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PREGAME REPORT | APRIL 13, 2013

GAME
# 80

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Tipoff: 5:00 p.m. PT | FedEx Forum | Memphis, TN | Game Notes »

                                                                                           

Rafael Guerrero

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It seems fitting that, in the 80th game of the NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies would meet with so much on the line.

After hammering each other in a seven-game series in last year’s playoffs and three more grueling contests during this regular season, the Clippers (53-26) go into FedEx Forum on Saturday night with a golden opportunity to take control of their playoff destiny.

“We know what to expect,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’ve played them a bunch. We know what’s at stake.”

Riding a four-game winning streak, the Clippers trail the Grizzlies (54-25) and the Denver Nuggets (54-25) by one game in the standings. A victory would put the Clippers in the driver’s seat for home-court advantage in a possible playoff match up with the Grizzlies.

It would also put the Clippers a half game back of the Nuggets for the No. 3 seed, who have three games left in the season and will have to go through them without Danilo Gallinari.

“The guys know [what’s at stake],” Del Negro reiterated. “Now you’ve got to go out and earn it. No one’s going to give you anything.”

LAST TIME OUT

Clippers 96, Hornets 93: Despite trailing by as much as 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Clippers stormed back to edge the Hornets in New Orleans, thanks in no small part to their floor general. Chris Paul scored 17 points including eight in the final minute, six of them from the free throw line. He also helped lead an offense that scored in its final 11 possessions and 15 of their last 16 en route to a 39-point fourth quarter explosion.

“We were able to get some stops at the end and had a big fourth quarter,” Del Negro said. “We were able to make some free throws down the stretch and Matt Barnes’ rebounding with ten rebounds was great. I thought Eric Bledsoe gave us a big burst, hitting a big three pointer in the right corner and had a big tip-in late after Chris’ miss. Everybody contributed and we snuck out of here with one.”

Paul also sang Bledsoe’s praises during the postgame television interview, crediting the young guard for his stellar defense in the fourth quarter against Eric Gordon, who led the Hornets with 25 points.

“We were in a tight game like this and I knew we were lacking energy, so I just tried to come in and give everyone energy,” Bledsoe said.

Grizzlies 82, Rockets 78: James Harden missed a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute and then missed a potential game-tying jumper from near the top of the key as the Grizzlies escaped with their third consecutive victory.

Marc Gasol scored 15 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and drilled two free throws with 0.4 seconds left to ice the game and snap the Grizzlies’ 13-game losing streak in Houston. Zach Randolph added 15 points and Jerryd Bayless 13 points off the bench.

The Grizzlies top-rated defense stifled the Rockets offense, holding them to 31.1% (23-for-74) shooting. Harden scored 30 points but went 7-for-24 from the field. Jeremy Lin was the only other Rockets player to score in double figures as he went for 17 points on 5-for-13 shooting.

NOTEWORTHY MATCH UP

Chris Paul vs. Mike Conley. Paul recorded his 29th double-double of the season in New Orleans. It was also his fourth straight double-double, a big reason the Clippers are in the midst of a four-game winning streak. The Clippers will need Paul to be his spectacular self if they hope to win in Memphis for the second time this year.

He scored 24 points and dished out nine assists but committed an uncharacteristic five turnovers in a 96-85 loss to Memphis in Los Angeles on March 13.

But as important as Paul will be to the Clippers, Conley could prove to be even more important to the Grizzlies success.

The sixth-year point guard is much improved this season and had been playing some of his best basketball of the season before having a 4-for-14 performance in Houston on Friday night. He had scored 20-plus points in his previous five games, averaging 21.8 per game and shooting 59.5% (44-for-74) from the field.

Against the Clippers, Conley’s impact has proven to be the difference between a win or a loss. In the Grizzlies lone victory on March 13, Conley scored 17 points on 5-for-11 shooting and dished out 11 assists while committing just one turnover. But in the two losses to the Clippers, Conley has struggled mightily, going a combined 4-for-21 from the field and averaged six points and three assists in the two games along with 4.5 turnovers.

TWO THINGS TO WATCH

The Frontcourt. The Clippers struggled mightily with their rebounding in New Orleans but luckily escaped with a victory despite getting hammered 19-10 on the offensive glass.

“We’ve got to control the glass a lot better because Memphis will really make you pay for that,” Del Negro said.

Gasol and Zach Randolph have combined to average 16.6 rebounds in their last eight games, helping the Grizzlies win seven of them.

Setting the Pace. The Grizzlies boast the top-ranked scoring defense in the NBA and also rank second in defensive rating, allowing their opponents to score 100.5 points per 100 possessions. They play at a notoriously slow pace, averaging 88.5 possessions a game, which ranks second to last in the NBA.

In contrast, the Clippers rank fourth in the league in offensive rating averaging nearly 111 points per 100 possessions and have had their success against the Grizzlies when they score in the high 90s.

They scored 101 points in their opening night win at Staples Center and followed that with 99 points in their January 14 victory at Memphis but managed just 85 points in their lone loss on March 13.

NOTES

Chauncey Billups (strained right groin) is listed as doubtful… The Clippers are 13-13 this season in the second game of a back-to-back, but 8-5 when that game is on the road… Willie Green is shooting 65.6% (21-for-32) from beyond the arc since March 10, the best percentage by a player with at least 30 attempts in that span...

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