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.”
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.
By Vincent Bonsignore
With the Clippers opening the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, here are five quick things to keep an eye on:
1. CAN THE CLIPPERS HEALTH HOLD UP
The Clipper’s have battled through injuries all season, some big, some small, but a constant issue all year. They come into the postseason relatively healthy, although Chauncey Billups is still battling leg problems and Caron Butler’s knee has been a sore spot for some time. Billups, especially, is a concern early on and his minutes will be monitored as he works his way back into shape. He returned after an eight-game absence Tuesday against the Portland Trailblazers, and it will still take time to round into form. The Clippers have shown they can win without their veteran leader – remember, the beat the Grizzlies in seven games last year without Billups playing a game – but they are a much better team with him healthy and playing well, especially this time of year.
2. CAN THE GRIZZLIES SCORE ENOUGH TO KEEP UP
Yes, Memphis benefited from the mid-season trade that sent leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto and brought Tayshaun Prince to the Grizzlies. Defensively, they are a better team and the ball moves better offensively. Putting it in the basket has been a challenge, though, and as they showed in a loss to the Clippers at home last Saturday, their lack of firepower is a major issue. Gay, for all the concern about how much he was getting paid, was a consistent scorer and the Grizzlies might learn the hard way his production isn’t easily made up for in the playoffs.
3. CAN DeANDRE JORDAN MATCH UP WITH MARC GASOL
The Clippers big man had one of his most efficient games of the year against the Grizzlies last Saturday with 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. If the Clippers can get that kind of production from him in the first round, they should soar into the semifinals. The problem is Jordan hasn’t reached the point where he can string together performances like that on a consistent basis, too often playing well one night but then vanishing the next. The Clippers have won a franchise-best 56 games dealing with those inconsistencies, but can they win four out of the next seven against the Grizzlies is he falls into that trend?
4. CAN THE CLIPPERS PLAY SMALL BALL?
We all know Lob City leads the league in highlight plays. Between the dunks of Blake Griffin and Jordan and the cross-over moves of Jamal Crawford and the all-oop passing of Chris Paul, they are a television sports producer’s dream. And while that’s all well and good in the regular season, winning playoff games comes down to focus, execution and an ability to make the most out of every offensive and defensive sequence. Do the Clippers have the maturity and fortitude to grind out each possession, execute their sets precisely and take care of the ball? Conversely, do they have it in them play after play after play to communicate, rotate and help each other defensively? If so, they should win this series easily.
5. IS BLAKE GRIFFIN READY FOR PRIMETIME?
We all remember Griffin limping around last year as the Clippers beat Memphis in seven games before falling to the San Antonio Spurs in a four-game sweep. It didn’t take a doctor to understand Griffin was playing at less than 80 percent capacity, and that is pushing it. This year he goes into the playoffs as healthy as can be, and presumably ready to another step on his way to stardom. Standing in his way are the physical, aggressive Grizzlies, who like to muck games up and take opponents out of their game. Griffin has made strides keeping his emotions in check this year; especially when it comes to his issues with the physical liberties opponents take on him and what he perceives as indifference from the referees. That maturity will be tested big time against the Grizzlies, who will try to get into his head. If he can rise above it he and the Clippers should be fine. If not, the edge goes to Memphis.
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.”