To get ourselves ready for this highly important matchup, we went ahead and let you ask the man behind SB Nation's Clippers blog, Clips Nation, a few pressing questions. It was a great honor to have Steve Perrin answer our questions. Dude killed it!
This was a lot of fun, hopefully we'll get to doing more stuff like this in the future. Now, onto the questions!
GritAndGrind: Who do Clips fans feel more confident against in the 1st round? Mavs or Grizz?
n8dogg606: Who do the Clips feel most confident against in the first round and why?
Steve Perrin: If you had asked me that perhaps a week ago, I would have said that the Clippers would prefer to see the Grizzlies in the first round. Now? I don't think anyone wants to see Memphis in any round.
Here's how my thinking went a week ago; there were two main factors to the original argument. The Mavericks and Lakers have been so good for so long, while the Clippers have been so bad, that there's a psychological factor in facing Dallas or LAL in the playoffs. While few of the current Clippers would even have that association, it might be very strong in the opponent -- there's a part of me that says that Nowitzki / Terry / Kidd or Kobe / Gasol / Bynum simply wouldn't let themselves lose to the lowly Clippers. Maybe I'm overthinking that, but it's there.
On a more concrete note, Memphis thrives on turning people over -- the team looks unbeatable when the pressure defense is getting take aways and generating easy buckets in transition. The Grizz lead the league in turnovers forced at 17 per game, while the Clippers are third best at protecting the ball, giving it up just 13 times per game. A Chris Paul led team is usually going to do a pretty good job in that regard. If you can take care of the ball against Memphis, limit the scores from turnovers, and force them to play half court basketball, you have a much better chance of beating them. In the game in STAPLES two weeks ago, the Clippers turned the ball over 11 times and won fairly handily. So my logic was that L.A.'s ability to take good care of the ball would take some of the bite out of a potent weapon for the Grizzlies.
Now? Memphis is just playing too damn well. Bring on Dallas and their decade of Clipper domination.
It would be great to play the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round, but league rules and simple mathematics would seem to preclude that. As of now, it looks like the realistic first round choices are the Grizz, the Lakers or the Mavs. We've already discussed the Grizz. The Lakers are a terrible matchup for the Clippers, as their offensive strengths (a big, high scoring wing and a great post scorer) are the Clippers defensive weaknesses. Not too mention that a playoff series with the Lakers would be a little like seven home games for the other guys. That leaves the Mavs.
marcus.privitt: Give me an Honest Opinion of Blake Griffin. Setting aside all bias as a Clippers fan and all "showmanship" qualities that Griffin has - how is he as a basketball player? How does his defensive and offensive talent match up to other big men throughout the league? In what could he improve?
n8dogg606: I, too am interested in Griffin... has he already reached his full potential, or can he be a more effective defender?
Steve Perrin: Well, I'm not sure I can set aside all bias, but I do try. The simple fact of the matter is that Griffin has a ton of room for improvement. There are many, many things he does not do particularly well on the basketball court. Defensively he still has a lot to learn -- and some of it is just about focus. He misses rotations too often, and fails to do the things he knows he needs to. That will get better with effort and experience. He'll never be a great shot blocker as he doesn't have outstanding length, but he's got the size and lateral quickness to be a great defender -- and he's far from being a great defender right now.
Blake has lots of headroom on the offensive end as well. He has unparalleled athleticism and outstanding ball skills for a man his size. No power forward in the league has a handle like Griffin's. But other than his jump shot (which is improving but still has a long way to go), Blake gets almost all his points on raw talent. I like to say he 'athletes' the ball into the hole. Whether that's a monster hook, or a move on the block, Blake scores because he can jump high and he has great body control and he has good hand-eye coordination. But his jump hook, such as it is, looks different every time, and he has no go to move to speak of. When Griffin gets to the point where he can make a drop step into a jump hook and make that shot consistently, he'll be a much better player. And obviously the perimeter game and his abysmal free throw shooting need lots of work as well.
What's scary is that this guy is averaging 21 and 11 and shooting over 54% from the field -- WITHOUT a go to move, a reliable 18 footer, or a passable free throw percentage (he's shooting better from the field that from the line this season). There's lots to work on, and when he starts getting those things, watch out.
ForeignFlopper: How has Nick Young fit in thus far? The Clips have been lacking at the 2 ever since Chauncey Billups went down and the hope was that Young could fill the void, has he? Also, while he was in Washington, Nick was a gunner with a reputation for taking questionable shots. Has that ugly characterization persisted in LA?
Steve Perrin: Nick Young was a terrific pick up for the Clippers because he filled a void -- size on the wing, specifically at the two guard. This was a problem even before Billups went down. The Clippers are deep at guard -- but all of that depth is in little guys. Randy Foye is listed at 6'4", but he's a little under 6'3" in reality, and the other guys are all closer to 6'0". So Young was added to be a bigger two guard who might be able to help contend with the Kobe Bryants of the NBA.
Vinny Del Negro experimented with starting Young soon after he arrived, but Mo Williams got hurt in the fourth game Young played, at which point he moved to the bench in the 'scorer off the bench' role that Williams occupied for the team. He's well suited to that role because, let's face it, this guy does NOT pass. He takes a ton of bad shots -- but on a second unit devoid of other scorers, he sometimes has to.
Foye has been great since moving back into the starting lineup, and his strong play as much as anything has spurred the Clippers current run. Williams could be back tonight, and frankly he's a much better 'instant offense' guy. Where does that leave Young? It's hard to say. But he still has that length that none of the other Clipper guards possess, and he could prove to be very valuable in a playoff series depending on the opponent.
Kevin Lipe: Blake Griffin's attitude. This is similar to Marcus's question, but I'm more curious about Blake in terms of what DeMarcus Cousins said about him the other night. I think the dunks on Pau, especially the second one, was clearly an offensive foul, and close to being a flagrant one. The staredowns afterward don't help. It seems like he doesn't get called for that kind of stuff because it looks good.
By the same token, people foul him very hard and very often, usually because they hate his guts because of some spectacular dunk.
Do you think he needs to rein that in in order to keep himself from getting injured? All it takes is one cheap shot for him to miss a whole bunch of games, and he's not doing himself any favors by trying to out-tough people. He's already missed most of a season with a knee fracture. How long can he keep playing like this? Does the league take it easy on him?
n8dogg606: I, too am interested in Griffin... He may showboat a bit, but will maturity and experience temper his "enthusiasm"?
Steve Perrin: A few different themes going on in this one. Let's start with this: close to be a flagrant foul? Come on. I think the offensive foul question is a bit of a red herring here. I don't see how it is Griffin's issue -- someone needs to ask the refs at those games or the league office. Oh wait someone did. Mike Brown asked the league to review those calls, and they decreed no foul on Blake. Now, you could choose to interpret them however you want -- if you were in charge. But the guys that are in charge said it's not a foul, even upon review. So it's not a foul. Does the league take it easy on him? He sells a lot of tickets, so it's possible, but again you'll have to ask them. He's pretty much the only guy in the league who does this stuff, so there's not much to compare him to.
Bear in mind a couple things on this question: (1) He's being fouled first. There's little precedent for a double foul on a made basket. (2) That's what he does with his off arm on a dunk. These are big bodies smashing together, and if you look at the Mozgov or the Perkins or the Gasol, Griffin's left arm does the same thing on all of them. He's just doing what he does, and Pau's face got in the way last Wednesday.
I don't really get the whole 'stare down' question, honestly. I keep hearing that Blake stares down guys, but does he? He didn't even look at Perkins or Mozgov after destroying them. He took a quick glance at Pau on the floor, but one could hardly blame him in that game, and he moved on pretty quickly. Blake stares -- that's what he does after a dunk. Would people rather that he flex his muscles or kiss his biceps or let out a primal scream, which are all dunk celebrations we've seen plenty in the NBA? Given his dunks, I actually find his dunk reactions to be awfully tame, so I really don't understand when people imply that he's somehow being a jerk or a showboat or whatever. The dunks are showy, for sure. The aftermath? Meh.
I personally believe that Blake gets fouled hard first and foremost because he's a terrible free throw shooter. On the white board of the opposing locker room before every Clippers game is written some variant of PUT GRIFFIN ON THE LINE. When a guy finishes like he does around the rim, but shoots 53% from the line, it's just an effective strategy to foul him. And he's so strong that you can't go in with a touch foul or you're just going to give up a three point play. So the smart play is to foul him and to foul him hard. If Griffin becomes a 75% free throw shooter, the calculus changes -- maybe then, it won't be worth it to take that extra foul, since he's probably going to get the two points even if you can stop the shot. Maybe then the smart play will be to get out of his way. But to answer your question, no, Blake Griffin isn't going to change, nor should he.
Kevin Lipe: Clippers v. Lakers. Here's another one: do you think the Clippers will ever be out of the Lakers' shadow? It seemed like at the beginning of this season, the Lakers were old and the Clippers had all the buzz. That's changed since the Clippers have struggled a little and the Lakers (except for apparently Bynum?) have gotten their act together. Assuming the Clippers keep Chris Paul and Griffin stays healthy, will this current group of Clippers be able to outlast the current group of Lakers?
Steve Perrin: L.A. will always be a Lakers town. There's too much history, too many banners, too many people that have grown up worshiping that team. That doesn't mean that the Clippers can't have a very strong following of their own, and it certainly doesn't mean that they can't be the better team. Heck, the teams are tied in the loss column now, so it's still an open question this season. Looking forward, Blake Griffin just turned 23 and Chris Paul is 26, while Kobe Bryant is 33 and Pau Gasol is 31. Amazingly, Bynum is just 24, but as you point out, he seems to have some issues, as great as he is. I believe that the Clippers are going to re-sign both Paul and Griffin, and those two give the Clippers a young talented core that the Lakers can't match at this point.
Of course, it wasn't that long ago that the Clippers appeared poised to surpass the Lakers once before. In the 2007 off-season, Kobe was pissed off, he wanted Bynum gone, and he was demanding to be traded. The Clippers had Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette and Sam Cassell and looked to have the brighter future. But Brand tore his achilles tendon, Kobe stayed, and then somehow the Lakers turned Kwame Brown into Pau Gasol (thanks for that, by the way). The Lakers added two more championships, while the Clippers resumed their annual lottery trips. Things have a way of breaking well for the Lakers, so you never know.
Like I said, it will always be a Lakers town -- but so what? The future for the Clippers, with their own identity and with a thriving fan base, has never been brighter.
n8dogg606: Also, how does the Nick Young trade affect Chauncey's return next year. Are there enough minutes to go around? What are the missing pieces to be filled before LAC can become a truly elite team?
Steve Perrin: I realized the other day that I've spent very little time thinking about next year. Which is weird for me. I mean, usually by January I'm thinking about next year, because this year is already over. With the Clippers headed to the playoffs, I'm thinking about this year -- it takes some getting used to (but I probably don't need to tell you guys that).
The dirty little secret of the Clippers for next season is that they will have ALL the same problems next year that they have right now -- and very few avenues to solve them. A core group, including four starters, is signed -- Griffin, Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe and Ryan Gomes. Mo Williams has a player option, but it's not clear what he'll do with that. If Williams opts out, they'll have a little cap space, but not a lot. If he stays, then they'll have the mid level exception to work with. And they won't have a first round pick. So they'll have to add a starting two guard and all of their front court reserves using the MLE and minimum guys. The good news is that there will probably be some veteran guys willing to come play in L.A. with Griffin and Paul -- but it's still a big task that Neil Olshey has.
They won't have Young's Bird rights which he had to give up in order to come to L.A. -- so re-signing him comes out of the MLE. Olshey has said point blank that Billups will be back -- but the backcourt is the one place where the team already has some depth, especially if Williams stays. The truth is, as well as Williams has played for the Clippers this season (and he's been very good in the sixth man role), the team will be better off in the long run if he opts out as they can start to build a more balanced roster. But it won't be easy, and the Clippers may be two seasons away from making significant strides over where they are now.
TLorenzo: If I may, just a quick one... Randy Foye has been fantastic of late. With Mo Williams close to returning and, of course, the recent acquisition of Nick Young, do you still see Foye getting 30-plus minutes once Williams returns? I mean, someone has to "ride a little extra pine," right?
Steve Perrin: Assuming Williams goes back into the lineup in fairly heavy rotation as he was before he was hurt (which he should), then obviously something's gotta give. Foye's been great lately, as has Eric Bledsoe, who has now regained all of his explosiveness after returning from knee surgery. I'd hate to see Bledsoe's role reduced maybe even more than Foye's.
Before Williams' injury, Nick Young started a couple of games, and Foye was the odd man out. I can't see that happening now given how well Foye has played. I think Foye will remain the starter, but he'll necessarily lose some minutes to Williams, who was the closer at the two before his injury. Williams minutes will also come from small forward Bobby Simmons, who I assume will fall out of the rotation, with Young soaking up the minutes at the backup three. Bledsoe will no doubt lose some minutes too, which is too bad because he's been terrific.
Matchups will determine some of this as well. Against teams with big, scoring wings, Young will have to play the two, and Simmons will stay in the rotation. In situations where the Clippers need a kick in the pants or a change of pace, Bledsoe will get more burn. Coach Vinny Del Negro will have some options -- we'll see how effectively he uses them.
For more on the Clippers, check out: Clips Nation