PREGAME REPORT | JANUARY 14, 2013
Tip-off: 5:00 p.m. PST | FedEx Forum | Memphis, TN | Game Notes »
ERIC PATTEN Follow @ericpatten
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MEMPHIS – It is mid-January, but when the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies resume their season series Monday night at FedEx Forum it will likely resemble more of a heavyweight grudge match.
After a memorable seven-game series in the 2012 postseason and a heated opening night meeting in Los Angeles, there is something of a dislike between the teams.
“I just it’s going to be intense because the team’s don’t like each other,” Matt Barnes said. “They’re right behind us in the standings. We’ve beat them once already. This team knocked them out of the playoffs last year. So, I think they’ll have plenty of motivation for it to be important.”
Entering Monday the Clippers (28-9) are three games ahead of the Grizzlies (24-11) in the tightly-packed top of the Western Conference. The Clippers defeated the Grizzlies, 101-92, in the season opener, and are one of just three teams to top the 100-point mark against the so-called “Grit and Grind” Memphis defense.
Chris Paul, who sustained a bruised right kneecap against the Magic on Saturday, will be a game-time decision for the Clippers. Grizzlies leading scorer Rudy Gay is out for personal reasons.
LAST TIME OUT
Magic 104, Clippers 101: J.J. Redick made two crucial plays down the stretch, knocking down a 3-pointer over a late contest by Matt Barnes and taking a charge from Jamal Crawford, as the reeling Magic stunned the Clippers with a comeback win at Staples Center. The loss snapped a 13-game home winning streak for the Clippers and ended a 10-game losing streak for Orlando, marking the first time in NBA history a team with a losing streak of 10 games or more won on the road against a team that had won 10 or more in a row at home.
“It wasn’t a letdown,” Paul said when asked if the Clippers took the Magic lightly. “Don’t try to take anything away from them. We didn’t play awful. They made tough shot after tough shot. J.J. Redick had a hand in his face half the time.”
Paul matched his season-high with 16 assists and made a jumper from the elbow to cut Orlando’s lead to 102-101, but a miscommunication on defense led to an open dunk for Nikola Vucevic following the offensive foul against Crawford. The Clippers’ super-sub missed a long 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game.
Blake Griffin, who flirted with a triple-double for most of the second half, finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Arron Afflalo had 30 points for Orlando, including a pivotal 4-point play early in the fourth quarter. Grant Hill, who made his season debut, had two points and two rebounds in 5:25.
Mavericks 104, Grizzlies 83: Dallas soundly ended the Grizzlies’ four-game winning streak by pulling away in the second quarter. They made four of their five 3-pointers in the period and took a 15-point lead into the locker room. Shawn Marion finished with 20 points and four rebounds and all five Mavericks starters scored in double digits, including 17 from star Dirk Nowitzki. They also shot 48.8% from the field, 4.5% above the opponent’s average against the Grizzlies defense.
Memphis got a team-high 12 points from Gay, while Jerryd Bayless had nine points and five assists off the bench.
Eric Bledsoe vs. Mike Conley. Last time the Clippers came to Memphis Bledsoe caused a bevy of problems for the Grizzlies point guard. Conley shot worse than 30% in the series with Bledsoe guarding him and committed 16 turnovers in the seven-game playoff series. If Paul is unable to play, Bledsoe will be thrust into extended minutes and once again be charged with hounding Memphis’ point guard.
Asked why he was able to have so much success against Conley defensively in the playoffs, Bledsoe said, “I have no idea. Mike Conley is a great point guard. I just try to limit his chances of trying to get a big man bounce passes in the post. I just tried to take that away from him and fighting over screens on him.”
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Defense and More Defense. The Grizzlies and Clippers are second and third, respectively, in the NBA in defensive efficiency, are in the top five in fewest points allowed per game, and are the league’s leaders in points off turnovers. Clearly, both teams are statistically among the defensive elite, but a key to Monday’s matchup will likely revolve around which team converts the most turnovers into easy points.
“I think they’ve got a certain grit and style about themselves and the way they play,” Caron Butler said. “It’s kind of a reflection of their players and their leader in Zach Randolph. Sometimes a team takes on the identity of their best player and that’s definitely what they’ve got going on.”
The Clippers have tried to establish a defensive identity of their own throughout the first 37 games of the year.
“I thought we did a great job of [establishing our defensive identity] in the first half of the season,” Butler added. “Guys just strapping up. It hasn’t been any type of scheme or anything. It’s just guys being on a string and honing in on guys and understanding that help’s got to be there.”
The Frontcourt. There is likely no wider dichotomy between starting frontcourts in the league than the Clippers’ Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. In the postseason last season, the savvy and physicality of Randolph and Gasol got the best of Jordan and Griffin, who was hobbled by a hyperflexed knee in Game 5 through 7.
Griffin and Jordan are among the league’s top five in dunks, and the Clippers lead the NBA with 78 alley-oops mainly because of their two big men who run the floor like gazelles and finish at the rim like a sledgehammer through cinderblock. Obviously, there is more to both of their games than dunking. Griffin is proving more of an all-around threat than ever as a passer, jump shooter and defensive presence, while much has been made of Jordan’s ability to create his own shot with his back to the hoop.
Gasol, on the other hand, is among the most unique, and versatile, big men in the league. He’s seeking to become the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 10 in blocked shots and free throw percentage in a single season and is averaging a career-high 3.8 assists per game. Gasol’s partnership with Randolph makes him more of a weapon. An opposing scout called the duo the “best high-low combination” in the NBA, with Gasol operating at the elbow as a passer and scorer.
“They’ve probably got two of the best big men that play together in the league,” Paul said. “Those two feed off each other.”
The Grizzlies are 25-4 in the regular season at FedEx Forum since March 17, 2012, marking the second best streak by any team in any arena in the league during that span… The Clippers won two games in Memphis during the playoffs, but are 2-6 in the River City in their last eight regular-season games… Paul has 54 assists in the last four games… Both teams are in the top five in the NBA in points in the paint. The Clippers average 46.7 per game (third), compared to Memphis’ 43.6 (fifth).
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|CHRIS PAUL BOBBLEHEAD GIVEAWAY|
|When: January 22 vs. Oklahoma City
The first 18,000 fans in attendance will receive a Chris Paul Bobblehead courtesy of State Farm