The Clippers begin their last road trip of the season, a four games in five nights screamer, with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Like the Philadelphia 76ers in the East, the Grizzlies got off to a rough start on the year, they were 9-14 going into their first matchup with the Clippers, and turned their season around completely. Since March 1st, the Grizzlies have gone 10-5 while having beaten New Orleans, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Boston and, in what could be the foreshadowing of a playoff upset, San Antonio (twice). Of course, this is all without their premier perimeter player, Rudy Gay.
The reason for the Grizzlies’ turnaround, and why the Clippers haven’t beaten them, resides in the Griz’ unique ability to force turnovers. The Grizzlies have forced more turnovers than anyone else in the NBA (1287) and lead the league in steals per game (728 steals). The two biggest kleptomaniacs on the Grizzlies are Mike Conley (1.74 steals per game) and Tony Allen (1.81 spg), who are in the top six in steals per game in the NBA. And yet, the Grizzlies have plenty of good defenders behind those two, with Battier and Gasol, who have all formed to create the league’s 10th best defense.
The Clippers have struggled against teams like the Grizzlies (the Clips have lost in a similarly discouraging fashion to the 76ers, who are 8th in steals), because they have multiple high turnover players. Eric Gordon has been especially turnover prone with his wrist injury, having averaged 3.4 turnovers per game since returning. However, he’s not the sole problem. Mo Williams has the 20th highest turnover ratio (percent of possessions resulting in a turnover) among all point guards (12.8 percent) and his backup, Eric Bledsoe, is third amongst point guards with (18.4 percent). Even the low usage DeAndre Jordan has the 11th highest turnover percentage (17.4 percent).
The positives are that Blake Griffin, despite his 2.7 turnovers per game, is actually relatively efficient considering his usage and only has a 10.1 turnover percentage. Also, Kaman is having his most efficient year from a turnover perspective (11.8 percent), although that’s come as a result of his more jump shot oriented offense (he’s taking the fewest shots within 10 feet of his career, 5.6 shots per game). But getting the ball to the Clippers’ more careful bigs, there’s still the issue with getting them the ball.
So beating the Grizzlies remains a tough matchup and somewhat of a longshot, which doesn’t bode well for the road trip. The Clippers have only won three games total against their four opponents (0-2 against the Grizzlies, 0-3 against the Mavericks, 2-1 against the Thunder and 1-2 against the Rockets), and the lone team against whom the Clippers have a winning record, the Thunder, will have extra incentive after suffering a humiliating comeback loss last Saturday. But at some point, the Clippers are going to have to perform well on these trips if they want to become a playoff hopeful or even a contender.
Keys to the Game
– Turnovers. The Clippers have averaged 22.5 turnovers per game against the Memphis Grizzlies, an absolutely unacceptable amount and a huge reason that the Clippers haven’t won a game against the Griz. The Griz have great perimeter defense, highlighted by the stellar play of Tony Allen and the addition of Shane Battier, so an increase in turnovers are expected. But 22.5 turnovers a game? Not a recipe for success.
– Interior Defense. Blake has been playing better of late, but Zach Randolph has the girth and footwork unlike any other player in the league. Randolph doesn’t play anything close to resembling a high flyer game, but he doesn’t have to. In two games he used his size to body up opposing defenders to average 24 points and 12.5 rebounds as the centerpiece of the Grizzlies’ offense. Blake and crew will have to be at their best against Randolph. And then there’s Marc Gasol at center (11.6 points, 6.9 rebounds), so double teaming Randolph could pose problems.
– More Zone D. Clippers eked out a win over the Toronto Raptors a couple weeks ago based on their baffling zone defense down the stretch, a strategically smart move due to the Raptors poor outside shooting ability. Well, the Grizzlies are in a similar situation, as they shoot the 27th worst percentage from beyond the arc in the NBA (33.2 percent). They are missing their best consistent three point threat in Rudy Gay, they inconsistently play O.J. Mayo and Battier hasn’t caught shot well with his new team yet (31.5 percent with the Griz). Used in the right spots, a larger helping of zone defense could help the team earn their first win over the Grizzlies this year.
Ryan Gomes: knee, questionable
Chris Kaman: viral infection, questionable
Rudy Gay: left shoulder, out
Xavier Henry: right knee, out
Jason Williams: lower back, out