As always — or, at least when I'm able — here are three thoughts:
1. Pack Your Hatred: When the Los Angeles Clippers last walked off the FedExForum floor, it was Game 7 of last spring's first-round playoff series, and they'd just handed the Grizzlies the most bitter defeat in franchise history. The teams faced off again on opening night in Los Angeles, with the Clippers winning 101-92.
The showboating dunkbot Blake Griffin. The foot-stomping sideline defender Vinny Del Negro. The sketchy slumlord owner. The beach-chasing celebrity bench. The villainous genius of Chris “Point God” Paul. This, now, more than any other opponent, is the team Grizzlies fans love to loathe. As public address announcer Rick Trotter tweeted over the weekend in good-natured anticipation: “Pack your hatred.”
2. No Rudy Gay: The Clippers are one of two teams — along with the San Antonio Spurs — currently in the top five in both team offense and defense, but they've come down to earth just a little, going 3-3 since their season-best 17-game win streak.
The Griz had better hope that the more vulnerable version of the Clippers shows up tonight, because even when both teams are at full capacity I'd argue that the Clippers, more than the Thunder or Spurs, are the Grizzlies' toughest match-up in the current Western Conference. And tonight, the Grizzlies will be playing without Rudy Gay — 25-7-3 in the opener — who is missing the game to attend his grandmother's funeral.
With Gay's backup, Quincy Pondexter, already out to injury, the Grizzlies' lineups will be tricky. To begin, coach Lionel Hollins could go big, sliding Darrell Arthur down to the three. Or he could go small, shifting Tony Allen up and starting Wayne Ellington or Jerryd Bayless in the backcourt.
I suspect the Grizzlies will begin the game with the latter look, but my guess is that they'll be better served playing big quite a bit. The Clippers have too many potentially troubling defensive match-ups in the backcourt — Paul, sixth-man Jamal Crawford (who went for 29 on opening night), and the physically imposing Eric Bledsoe — to “waste” Allen's defense at small forward for most of the game.
Meanwhile, each member of the Clippers small forward rotation — Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, and Grant Hill — seem like types that Arthur can handle. Arthur, whose role and production are both trending up, didn't play in last spring's series or in the opener. Could he be an x-factor in the Grizzlies-Clippers match-up?
3. Marquee Match-ups: While the Grizzlies have a lot to sort out on the wing, the star power in this game will be a the point and in the paint. Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph is one of the most interesting match-ups around. Even a diminished Randolph played Griffin close to even in the series, and Randolph probably got the better of his younger, more explosive counterpart in the opener, out-dueling him 15-16 to 11-7. Griffin shoots 56% in Clippers wins and 48% in losses
Chris Paul-Mike Conley is a stiffer hill to climb (Paul is averaging 22 and 12 on 53% shooting over his past five games), and the Grizzlies probably need to mitigate that by getting a good game from Marc Gasol. Even with the regrettable evolution of Clippers center DeAndre Jordan into an actual basketball player, the Clippers are still vulnerable in the middle.
More Rudy Trade Rumors: Two more teams jumped aboard the Rudy Gay Trade Rumor Carousel over the past couple of days. I'll again refer you to my trade opus, which still stands, so far, in reasoning out all potential trade partners. But I'll give a quick take here on the new teams being mentioned:
Clippers: The suggestion is something involving Bledsoe and Butler. I didn't include the Clippers in my trade breakdown and I'm not second-guessing that at this point. I still don't see a deal here, for three reasons: 1. Butler is on the decline and Bledsoe, while very intriguing, is blocked by Conley for a potential starting role. This deal doesn't add the kind of shooting the Grizzlies would really want. 2. They're really going to put Rudy Gay on the top-four Western Conference team that eliminated them from last season's playoffs? 3. Historically “frugal” Clippers owner Donald Sterling is going to take on Gay's near-max deal while also paying Griffin, Jordan, and giving a new max deal to Chris Paul? Can't see it.
Wizards: The Commercial Appeal reported this morning that the Grizzlies have gotten an offer from the Wizards that would include rookie shooter Bradly Beal. As my trade column suggests, I consider Beal likely the most compelling individual name that would pop up in these rumors. But color me skeptical still. First, I'll believe the Wizards are really offering up Beal when that's confirmed. Second, even if they are, the big question would be whether the deal could include small forward Trevor Ariza ($7.7 million next season) or whether it would require taking center Emeka Okafor ($14.5 million). If it's the former, I think the Grizzlies have to do that deal and take the short-term risk. Beal is simply too good of an asset to pass up. If it's the latter, I don't know if the Grizzlies are really capable of taking the deal.
Remember: What's driving all of this is the need to bend the team's payroll trajectory to get under the luxury tax next season. Getting “better” this season or getting under the tax for this season are both secondary goals. It's the payroll going forward that's the real issue. And paying Okafor that much next season probably doesn't bend the curve enough to be viable.