If the Clippers win against the Griz, and go 4-1 on the road trip, it’ll be the best record on a road trip of 5 or more games since the Clips moved to L.A. Had the Clippers not bungled up the New Jersey game (for various reasons beyond Blake’s missed free throw, like Mo’s awful shooting night and the poor front court defense on Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez), the Clippers would be shooting for an undefeated road trip, something that would have seemed unimaginable even with Eric Gordon on the court. But here the Clips are, 3-1 with a winnable game left against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies, especially without Rudy Gay, are no juggernaut in NBA, however their play vastly improved since the last time the two teams met. In the first match-up in L.A., in which the Clippers lost by a single point, the Grizzlies were only 10-14 on the year without having figured out how to gel. Now, the Grizzlies are 36 and 31 and have overtaken Phoenix, Houston, and Utah to grab hold of a game and a half lead of the last playoff spot in the West.
This mid-season improvement by the Grizzlies is exactly what the Clippers hope they have begun to see on this road trip. Maybe with this growth, the Clippers will be the team making the playoffs next year.
Keys to the Game
– Zach Randolph v. Blake Griffin. The two comprise half of the players in the NBA that average 20 points and 10 rebounds but the two couldn’t play a different style of play if they tried. Zach Randolph is a ground bound post wiz that finds his points by using his girth to muscle himself into good looks. Blake, as we all know, is about athleticism, even in his post moves. His most effective move is the spin move, now from either block, that he employs so well because of the quickness of the spin. Blake still isn’t a great defender though, and DeAndre and Kaman probably won’t leave Gasol, so it could be a rough night for Blake on defense.
– Turnovers. In the last match-up, the Clippers coughed up a whopping 26 turnovers which had something to do with the defense of Tony Allen (check out this fantastic Rob Mahoney post to get a better idea), Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol. The three combined for 11 steals. And yet, the Griz’s defense only improved when they traded lottery bust Hasheem Thabeet for Shane Battier. The Griz force the most turnovers in the league, and the Clippers have the second worst turnover percentage (25.9 percent), so turnovers are a very likely problem that the Clips will have to mitigate.
– Mo Williams. He’s been a lynchpin for the Clippers, it’s no coincidence that his worst performance for the Clips so far resulted in a loss to the Nets. And Mo will have plenty to deal with against the Grizzlies and their stifling defense. Since Eric Gordon is out, it’s likely that Mo will see Tony Allen on him for spells and he’ll need to keep the offense moving by providing outside shooting, caring for the ball and making sure that the players stay involved. Bledsoe and Baron struggled with their own play in the first match-up, combining for 6 points on 3 for 13 shooting, 10 assists and 9 turnovers. Mo has to do better.
Eric Gordon: wrist, out
Rudy Gay: dislocated left shoulder, out
Jason Williams: sore lower back, doubtful