Clippers starters: Butler, Griffin, Jordan, Billups, Paul. Inactive: Summers, Wayns
Grizzlies starters: Prince, Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Conley. Inactive: Greene, Reed
It’s the same two teams that played to the seventh game in last year’s playoffs. They compiled the same record of 56-26 over the 2012-13 season.
But for the Clippers, tonight’s Game 1 of their best-of-7 Western Conference playoff series does have a distinctly different feel as they face Memphis at Staples Center (Fox Sports West, ESPN).
“Last year was last year, this is a totally different team,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We have the home court, so we want to take advantage of it.”
It’s no secret that the contrasts of the two teams, and how they want to impose their own strengths, will figure prominently in the outcome of the series. The Clippers, of course, would limke nothing better to get their high-wire act going in transition and the Grizzlies would prefer to bludgeon their opponents with a physical game.
Yet the Clippers believe they are equipped to deal with that and are riding the confidence of having won three of the four meetings this season with the Grizzlies, including a 91-87 road victory in the last week of the season.
“DeAndre (Jordan) and Blake (Griffin) are young and physical themselves, so I don’t see that as an issue,” Del Negro said. “We know what type of game they like to play. We like to play our style, play at a tempo that’s comfortable for us and one way we can do that is by rebounding the ball well and being physical ourselves and doing all the little things.
“Our guards have to rebound the ball well and then play the tempo we want to play. The physicality takes care of itself. We just have to battle through it, keep our emotions in check and it comes down to execution.”
Neither team listed a player under the injury report. Griffin experienced back spasms during the regular season finale in Sacramento, but Del Negro said Griffin practiced without incident on Friday.
With the return of Chauncey Billups after missing eight games, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro’s favorite problem resurfaced for the regular season’s final two games.
That’s getting enough time for his deep bench, particularly guards Willie Green and Eric Bledsoe.
Green has been on fire in the past month, hitting 23 of his 36 3-pointers in that span entering Tuesday’s game against Portland. That 64-percent shooting is the tops in the league during that period and increased Green’s season percentage to 43.0, seventh-best in the NBA.
“It’s been challenging all year,” Del Negro said. “We’ve had enough injuries where we’ve been able to work through it, but Willie deserves to play, Eric Bledsoe deserves to play more at times. Grant Hill is not getting a great opportunity but every time we put him in he’s been productive.”
Bledsoe, who was hot in January and early February while Billups and Chris Paul missed time with injuries, went through a slump and then the Clippers finally sat him to heal a nagging calf injury.
“He tried to play through it, it wasn’t right, we were scared it was getting really tight and he was going to really strain it and be out for a while,” Del Negro said. “We sat him down for an extended period to get it right because he gives us an edge to us defensively and with the speed he plays with.
“We knew that was going to be a factor for us. I feel he’s playing with a lot of confidence, his energy and the way he plays is very important especially with that second unit. Or if he’s out there with Chris, how he uses his athleticism to pressure the basketball defensively. He’s done a very good job for us.”
Bledsoe’s role could take on added significance if the Clippers match up with Memphis and guard Mike Conley in the playoffs.
“He changes our complexion with his speed,” Del Negro said. “He had a big tip-in the other night against New Orleans late in the game. Against Conley, who’s very quick, we can throw Bled on him a little bit. Just the versatility he brings us is a value.”
The Clippers admit they’re taking a cautious approach with Billups but are hoping that once the playoffs begin, Mr. Big Shot will be in his usual clutch form.
“He’s a little bit older now, he missed most of last season and a lot of this season (with his Achilles’ tendon injury),” Del Negro said. “That’s not as easy to do. We still expect a lot from him, his leadership, he can make shots, he gives us another guy that can make plays.
“He’ll get Chris with more live dribbles at times, he can run the break. At the end of games, they call him Big Shot for a reason. He can make free throws. He’s another weapon we’d like to use as much as we can, as much as he can handle physically.”
The Clippers could use some help from Utah Wednesday night in Memphis, but they’re not counting on it.
“I expect Memphis at home,” Del Negro said. “I focus in on us (Tuesday) and tomorrow night. Both games we have to have our mindset right, take care of our business and everything else falls into place.”
The Clippers close the season in Sacramento.
By Phil Collin
It’s scramble time for the Clippers, who can still move up to a more advantageous position for the postseason as they head into their final two games of the regular season.
It starts tonight at Staples Center against Portland (Prime Ticket, TNT), which brings an 11-game losing streak into the game. The Clippers can win twice and earn the third seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, but they at least want to earn home-court advantage for the first round in any case.
“I focus in on us tonight and tomorrow night,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Both games, we have to have our mindset right, take care of our business and everything else falls into place.”
The Clippers are coming off a road win over Memphis, which could be their first-round opponent. That gave the Clippers a 3-1 series win for the season over the Grizzlies.
“You gain confidence by winning,” Del Negro said. “We had slipped up a few times against some of the top teams in the West since the All-Star break. We lost tough on the road to Dallas, tough on the road to San Antonio but you’ve got to finish those games out. We weren’t able to do that.
The Clippers will start Chauncey Billups at guard. Billups has been inactive for each of the past eight games with a strained groin. In addition, forward Caron Butler, fighting a sore right knee, is also in the starting lineup.
A 17-point loss in Houston on Saturday left Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro fuming at his team.
Tonight when the they face Central Division leader Indiana at Staples Center (Prime Ticket), the Clippers will have to show Del Negro and themselves they have the will to close out the season with the urgency required to take into the postseason.
“One thing we’ve got to get better at is the consistency factor, what to expect and what it takes to win and understand the urgency it takes at this time of the season with everybody desperate in survival mode for as high a seed as possible,” Del Negro said before tip-off.
The Clippers (49-25), perhaps destined for another first-round playoff series with Memphis, will again be without guard Chauncey Billups, who is now dealing with a strained groin. Forward Matt Barnes (sprained ankle) will try to give it a go after being injured in Houston.
Willie Green is back in the starting lineup at guard.
He’s made it. Guard Maalik Wayns, called up from the D-League, has been signed for the rest of the season.
Wayns has played in three games and averaged 3.7 points and 2.3 assists. The bulk of those numbers came last week in a win over Philadelphia, when he played 17 minutes and had nine points, two assists and a steal.
He’s played in only two games and logged seven total minutes, but forward DaJuan Summers has been signed to a second 10-day contract.
Reserve guard Willie Green has started 50 games for the Clippers this season but has seemed like the forgotten man when Chauncey Billups returned for good from his Achilles’ tendon rehab.
But Green has never forgotten how to stay prepared, and back in the starting lineup Wednesday, he scored 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting in 22 minutes. It was his first start in more than a month.
“It’s tough when you’ve been out of the lineup a while,” Green said. “I came here because of the bigger picture. I still believe in this team.”
The belief is mutual.
“That’s him. I expect nothing less from Willie,” Chris Paul said. “I didn’t know Willie was starting until we walked out before the game and did our walk-through, but it’s not like I looked at Willie and said ‘Man, I hope Willie is ready.’ Willie’s always ready regardless of the situation. He’s not going to pout, he’s not going to badmouth, he’s not going to say ‘Why didn’t you play me last night?’ Willie’s always ready to go.”