Opening night has arrived.
After logging 16,771 miles of preseason travel, the Clippers are poised to start the 2012-13 regular season against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night at Staples Center in a rematch of last year’s dramatic seven-game playoff series.
When asked about facing the Grizzlies, who went 4-4 in the preseason, immediately out of the gate point guard Chris Paul said, “The plot thickens.”
“When you play a playoff series against a team and you know everything about them and they know everything about you, it makes it a little bit different,” Paul continued. “I’m sure they’re ready to play us just like we’re ready to play them.”
The Clippers won two road games in the Memphis series last season, including an historic comeback win in Game 1 when the team rallied from a 27-point second-half deficit and an 82-72 victory to close out the series at FedEx Forum. And while Paul, head coach Vinny Del Negro and others have made it known that they’ve put the series in the past, they also are aware the Grizzlies have likely stewed over their playoff exit for much of the offseason.
“Anytime you lose to a team in a playoff series or in a championship run or whatever the case may be, there’s always a bitter taste in your mouth,” veteran small forward Caron Butler said. “Every day you go work out in the gym over the summer, you just remember those last moments on the court. We beat them in a Game 7 at home in Memphis so that’s a tough loss and a tough feeling that they are carrying with them.”
Jerryd Bayless (Toronto), Wayne Ellington (Minnesota), Tony Wroten (Draft)
Gilbert Arenas, Dante Cunningham, Lester Hudson, O.J. Mayo, Jeremy Pargo
The Grizzlies return their starting five and several key reserves from last season, and while the Clippers (5-3 in the preseason) have four starters back from last year’s final game against Memphis, they overhauled their bench.
“We know each other very well obviously, so we’ll see how it goes,” Del Negro said. “We have a new group and their group is pretty much intact so we’re going to have to be sharp.”
Lamar Odom, who practiced Tuesday for the second time since Oct. 7, is expected to play. Odom is one of seven newcomers to the Clippers’ 14-man roster, including Grant Hill and Matt Barnes, who are both out Wednesday. Hill is nursing a bone bruise in his knee, while Barnes was suspended for one game by the NBA for pleading nolo contendre, in California state court, to resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer in the discharge of his duties. With Chauncey Billups (Achilles) and Trey Thompkins (knee) also out of the lineup, the Clippers are expected to have 10 players available.
Still, the Clippers enter Wednesday night’s opener with exceedingly high expectations. They boast two of the league’s premier players at their respective positions in All-NBA performers Paul and Blake Griffin and a roster that was constructed with a balance of veteran leadership and youthful athleticism in mind.
On Tuesday, Butler said, “We want to win the whole thing and that’s a realistic goal with the guys that we have in this locker room.”
Blake Griffin vs. Zach Randolph. Griffin said the thing that he most recalls about the playoff series with Memphis is how physical it was. “That was like the most physical basketball I’ve ever played,” he said. “It was like if you come in the lane you were going to get hit and hit hard in the face or the body or whatever it was. They allowed both teams to do it.”
One of the main culprits of the physical play was Randolph, a 2011 All-Star. The wide-bodied power forward shot 54.6% from inside of 9 feet over the last two seasons and has averaged 9.1 rebounds per game in his career. Countering Randolph’s bulk is Griffin. In two seasons (148 games), the dynamic power forward has averaged better than 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and 50% shooting from the field, becoming just the second player in NBA history to do so (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
|RELATED: CLIPPERS/GRIZZLIES PLAYOFF RECAP|
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Power in the Paint. Controlling the paint and rebounding will be a key in the game. According to Del Negro, “We’ve got to rebound the ball well. We can’t give them second chance opportunities.”
And Griffin said Randolph and center Marc Gasol make the opposition work. “You’ve got to do your work early and really make sure you pick up right at half court and not let them get to their spots. They love duck-ins. They’re a great high-low team. They look for each other. They’re both good passers, as far as Gasol and Randolph, so you’ve got to account for them.”
Since 2009-10 Memphis is best in the league in points in the paint per game (49.6). Yet the Clippers are capable of scoring inside as well. Griffin and Jordan combined for 343 dunks last season and Griffin led the league with 902 in points in the paint.
Turnover Game. The Clippers last season committed the second fewest turnovers in the league, while the Grizzlies forced the most (16.9). Slowing down Memphis’ transition game with point guard Mike Conley and wing Tony Allen could be a key and the Clippers have the right antidote. Paul, in 139 preseason minutes, committed just six turnovers compared to 44 assists.
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Perimeter Shooting. The Grizzlies replaced O.J. Mayo with sharp-shooter Wayne Ellington and slasher Jerryd Bayless off the bench. In the last two seasons, Ellington has shot 36% from 3-point range combined and Bayless made 42% of his shots from distance last year. However, the Grizzlies remain one of the more pedestrian outside shooting teams outside of Conley, who made 38% of his 3-pointers in 2011-12.
For the Clippers, Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler will be counted on to make up for the absence of Mo Williams and Randy Foye, the team’s top two 3-point shooters from a year ago. Butler, who is playing about 13 pounds lighter than his first season with the Clippers, made five of his 13 shots from behind the arc in the preseason and Crawford is a career 34.8% shooter from distance (36% or better three of the last five years).
The Clippers waived second-year guard Travis Leslie Tuesday… Darrell Arthur (broken fibula) is out for Memphis… Paul and Gay were two of seven players to rank in the top 20 in the league in both scoring and steals… Clippers assistant coach Marc Iavaroni served as head coach of the Grizzlies from 2007-2009… Paul’s career high of 43 points came against the Grizzlies when he was a member of the Hornets… Randolph led the Clippers in scoring in 2008-09 before being traded to Memphis in exchange for Quentin Richardson prior to the ’09-10 season… The Grizzlies have lost all 11 of their season openers since relocating to Memphis… The Clippers are 19-23 overall on opening night and Del Negro has a career record of 3-1 in such games.
Griffin: “I’m sure [the league] wants to showcase that matchup, but it won’t be the same. We played them in the regular season before and you can’t play that same type of basketball in the regular season. Your body won’t allow you to. I don’t expect it to be as physical but it’s still going to be more physical than any other game. They can score in the paint. They’re going to do all of the things that they’re good at.”