Tonight features a match-up between two strong teams that have been struggling as of late. The Grizzlies' recents losses have been well-documented here at Straight Outta Vancouver, but the Clippers (who many experts believed to be the 2nd best team in the West until recently) have undergone a severe skid of their own. Not only have they lost their last 3 games, but the losses included a loss against the league-owned Hornets and a 23-point blowout loss to the Thunder. Worse yet, there have been rumblings of firing head coach Vinny Del Negro. Both teams are coming into tonight's game looking to get back in the right direction. More than likely, after tonight one of these teams will feel confident going forward while the other is only faced with more questions.
Honestly, with the way that we've been playing the past couple of weeks, the Memphis really needs to win this game, if only to restore some of their confidence. That being said, I don't want to go as far as labeling this a "must-win" because, frankly, I don't see any glaring flaws on this Memphis team. On the other hand, I'd be concerned if I were a Clippers fan regardless of their record. While Chris Paul has been everything that they hoped for and then some, there are nothing but question marks elsewhere. As Andrew Sharp pointed out over at the mothersite (it's a great read, be sure to check it out), Blake Griffin really hasn't grown or developed...at all. They have no depth. Their defense is terrible. It goes on. Then again, most basketball fans and experts have notoriously short memories (except for bloggers....we don't forget ANYTHING), and if LA crushes us tonight, VDN will probably keep his job for the rest of the season and things will be rosy again.
Memphis (25-20) at LAC (26-21)
3:00 PM ET at Staples Center
Keys to the game:
1. Memphis' Offense/LA's Defense: The Clippers have been atrocious this season defensively. No seriously, they're terrible. LAC is tied for third-worst defense with the Washington Wizards. Memphis' offense has struggled so far this season, but now that Zach Randolph is back we should be able to find more consistency. Look for several Grizzlies to have big scoring nights tonight. On the other end, if we can at least some them down defensively, we should do well.
2. Depth: Although we're by no means the deepest team in the league, when compared to the Clippers, we're fine. The Grizzlies can throw out any combination of O.J. Mayo, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Gilbert Arenas, and Marreese Speights and do well, as at least two or three of them have it going on most nights. The Clippers have Mo Williams and not much else. That means their starters will have to play big minutes or face being overwhelmed by our bench mob.
3. Coaching Matchup: As I already mentioned, VDN is on the chopping block. While he's not a strong tactical coach (that's being kind), his players seem to like him and play hard for him. Unfortunately, he may not even have that going for him anymore. Sometimes players just get to the point where they get so fixated on change that replacing a coach with literally anyone else is an improvement in their minds. * VDN has to find some way to reconnect with his players if he wants to keep his job for the rest of the season. On the other end is Lionel Hollins, who never gets enough credit for the fantastic job he has done during his tenure. He's devoting his time to masterminding a strong offense and defense. Further, he's squashed any chemistry problems before they've grown into something much worse. Considering who is on this team that's just amazing. Oh, and his two best players have missed significant time the past two seasons, but the team hasn't missed a beat. Seriously, at some point this season or offseason, I'm going to organize a "Lionel Hollins' Day."
*-Note to the Clippers' management. If you're looking for a replacement, I'd more than willing to offer my services. I'm very flexible and will be happy to sign a 1-year, $1 million deal. Drop me an email.
For more on the Clippers, drop by Clips Nation for Steve Perrin's work.