Steve Perrin of Clips Nation was kind enough to participate in a little first round Q&A to talk about the upcoming series between the Clippers and the Grizzlies. I don’t think either of these two teams’ fanbases wanted to face each other in the first round again, but here we are. Our questions are in bold, followed by Steve’s answers.
1. What worries you most about having to face the Grizzlies again in the first round?
Spiraling health care costs? It’s crazy to think that a 56 win team should have to face another 56 win team IN THE FIRST ROUND! Either the Clippers or the Grizzlies would be the second seed in the East. So it’s a brutal first round opponent, just as it was last year. But it’s also true that the Clippers have had success against the Grizzlies recently, and that’s not entirely by accident. The Clippers biggest defensive weakness this season has been defending the three point line (26th in three point percentage against), a weakness that both Golden State and Houston would love to exploit but one that doesn’t hurt as much against the Grizz. Memphis also thrives on forcing turnovers, and Chris Paul is pretty good at taking care of the ball. So there are some concrete things that work to the Clippers advantage facing Memphis.
But the big worry in Clips Nation is that the Clippers will limp out of the first round victorious but also battered and weary, only to be trounced by a fresh and healthy Thunder team. There’s no question that the physicality of last year’s series took a toll on the Clippers. Memphis hasn’t exactly taken the kinder, gentler approach in the last 12 months, so I suspect it could happen again.
2. How do you think this year’s Clippers team is different from last year’s Clippers team? Are they more or less prepared to play a team like the Grizzlies?
This is a better Clippers team in any number of ways. It is a much better defensive team, improving from 18th in defensive efficiency last season to eighth this season. It is a much better balanced team as well – last season’s second unit featured two point guards and two rebounder/defenders in the front court, neither of whom could score a bit. Jamal Crawford is a real shooting guard (Mo Williams wasn’t), Matt Barnes is a real small forward (Nick Young wasn’t), Lamar Odom is a versatile playmaking big (Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin weren’t) – the roster makes a lot more sense. It’s also a crazy deep team. It might not matter that the Clippers 11th, 12th and 13th men can all play – but it might matter. Grant Hill was important in last week’s win in Memphis, and he could be important again.
The defensive improvement is the biggest factor here of course. It’s difficult to put your finger on exactly where that improvement has come from, but the Clippers young bigs are clearly maturing and improving on the defensive end. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were pretty bad defensively last season – they’ve been pretty good this season. They still have lapses and have plenty of room for more improvement, but they’re much better than they were.
I’ve heard Jeff Van Gundy say that the Clippers are going to miss Evans and Martin in this series, players who were admittedly very important in last year’s series. I guess maybe that’s true – Evans’ defense on Z-Bo was outstanding, that much is true. But Odom is a terrific defender, in many ways better than Evans. Evans is probably better on the ball, but Lamar is a help defense savant. I am however worried about matching up with Gasol. He’s too clever for Jordan, and too freakin’ big for Hollins. He was too big for Martin last year as well – but Lionel Hollins didn’t go to that matchup very much so it didn’t hurt the Clippers. I fear he might play that smarter this year.
One last thing: Chris Paul was not fully recovered from a late season groin injury in last year’s playoffs. This year he’s about as close to fully healthy as one can be at the end of the NBA regular season. That will make a huge difference for the Clippers.
3. Is there one Grizzlies player that scares you more than any other?
Nice segue. Gasol scares me. When he’s making that flat-footed 18 footer, I don’t know how you stop him. Now, he’s probably not going to make 7–10 face up jumpers like he did when the Grizz beat the Clippers in L.A. last month – at least I hope he’s not – but if you have honor that shot, and also contend with the hook shot, and worry about him picking you apart with his passing if you double team – well, it’s a lot to deal with.
And honestly, Tayshaun Prince scares me, but not for particularly legitimate reasons. A person’s perception of a player is always skewed by direct observation, and since about the vast majority of the basketball I watch involves the Clippers, I know a lot about how players have played against the Clippers. Prince has had some monster games against the Clippers in his career, and I have a (hopefully irrational) fear that he’s going to do it again. When he scored 12 in the first quarter in the game in March, it just felt like "Of course he would do that."
4. Should Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph quit basketball and go into professional wrestling?
That was a serious take down last week, right? I’m thinking that had to hurt – I know I would not want all that sweaty Zach Randolph landing on me.
They’re such opposite power forwards – the idea of throwing a lob pass to Z-Bo is pretty comical. But they’re also both incredibly competitive and incredibly strong – and they clearly do NOT like each other. There’s so much contact in the post on every possession, and when you’re matched up with each other for 35 minutes in each of seven games in the period of two weeks, it’s inevitable that fuses are going to get short.
I did however notice a moment in the game last week that surprised me. I think it was on a free throw – Blake and Zach were battling for position, locked up chest to chest as often do happens, in what looked a lot like hand to hand combat. The free throw went in, they patted other and disentangled, and lined back up on the lane to do it again. They know it’s basketball and they’re just competing. Of course, ramp up the intensity to playoff levels and throw them in the octagon for a seven game series and those nice moments will get fewer and fewer. But at least last week I saw them sort of acknowledging that they are adversaries in a sporting event and not mortal enemies.
5. What’s your prediction for the outcome of the series?
I firmly believe the Clippers are going to win. They won the series last year, this year’s team is better, and Paul is healthy. But I don’t see any way they are going to win in five – Memphis is way too good for the Clippers to beat them four out of five. So then the question is can the Clippers close it out on the road and win in six, or does it go the full seven games? But we’ve also seen that home court doesn’t seem to matter that much between these teams – the Clippers have won four of the last six in Memphis going back to last year’s playoffs, the Grizzlies have won two of the last five in L.A. It’s good news for Memphis that the home court is not a big deal, but I think the Clippers win in six.
Big thanks to Steve Perrin for being willing to participate. Be sure to check out Clips Nation for the Clippers’ side of the story throughout this series.