Enemy: Los Angeles Clippers
Coach: Vinny Del Negro
Potential Starting 5: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan
Other Key Players: Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes
Threats: Playmakers, Frontcourt athleticism, Veteran presence, Leadership, Dangerous lob passes
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 4-6 (w/ Playoffs)
As a Grizzlies fan, talking about the Clippers is obviously a sore subject for me. So as a result, I’m going to have to give it my absolute best effort to avoid being as caustic with this preview as my heart is telling me to. I make no promises, though. All things considered, the Clippers were a good team last year. Say what you want about them being gift wrapped Chris Paul for “basketball reasons,” the Clippers’ fan base has been waiting for a long time for something to be excited about. Especially given the fact that they’ve been taunted for years by, you know… that other team in Los Angeles. No longer the New York Mets of the NBA (yes, a swipe at my own, beloved, home baseball team), the Clippers emerged as a legitimate candidate for title contention. The question now becomes one of how long it will all last? In the past, they have been able to put together a couple teams that have been immensely talented, only to have the party last a few quick minutes, before the cops bust down the door. As recently as a few years ago, constructed around a then-healthy Elton Brand, the Clippers had looked like they had turned the corner. Well, this time around, their fortunes seem to rest within the hands of Chris Paul’s willingness to remain with the franchise. He is soon to be due for an extension, and the team as a whole is going to have to put together another solid campaign this coming year, in order to maintain his interest. Very much aware of this situation, Clippers brass set out this offseason with the simple goal of: get this team ready to win now. They were pretty clear with their message, acquiring battle-tested and seasoned veterans, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, and recently Matt Barnes, to round out their forces. Add to that list a returning Chauncey Billups, and the collective resume of this team is impressive to say the least.
Bringing in such a finely aged group is not without caveat. The NBA is a “what can you do for me now” league, and if these guys don’t have too much gas left in the tank, or fire in the belly, the end result will amount to very little. To me as an outsider, while there should still be a decent amount of mileage left on these guys, I have to wonder whether the fit is quite right. The Clippers established themselves as an incredibly dangerous team out in open court, with Blake and Deandre soaring above the rim, gobbling up lob passes from every which direction, to stuff home into the goal. What I find puzzling about the newest acquisitions is that the Clippers did not actively pursue more young fresh legs to threaten the opposition on the break, but rather opted for more steady-paced veterans. It’s hard to fault them too much for this, given how much these veterans have accomplished within their respective careers, but I have to wonder, at least a little bit, if they could have played to the strengths of their roster a bit more. Regardless, breaking it down by position, they possess what is most likely the best point guard rotation in the association, a wily defensive-minded bunch on the wings, and a freakishly athletic frontline. The do-it-all Paul, cold-blooded-shooting Billups, and the energetic and athletic Eric Bledsoe provide a triple-edged-sword at the point guard position, that few teams will have a true answer for. Crawford can play spot minutes there as well. Hill, Barnes and Butler have all shown that they can defend the best of them. As for the frontline, not much needs to be said there that a quick glance at the top plays from any given night won’t fill you in on. If Lamar Odom can stunt the growth of the Kardashian drama-gene that he’s developing, he could still add a great deal of versatility to the squad.
This now brings me to the most difficult section of the post: how we stack up amidst all this. As predicted, we’ll be kicking off our season against this group in LA, setting the stage for what figures to be a very interesting night of basketball. Naturally our Grizzlies have to be out for blood after these guys mopped our own floor with us with the stakes at their highest, in game 7. Not all games are created equally, and I cannot think of a better motivator to get our guys ready for the start of the season. We are going to have to come out playing our brand of basketball, and more importantly, we cannot let the Clippers do so better than us. Last year in the playoffs we were deflated by game one’s finish, and the Clippers pounced. From there on out, they out grinded us to the final bell of game seven, which cannot be the case this season. The Clipper grind movement was partially spearheaded by workhorse Reggie Evans, who really abused our bigs throughout the series. While at first glance his departure from LA-la-land doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal, the ability for Marc and Zach to operate more comfortably should pay off dividends for our chances to win games against this team. Additionally, Mike Conley has really come into his own and can play Chris Paul pretty admirably (relative to expectation, of course). I maintain that game 7 would have been a completely different game if he wasn’t under the weather. I sure do hope to see our guys get after it and play like they did the first three quarters of game one. The optimist in me sees no reason why they can’t. Grit and Grind!