Tonight, the Grizzlies return home to The Grindhouse to play the most important game left on their schedule against the Los Angeles Clippers. This game is likely to determine whether the Grizzlies get home court advantage or not in the first round of the playoffs. Every bit as important to the Grizzlies cause as the win Friday night is the fact that the Nuggets lost last night in a nail biter in Dallas. This draws the Grizzlies even with the Nuggets for the third seed in the West and puts them one game ahead of the Clippers entering Saturday's game.
As sweet as obtaining the three seed would be, it is not the most likely scenario given the Nuggets remaining schedule. Denver closes out the season at home against Portland, at Milwaukee, and in Denver for the last game of the season against Phoenix. This does not bode well for the Grizzlies chances to obtain the third seed because, face it, the Nuggets do not lose at home where they will play two of their final three games. (Please let this be a case of writer's jinx.)
While the Grizzlies chances of locking up the third seed look bleak, obtaining home court advantage is still a likely scenario. That is, if the Grizzlies are able to take care of business against the Clippers tonight. Win, and the Grizzlies lead grows to two games and they all but lock up home court. Lose, and the Grizzlies are likely to finish fifth and fail to obtain home court. However, it is worth pointing out that if the Grizzlies finish fifth, that does not put them out of the running for home court advantage. The NBA still awards the four teams with the best record in each conference home court regardless of seed. By virtue of being division winners, the Clippers cannot fall out of the top four seeds, but they can lose home court. Thus, there is a chance the Grizzlies could finish fifth and still obtain home court advantage by having a better record than the Clippers, albeit a small chance.
While all the seeding scenarios make for interesting discussion, the most interesting dynamic of tonight's game is the fact that the team the Grizzlies are most likely to face in the first round of the playoffs is, you guessed it, the Clippers. It's unfortunate that the Grizzlies have not already locked up home court advantage because if that were the case, one has to think Lionel Hollins would severely water down the Grizzlies game plan to limit the Clippers knowledge of the Grizzlies strategy, lineups, tendencies, and plays entering the playoffs. While the Clippers will have a whopping 38 games to scout the new Grizzlies post-Gay trade, Hollins would certainly want the Clippers to have as little head to head knowledge of the Grizzlies tactics to draw from entering round one of the postseason. It is a "should have, could have, would have" type of situation, but it is certainly an interesting thought. With both teams gunning for home court and better seeding, tonight's game should be an excellent preview to a series that is likely to happen.
The Grizzlies are 1-2 in the season series against the Clippers, with the two losses coming before the Rudy Gay trade. One should not read too much into that, but it is an interesting note that becomes all the more significant if the Grizzlies easily handle business tonight. The last time the teams clashed, and the first time after the Rudy Gay trade, the Grizzlies won 96-85 in a game that really was not as close as the score would indicate, and that is saying something considering the game was won by double digits. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both had big games in the last meeting. Paul posted a line of 24 points and 9 assists, while Griffin finished with a well-rounded line of 22 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds. Obviously, the key to any team beating the Clippers is limiting the production of those two guys. While the Clippers arsenal includes far more weapons than those two, those two are undoubtedly the team's most powerful offensive weapons.
On the Grizzlies front, Tayshaun Prince had one of his best performances since he joined the team, posting 18 points and 6 rebounds. Gasol and Conley gave the consistent performances that Grizzlies fans have become accustomed to throughout the course of the season. Gasol had 21 points, while Conley had 17 points and 11 assists.
Things to Watch
- How will Zach Randolph perform? That is the question that scares every Grizzlies fan to death entering the postseason. He is undoubtedly not the same player he was in the Grizzlies 2011 postseason run, but what can Grizzlies fans still reasonably expect from him? He could go a long way to quiet doubters with an excellent performance in a huge game tonight.
- Can the Grizzlies keep the Clippers off the offensive glass? In the teams' last meeting, the Clippers had 15 offensive rebounds. While the Clippers only scored 4 points off of offensive rebounds that game, the Grizzlies can't expect to win if they let LA grab that many again.
- Blake Griffin HATES contact. Watch him every time he gets a post touch. If Zach Randolph puts his body into him from the beginning of the game, Griffin will likely get frustrated and begin settling for low percentage step back jumpers. Griffin is not a good finisher in the post when he is bodied up, and limiting his offensive production will be key tonight.
- Can Jerryd Bayless and Keyon Dooling guard Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford off the bench? Those are going to be crucial matchups if these two teams face off in the playoffs. History says Bayless can't guard either one of them, which is a definite problem.
- Will the Grizzlies take advantage of the Clippers subpar three point defense, or will this game be another blatant example of just how much the Grizzlies could use a three point specialist?