Who: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers
When: 9:30 PM CST
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Records: Memphis (43-19), Los Angeles (45-20)
Media: SportsSouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis seeks to re-establish some swagger against the Clippers after dropping three straight games to their rivals starting with Game 7 of the 2012 playoffs. It won’t be easy either. The Clippers haven’t played a game since defeating Detroit on Sunday night while the Grizzlies were taking care of Portland last night. The Grizzlies are now 24 games above .500 for the first time in franchise history. They need only 7 more wins to tie the franchise record for wins in a season and only 8 more wins to set the single season winning percentage mark set last year during the strike shortened season. The Grizzlies have 13 wins in their last 14 games with the only loss a last second affair at Miami.
Los Angeles have regained their swagger after faltering a bit over the last few weeks having won 10 of their last 13 games. The Clippers have 38 wins in their last 46 games at the Staples Center (two of which were “road” wins against the Lakers). The Clippers are second in the league in opponent rebounds giving up only 39.29 rebounds a game trailing the Grizzlies who lead the league at 38.46. The Clippers also lead the league in steals at 9.88 a game (Grizzlies are 4th at 8.74). While led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers will need to find someone to replace Caron Butler at SF while Butler recovers from an elbow injury suffered against Detroit. With the Grizzlies sitting one game behind the Clippers, LA will want to take advantage of the Grizzlies schedule to hit the court running early to take advantage of their tired legs.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul is the best point guard playing in the NBA today. Paul had been struggling since returning from his recurring knee issue but in five games in March Paul is looking more like his old self. His 17.4 PPG and 11.2 APG are head and shoulders above most PGs. What makes Paul great isn’t the numbers. It’s when he gets his numbers. Clutch is an understatement. Conley has started to show that same ability of late. In March Conley is averaging 17.2 PPG and 7.4 APG. Conley has also been a tremendous hawk on defense averaging 3.0 SPG. Before you get too excited remember that Paul leads the league in that category. Chris Paul also needs 5 more points to reach the 10,000 point plateau for his career. He would be only the 57th player to reach that total in NBA history.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Tony Allen vs Chauncey Billups
Tony Allen has been the gas when Memphis has needed something to spark a fire in the team. When the team has needed a rebound, there was Tony. When the team needed a defensive stop, there was Tony with a steal. When the team needed a longball…well two out of ain’t bad. Chauncey Billups used to be the guy team’s turned to when they needed a big shot. Not so much anymore. At 36 and returning from a torn Achilles tendon, Billups is a shadow of the player he once was. Billups is basically a three point shooter now with 25 of his 37 made shots coming from beyond the arc but the Clippers are 5-1 when he hits at least two 3s in a game.
Tayshaun Prince vs Matt Barnes
Tayshaun Prince has not been as effective with the Grizzlies as he was with the Pistons but that is to be expected somewhat after the trade. He’ll be expected to be back into the swing in this game between two heated rivals. Prince did make two huge baskets to preserve the lead in Portland last night. Barnes was originally drafted by the Grizzlies but was traded before the season to Cleveland. Barnes is an emotional player who can punish teams when he is on his game. Prince may not have the speed he once had but he is still a strong defender who should give Barnes fits when he tries to score.
Zach Randolph vs Blake Griffin
The Clippers drafting Blake Griffin was the starting point for the Grizzlies march to respectability and beyond. That wasn’t a typo either. If the Clippers hadn’t drafted Griffin they wouldn’t have unloaded Randolph and who knows what Memphis would be like today if that hadn’t happened. Randolph came back to action in Portland after missing 4 games due to an ankle injury suffered early in the Miami game. Z-Bo was his usual strong self getting a double-double (19 points and 10 rebounds) in only 28 minutes.The book on Griffin used to be foul him before he dunks the ball. However, Griffin has hit 68.8% of his FT attempts since Jan. 1. Griffin does lead the league in dunks despite that tactic.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Marc Gasol vs DeAndre Jordan
Who would have thought three years ago that the Lakers combination of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol wouldn’t have be the best Gasol brother or the best center in LA? Okay, maybe Dwight Howard is still the best center in LA but DeAndre Jordan is getting respect all the same. Jordan is one of three players in the league averaging at least 8.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG and shooting over 55% from the field. Gasol is looking to make history himself this season. He’s trying to become only the third player in league history to stand 7 feet tall or more and shoot at least 90% from the free throw line and trying to become the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 10 in blocks and FT%. Over the last 5 games Gasol was averaging over 18.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.3 APG and 1.8 BPG over the last five games heading into Portland.
Jamal Crawford’s return couldn’t come at a better time for Clipper fans or a worse time for Grizzlies fans. The Clippers, already short with Caron Butler out for a week, will need Crawford’s offensive capabilities to help bolster the team’s bench that already is the second most productive bench in the league averaging 40.9 PPG. Memphis’ bench has been re-energized since the trades and have become a fearsome unit in their own regard. Led b sharp-shooter Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and newcomer Ed Davis, the Grizzlies bench could see the return of Darrell Arthur in this game.
Advantage: Los Angeles