair request of any point guard in the league — but he must hang with the Clippers PG. Conley has to be aggressive and force Paul to play both ends of the court. If Paul is focused on containing Conley, then he won’t be as free to freelance in passing lanes looking for steals. Also, every ounce of energy Paul exerts playing defense is less that he will have to exploit on the offensive end.
It won’t be an easy job, and no one should expect Conley to put up stats in the way Paul does. However, Conley must not shrink from the pressure Paul will try to assert on him either. Conley must believe he belongs here and this is his moment to show the world he deserves to be mentioned among the best in the game.
Conley has admitted to having doubts in the past. Paul preys on signs of weakness like this. Conley needs to show Paul he is ready to compete with him not just defer to him if the Grizzlies are to have a chance. It is a matter of will not talent. What makes Paul different from the rest of the league is his confidence. Conley must be just as confident. He can’t show weakness mentally because Conley is equally talented physically.
“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”
Also under the spotlight will be Zach Randolph. Randolph was the Grizzlies’ only All-Star this season, but has struggled down the stretch since injuring his ankle in the opening minutes of the game in Miami. Randolph did outplay Griffin in their last meeting scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 boards compared to Griffin rather average 12 point and 9 board game. Randolph must continue to outplay the man he was traded away because of if the Grizzlies are to have any chance in the series.
That is not to say Randolph needs to be the same player who carried the team on his back 2 years ago against San Antonio. Randolph is over 30, has had knee and ankle issues over the last two years and may never be that player again. That isn’t to say Randolph can’t make a big contribution. Randolph will likely be guarded by DeAndre Jordan, and he needs to drag him away from the basket with his jump shot and get him into foul trouble when under the basket. Randolph needs to be a force rebounding on both sides of the court as well. Offensive rebounds won’t be easy against the Clippers. Randolph has to close Griffin and Jordan off the glass as well. If he can keep the Clippers from winning the rebounding battle, the chance of Memphis winning the series rises dramatically.
Marc Gasol, like Conley, has received a lot of attention from the press this season. Many pundits have considered him the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. He needs to play like that and not allow DeAndre Jordan to ring up 16 points and 12 rebounds like he did on April 13th. Jordan is more athletic than Gasol, but he isn’t as polished a player. Gasol must take advantage of his lack of finesse by attacking him and getting him into early foul trouble. Jordan, unlike Gasol, doesn’t know how to play with fouls effectively.
“There’s always the motivation of wanting to win. Everybody has that. But a champion needs, in his attitude, a motivation above and beyond winning.”
I can go on and on about individual match-ups (In fact, I did in the preview to the series for those who are more inclined to the specific individuals) but basketball is a team game in the end.
If the Grizzlies have any hope of defeating the Clippers in a seven game series, they are going to need to do it as a team. They are going to have to play with confidence that has been missing at times from this team. The Clippers win and lose with an air of smugness about them. Memphis has to embrace that attitude. They must not shirk from the opportunity in front of them. Two years ago, when the Grizzlies upset the Spurs, Memphis embraced an attitude of being the underdog. When the big shot opportunities came, they capitalized on them.
Last season the team failed in similar situations. When the Clippers turned up the defensive intensity, the Grizzlies fell apart under the pressure. The Clippers believe they can beat the Grizzlies. They have the attitude that the only team that can defeat them is themselves. It is up to the Grizzlies to show them that they can beat the Clippers as well.
“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
For the Grizzlies to win the series, they must believe, as a team and to a man, that they can win and have the attitude to show the world this is so.
Tonight, the war begins. Whether or not the Grizzlies back down under the pressure or rise to the heights their fans believe they can achieve will depend on the attitude the team takes on the court with them.