We have a singular home game for the Memphis Grizzlies before they hit the road once again. Tonight, a matchup with a (semi) new look Los Angeles Clippers team. Both Memphis and Los Angeles in opposite positions in regards to playoff seeding in the Western Conference.
While the Clippers are short-handed, tonight won’t be easy for Memphis. To answer five questions ahead of tonight’s matchup at FedExForum, we have our very own Site Manager of Grizzly Bear Blues, Joe Mullinax.
1) The Grizzlies are looking to sweep the season series against the Los Angeles Clippers at FedEx Forum tonight. This has the potential to be a playoff matchup pending the return of Paul George in early April. How scary can this Clippers team be at full capacity, and how do you think Memphis matches up in a series with LA?
The Clippers got a lot more scary after trading for Norman Powell and Robert Covington, that’s for sure. When fully healthy - which they won’t be for some time - their roster is a championship one. The move L.A. made was just as much about next season as it was this one, though - as you alluded to, Paul George is out for the foreseeable future and Kawhi Leonard may not return until the fall. But in the here and now, it’s about getting Powell and Covington adjusted to their new squad. They can help the Clippers now in terms of getting back above .500...but helping them against Memphis is a different animal.
They have no player that can stick with Ja Morant, and when that’s the case you’re behind to begin with. The Grizzlies, as long as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are out, should handle the Clippers in a series. With George it’s more competitive. With both Kawhi and PG-13...things get complicated.
2.) The Clippers aren’t necessarily a bad team right now, but a team that is dealing with injuries. Two really good coaches going head-to-head. What scares you the most about this hungry Clippers team tonight?
The unfamiliarity of the rotations with Covington and Powell in the fold. Norman Powell can score with the best of them, and Covington is a versatile defender that can also hit threes. How they fit alongside a Marcus Morris Sr., a Terance Mann, a Luke Kennard...that all remains to be seen. While the Grizzlies will be familiar with them from their Portland days, their new squad brings about new challenges. Without much film to study on those newest Clippers, Memphis is going in at a bit of a disadvantage.
3.) The Grizzlies are coming off of a successful 2-1 road trip. This team has grown in so many areas this season. One of those is not letting one loss define their success. Following a tough loss in Philadelphia, Memphis bounced back with back-to-back wins against New York and Orlando. How do the Grizzlies take care of the Clippers at home, and win their third straight?
It will start with Morant and Desmond Bane. Those two have players in front of them as starters in Amir Coffey and Reggie Jackson that cannot defend them. Both Coffey and Jackson can score, so Ja and Bane will have to work some defensively, but the sheer offensive talent of Morant and Bane outweighs those issues. The Clippers will have to account for slowing down Morant while not leaving Bane, which means front court players will have to get more involved than perhaps Clippers coach Ty Lue wants them to. It could be a high assist outing for Bane and Morant.
4.) Ja Morant has dominated the Clippers in the two out of three matchups this season. Of course, he has been cooking almost every opponent this season. Just focusing on the Clippers however, what gives Morant life offensively in these matchups where he can go big?
His electric athleticism and handle enable him to blow past most defenders. This is especially true of the Clippers, who without Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are lacking their two best on-ball defensive players. L.A. has length they can throw at Ja, and now they’re even deeper as a roster and have more bodies that can disrupt Morant’s rhythm and vision. But Ja has developed this season as an interpreter of defensive coverages. He better understands as the game goes on where, and how, he will be attacked, and can respond accordingly with his dribble penetration and/or passing.
With their two best players down, the Clippers simply cannot stop it all. And Ja can, has, and will make them pay for it.
5.) Lastly, I want to hear what your predictions are for tonight’s contest at FedEx Forum. Who goes big? Who swings the game, and who walks away with the win?
Memphis is coming off two days rest following a blowout of the Orlando Magic. The Clippers, meanwhile, got blown out at home by the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night. L.A. was unable to prevent the Milwaukee offense from scoring more often than not - not only did Giannis Antetokounmpo go off (as he often does), but both Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis had big games. Know any strong lead guards/floor spacing bigs that could help Memphis win this game? I do...and while it won’t be a 24-point victory, I see the Grizzlies winning this game by several possessions. 117-110 is my prediction.”