The battle continues in Memphis tonight. Two teams (and fanbases, honestly) that do not care for each other will collide again in the Grindhouse that is FedexForum. The complexion is a bit different these days, however. Last time the Griz and Clips met, 11/18/2013, the Grizzlies had a full roster that included Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and the Clippers had J.J. Redick, albeit his impact was not felt that evening.
Steve Perrin at Clips Nation stopped by to answer some of your questions regarding the Clippers, and he did a marvelous job. Make sure to go stop by Clips Nation to check out the questions that I answered for them.
Joe Mullinax: How are the Clippers Filling JJ Redick's role wow that he is out and how big of a loss is JJ to this Clippers team? Grizzlies fans can identify with losing key players to injury, hope JJ gets back soon.
Lugene Parker: Do you See the JJ injury as a substantial blow to you guys NBA Finals aspirations?
In Redick's absence, Willie Green moves from the end of the bench into the starting lineup, allowing Doc Rivers to continue to bring super-sub Jamal Crawford off the bench. Green is a competent player, and he started 60 games for a 56 win Clippers team last year in the absence of Chauncey Billups -- as it happens, there's a pretty broad sentiment that the Clippers would have been better off in the playoffs against you guys last year with Green (who at least knows his limitations) playing in place of Billups (who was way past his prime, but didn't seem to realize it).
But let's not pretend that Green can replace Redick. Redick is by far the best shooter on the team, and a tireless worker off the ball. The improvements in offensive scheme the Clippers have seen this season, with Rivers taking over for Vinny Del Negro, are very much predicated on having that off ball movement and misdirection. Without the threat and activity of Redick, suddenly the Clippers look a LOT like last year's team -- with a whole lot of Paul/Griffin pick and roll and way too much standing from the rest of the team. The results with Redick have not been good so far -- two straight losses. At least they played well against Indiana, but Green's 1-5 showing didn't help much. Against Atlanta, a 4-19 night from deep completely doomed the Clippers, so it's safe to say that Redick was missed in that one.
Is it a blow to Finals aspirations? Well, they don't play the Finals in December and January, and Redick is supposed to be back in a couple of months. Obviously in the hyper-competitive West, it won't take much to slide down the standings, and there are going to be three or four very good teams who won't have home court advantage, even in the first round. So Redick-less losses will definitely hurt from a seeding standpoint, but the Clippers championship hopes have bigger issues right now. If Redick is full strength and playing his best basketball in April and May, I'll take that.
Chris Faulkner: I just realized that the Clippers have two, separate 7-game-road-trips this season. The Grizzlies have already played their longest of the season, that 4-gamer in California. No question. Just something that caught my eye.
SP: It may not be a question, but I'll address if nonetheless. As Joe Mullinax pointed out in the thread, STAPLES Center is a busy place, with two NBA teams, and NHL team, and a busy concert schedule. The Clippers always have a long trip in late January or early February when STAPLES hosts the Grammys -- but they usually have one other monster as well. This year they have a seven game Grammy trip in late January in addition to the seven-gamer they're on now.
But here's what you don't know -- a max of seven games is the shortest "longest trip of the season" I can remember for the Clippers in many years. In 2010-11 they had an 11 game trip -- which was an NBA record IIRC -- that actually spanned across the All Star break. With the break tossed in there, the Clippers went 24 days between home games that year. They had to have someone pick up their mail in the locker room. There were cobwebs in DeAndre Jordan's locker. The ball boys forgot how to shag balls. I'm saying they were gone for a long time.
There are three main factors in why the Clippers are always in the running for "longest road trip in the NBA". One is the busy STAPLES Center calendar we've already discussed. A second is the fact that the Clippers get third choice on dates, after the Lakers and Kings, in the STAPLES pecking order. And then there's simple geography -- 18 of 30 NBA teams lie east of the Mississippi (or on it in your case) with four more in Texas and Oklahoma. When the Clippers go East, NBA schedulers have the choice of leaving them there to get in a bunch of games, or flying them back across the entire continent for a home stand, only to fly them across the continent again. Staying on the road for extended trips is the lesser of two evils in some cases.
Kwhittington: CP3 went out with a hamstring injury the other night (i think it was against the kings) You played the pacers on sunday, did he look 100 percent, or is he still nursing a sore hammy?
SP: Paul tweaked his hamstring in the third quarter against the Knicks, then skipped the game in Sacramento, but has been back for the last two. He says it's still a little tight, which is obviously a concern. My other favorite team of all time was the late 80s, early 90s Phoenix Suns team, led by my other favorite point guard of all time, Kevin Johnson. KJ's superstar years were effectively ended by nagging hamstring injuries, so I have a deed-seated fear of the hammy.
He's looked fine in the two games he's played -- but not dominant. He can't be dominant all the time of course, but he missed two separate 12 footers -- shots he makes all the time -- against Indiana in the final minutes; shots that would have tied the game. You can't blame that exclusively on the hamstring, but one wonders if it was a factor. Playing on the second game of a back-to-back, we'll see if it tightens up on him in Memphis.
TheRealHrdLicka: Can the Clips become an above League avg defensive team with Deandre Jordan at Center?
SP: The defense has been much better in recent weeks, but it's still a weakness of the Clippers. The strange thing is that Jordan is one of those players where it's difficult to separate perception and reality. He's long and athletic, he's fifth in the league in blocked shots and second in rebounding. He LOOKS like he should be a great defender, but the reality is he never has been, and the Clippers defensive numbers with him on the floor this season have not been good.
Most people, even those who are paid to observe and write about the NBA, have little or no clue what constitutes good defense. It's why Kobe Bryant made the All-Defense team for a decade while playing essentially no defense. (As an aside, kudos to the voters who named Marc Gasol DPOY last season -- Gasol doesn't block a ton of shots or do the spectacular things that are usually required to get the voters' attention, but they got it right nonetheless.)
Can they be above-average? Sure. They're getting close to the league-average in defensive efficiency already, despite having played a schedule loaded with top offenses so far. Whether they can be good enough to get the stops that will be necessary to win in the playoffs is another question, but Jordan is far from the only issue there. The Clippers don't really have a defensive stopper on the perimeter, and Paul is one of those "First Team All Defense" guys who isn't nearly as good as the voters seem to think he is -- he leads the league in steals with great hands and great anticipation, but he has trouble staying in front of ultra quick guards, like for instance Mike Conley. Rivers put together a great defense in Boston with average individual defenders (and Kevin Garnett) -- if the Clippers are going to be good on defense, it will be based on implementing Doc's schemes properly, and that's going to have to happen between the player's ears first, if it's going to happen on the court.
A big thanks to Steve for taking the time to answer everyone with thorough, honest responses! The Grizzlies have a chance to clench the season match-up with the Clippers as the two teams will only meet again once this season, and that game will be in the Grindhouse.
We all hope ZBo gets back on the court tonight and works his usual magic against Blake Griffin and the Clips, but the absence of Gasol will undoubtedly affect the outcome of the game as well. If the Griz can conjure bench production like they did against the Suns this week, this game should be another fun night in downtown Memphis.