By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
LOS ANGELES – Don’t call it a rivalry.
First-year Grizzlies’ coach David Fizdale refused to do so two weeks ago after the Los Angeles Clippers came to town and throttled his team at FedExForum. Despite their bitter playoff history, the reality is that the Clippers and Grizzlies have been on different levels so far this season.
While the Grizzlies (5-5) are struggling to rise above .500 as they sort through injury and chemistry issues, the Clippers (10-1) are off to a historic start and have been the most dominant team in the league through the first three weeks of the regular season. When the teams met on Nov. 4 in Memphis, the Clippers led by as many as 21 points despite shooting just 37.6 percent in a 99-88 victory.
That outcome represents both the last time the Clippers were held below 100 points as well as the start of a seven-game winning streak they carry into Wednesday’s game against Memphis at Staples Center. The Grizzlies are a team still in search of consistency entering the most difficult challenge of a four-game trip that ends Friday in Dallas and started with Saturday’s loss in Milwaukee and Monday’s win in Utah.
“They’re playing some of the best ball in the league, and they’ve always been a great offensive team – we’ve always known that,” Conley said of the Clippers. “And for them to play the way they’ve been playing defensively, I think it’s taken them to another level, especially early in the season.”
Eight of the Clippers’ 10 wins have come by double figures and their 183-point total margin of victory through 11 games is the fourth-highest in league history. They’ve led by at least 40 points in three different games this season, including a blowout of the Nets on Monday when they scored a season-high 127 points. The Clippers are executing at an elite level on both ends of the court, having allowed an NBA-low 92.2 points a game with a league-best 93.0 overall defensive rating.
They’ve also won five of the last six matchups with the Grizzlies, who enter Wednesday’s game hoping to build on one of their better recent offensive efforts when they scored 102 points, shot 47.4 percent and got a combined 78 points from Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter. Fizdale knows his team faces a daunting task but wants to see continued progress, particularly from an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in scoring (97.5) and field goal percentage (.422).
“We’re doing a good job, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Fizdale said. “Guys are responding to the circumstances. The league creates adversity and you have to weather it. I want it to be gritty, but I just don’t want the offense to be a grind.”
Conley believes Wednesday’s game is another opportunity for the Grizzlies to measure themselves.
“They’re the team that a lot of teams are chasing right now, so we have to be ready to compete against those guys, especially on the road,” Conley said of the Clippers. “We’ve won in there before, and we’ve played a lot of big games there. So we’re confident we can go in there and do what we do.”
Tony Allen (groin) and Brandan Wright (ankle) are out for the Grizzlies. Wright underwent a successful arthroscopic debridement of his left ankle Tuesday after non-surgical interventions failed to eliminate his
posterior tibialis tendinopathy. The procedure was performed at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis and Wright will begin rehabilitation in Memphis immediately. There is currently no timetable for his return to the court. Chandler Parsons (knee) and Conley (hamstring) are questionable. For the Clippers, Brice Johnson (back) is out and Wesley Johnson (foot) is doubtful.
11. The Grizzlies rank exactly 11th in the league in three different statistical categories entering Wednesday’s game against the Clippers. They are 11th in steals per game (8.5), free-throw shooting percentage (.782) and three-point attempts (25.8).
KEEP AN EYE ON
Deyonta Davis. The rookie big man provided a perfect example as to why it’s important to look beyond the raw statistical numbers to gauge a player’s impact on the game. Davis saw his first relatively extended action of the season in Saturday’s win in Utah, where he had three rebounds, two points and a steal in just over 13 minutes off the bench. Davis, who is 6-11 and 250 pounds, gave the Grizzlies’ a legit rim protector on the second unit and led the team with a plus-9 rating in plus-minus despite limited minutes. The shots he’s contesting or altering, and his physicality in the lane pursuing rebounds should garner Davis more minutes in the rotation alongside Randolph, especially going against a Clippers’ frontline rotation of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Mo Speights.
“D.D. was fantastic protecting the rim for us,” Fizdale said of Davis, who has played more than one minute in only three games this season. “He added a new dimension to our defense. It’s something I’ve been dancing with, just feeling out who’s going to do what, and he really stood up for us.”
Randolph on Vince Carter’s overall influence on the team –
Vince has been great, man. I always talk to him about things because he started and he went to the bench. And I asked the question, ‘How do you deal, how do you stay ready?’ He has been through it all. The things I’m going through, he helps me out a lot … always lifting guys up, whatever you need from him. He is a Hall of Famer.
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