PREGAME REPORT | MARCH 13, 2013

 



Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. PST | STAPLES Center | Los Angeles, CA | Game Notes »

                                                          

ERIC PATTEN

  JOIN LIVE CHAT STARTING AT TIP-OFF »

Every regular season game is one of 82, but some feel like more.

Wednesday night might be one of those games.

The Clippers (45-20) face off against the Memphis Grizzlies (43-19) at Staples Center with .002 percentage points separating the two in the Western Conference standings.

“I didn’t even realize we had dropped down to the fourth seed,” Chris Paul said. “It’s all percentage points. Right now, we’re in a position where if we win, the standings don’t matter. We’ve just got to win games.”

It is also the third rematch this season from last year’s memorable seven-game first-round playoff series, in which the Clippers won twice in Memphis to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. They have defeated the Grizzlies six of the last nine meetings, including the playoffs and two wins this regular season. But it’s the first time they’ve face Memphis with Tayshaun Prince inserted into the starting lineup in place of Rudy Gay, who was traded to the Raptors in early February.

“It’s a new team on both ends, the same principles, but a different team,” Blake Griffin said. “I don’t think we’re going to watch any film from last year’s playoff series.”

Still, Memphis comes in winners of 13 of their last 14 and on the precipice of securing a one-game advantage over the Clippers with a win.

“It’s a big game,” Chauncey Billups said. “Obviously, it’s just another game, but it’s a big game because there are implications to it. We’ve been pretty successful against them this year, but they’re a team that’s been playing really well since the trade that they made. And we want to continue to play well against them.”

LAST TIME OUT

Clippers 129, Pistons 97: DeAndre Jordan’s colossal dunk over Brandon Knight punctuated a season-high scoring performance from the Clippers. They shot 62.5%, their highest shooting percentage since 2004, scored their most points since 2009, and had seven players in double-figures, including a game-high 22 from Griffin.

“We had better ball movement tonight, obviously with 37 assists on 50 baskets,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Overall we shot it well. I thought our focus and our intensity from the jump was much better in a lot of areas. It made us a lot crisper. We fouled them a little too much, got them to the line. But I liked some of the hard fouls we had, make them earn it at the line.”

But Jordan’s dunk, which came off a lob from Paul midway through the second quarter, dominated conversation after the game. The play trended nationally on Twitter for nearly 24 hours and became a media spectacle. Jordan finished with 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting and seven rebounds.

Grizzlies 102, Trail Blazers 97: Playing their third game in five nights, the Grizzlies withstood a 39-point fourth quarter by the host Trail Blazers to win for the 13th time in the last 14 games. They received a boost from Zach Randolph, who scored 19 points with 10 rebounds in his first game back from an ankle injury that cost him more than a week. Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 20 points and Mike Conley had 15 assists. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 58 points for Portland, but it wasn’t enough.

NOTEWORTHY MATCHUP

Blake Griffin vs. Zach Randolph. While Conley and Paul are the top two in the NBA in steals, the premier matchup Wednesday will be between the two All-Star power forwards. Randolph said during All-Star weekend that he has a respect for Griffin because he views him as one of the hardest working players in the league. However, that will matter little when the Grizzlies come into Staples Center. Both players have an immense physicality about their games and over the last two seasons, including the seven-game playoff series, Randolph and Griffin have turned basketball into a bit of a wrestling match around the rim.

“[Randolph’s] just a tough, tough cover,” Billups said. He’s got a knack for that ball. He’s got great anticipation as far as getting rebounds and things like that. Not only that, he’s just physical. He’s very crafty in how he uses his hands, his body and his positioning, so he’s a tough cover. I think we just have to have Blake be very aggressive on our offensive end and try to just get him into foul trouble and just wear him down a little bit.”

Griffin said it’s not just Radolph, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, but the entire mindset of the Grizzlies that forces you to match their physicality.

“I think it’s just their style of play as a team in general,” Griffin said. “They like to grind it out. They’re real physical down low, not just with one guy but with all their bigs.”

In nine games against the Grizzlies in the regular season, Griffin has averaged 4.6 assists, which is more than against any Western Conference opponent.

TWO THINGS TO WATCH

Turnovers. The Clippers, not the Grizzlies, lead the NBA in points off turnovers (19.9 per game). Memphis averages 2.1 fewer than L.A., but both teams thrive off creating havoc defensively and it leading to easy offense. Del Negro said, “It’s just about getting those guys off the glass. The game will come down to us not turning it over and keeping them off the glass.”

Griffin agreed: “Take care of the ball, whether it’s on the offensive glass [or on turnovers]. We really have to work on rebounding. They live on the glass, they live off of turnovers, so if we can take care of the ball and not give them extra possessions that’s huge for us.”

Physicality. As Griffin mentioned, the physicality of the game will be unlike any normal one in the regular season, with the likely exception of opening night when the Clippers beat Memphis behind 29 points from Jamal Crawford.

Tony Allen will use his body to bump Paul or Crawford, who is expected to play despite missing the last two games with a sore left ankle. Randolph and Gasol, a duo Del Negro said is the best high-low combo in the league, will fight for every inch in the paint. And the addition of Prince gives the Grizzlies another defensive-minded player.

“Tayshaun just knows how to play,” Paul said. “He’s very cerebral, can guard anybody. I think without Rudy, it gives Mike Conley a lot more freedom and gives Zach and Marc a lot more touches.”

“I would say they are the most physical team in the league,” added Billups, who won the 2004 title with Prince in Detroit. “They kid of play the way the game used to be played like some of my Detroit teams when the game was a little more physical and the rules were a little different. They haven’t changed to the new rules. I like that, though.”

NOTES

Paul is five points away from becoming the fourth player in NBA history to reach 10,000 points and 5,000 assists before turning 28 years old… The Clippers can win the tiebreaker in the season series by beating Memphis Wednesday. They have not won three times in the regular season against the Grizzlies since 2007-08… Memphis is 24-2 when they score 95 or more points. However, they are 2-10 when opponents top 99 points. The Clippers did that in both of their victories over the Grizzlies this season… Caron Butler (strained left elbow) and Eric Bledsoe (sore left calf) are doubtful tonight. Crawford (ankle) is expected to play.