— Hot seat coaches
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and Memphis coach Lionel Hollins both have contracts that expire at the end of the season and neither organization has extended. Both coaches won 56 games during the regular season.
“Players win games, coaches lose games,” Del Negro said. `I can’t control those things. What I control is the preparation of the team. All those things will be answered at the end of the season.
“I believe in what we’ve done here. I believe in my assistant coaches, who’ve done a phenomenal job. I’ve had great support from ownership and front office, (vice president of basketball operations) Gary (Sacks), (president) Andy (Roeser) and (director of basketball administration) Eric (Miller) and everybody to put the best team out there possible.”
Del Negro led the Clippres to their first Pacific Division title, a record 17-game win streak and club record 56 victories.
“You need players to win,” Del Negro said. “I’ve been pleased with the direction and keeping everybody pulling in the right direction. Those things will be answered at the end of the season. Right now, the focus should be on the playoffs, the players and the commitment to be succesful. All those things will be answered.”
The Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies will tip off tonight already having spoken of how well each team knows each other.
One of the question’s for tonight’s Game 2 at Staples Center (Prime Ticket, TNT) is whether we’ll see more of the below-the-bucket battle between Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph.
Both power forwards played only 25 minutes because they were limited by foul trouble. Randolph scored 13 points and had four rebounds and Griffin was held to 10 points and five rebounds before fouling out.
“They got some foul trouble as well, so that’s just part of the process,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said of the physical battle. “It’s hard to ref. You’ve just got to make sure it’s clean, above-board and if guys are competing at a high level, that’s what the playoffs are about.
“Blake is incredibly athletic and Zach is good with hand-to-hand combat underneath the basket. I thought Blake in Game 1 did well, but it’s a challenge every night. You’re talking about top players in the league playing at a high level.”
The starting lineups for both teams are the same from Game 1. And both teams are hoping for more production from a starter this time around; Center DeAndre Jordan had only three points for the Clippers and forward Tayshaun Prince had only two for Memphis.
By the time the NBA playoffs roll around, teams usually have settled on a rotation of players that generally means eight players will go most nights.
The Clippers are going to stick with the kitchen sink approach after their reserves averaged 40.1 points per game this season, fourth-best in the league. The Clippers went 40-17 when their reserves outscored their opposing bench players.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will lose any playing time.
“I think we have a unique team,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’ll stay with it the way we’ve been playing and if the players need a few more minutes — Chris and Blake’s minutes have been up a bit lately — but overall because of the beginning part of our season our bench was doing such a good job, their minutes were down. Hopefully that’s a benefit for us.
“I have confidence in all our guys. Grant Hill’s helped us win games, Ronny Trutiaf’s helped us win games, Willie Green’s helped us win games so I have no hesitation putting them in if I feel they can help us.”
By early in the second period, the Clippers had 10 of their players make it into the court. Green, Hill and Turiaf weren’t among them.
“You also have to keep a rotation and you have to understand the flow of the rotation is important,” Del Negro said. “I think we’ve gotten into a pretty good flow lately.”
It was more of an issue at midseason, when the Clippers were struggling following their 17-game losing streak, but Del Negro brought up the issue of his team restraining itself on the court without any prompting.
After all, he has to cover all bases for a team that has double-digit technical foul players like Griffin (14), Matt Barnes (10) and DeAndre Jordan (10). Jamal Crawford added nine and Lamar Odom seven.
“We’ve addressed it a few times,” Del Negro said. “I want us to play with emotion, I want us to play with a lot of energy. But you’ve got to play the next play. You can’t assume anything, especially in playoff games.
“Play the next play, you can’t worry about the refs, you’ve got to stay in the zone, you’ve got to stay in your mindset, you’ve got to know what the execution process is and hopefully we’ll control our emotions from that standpoint and be able to execute.
“If you get ahead of yourself a little bit and you’re so amped up and you’re trying to do things faster than you need to — once we get our feet under us as the game gets started, we’ll be fine.”
The Grizzlies were the annoyed team in the first half Saturday, with starters Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Mike Conley picking up two fouls each in the first quarter and Keyon Dooling being called for a technical early in the second quarter.
Conley picked up his third foul with 2:10 left in the second quarter on a jump shot by Chauncey Billups then bounced into the basket. Billups couldn’t converted the three-point play, though.
— On your feet
The NBA’s no-flop rule, instituted before this season, has gotten a little tougher for the playoffs.
The first offense is a $5,000 fine, then goes up to $10,000, then $15,000, then $30,000 with subsequent violations. A player’s fifth flop could result in a larger fine or even a suspension. There are no warnings.
“They’re the rules. You’d better abide by them,” Del Negro said. “That’s come into play a lot this season. I think the guys are used to it a little bit but now there’s no warning or anything. The league takes a hard look at that stuff.”
Clippers starters: Butler, Griffin, Jordan, Billups, Paul. Inactive: Summers, Wayns
Grizzlies starters: Prince, Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Conley. Inactive: Greene, Reed