Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Game 1 Preview: Grizzlies at Clippers

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 7:11 AM

The season begins where the last ended: With Z-Bo and Blake Griffin battling on the block.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • The season begins where the last ended: With Z-Bo and Blake Griffin battling on the block.
Revenge game? Nah. The Grizzlies can't do anything tonight in their regular-season debut against the Clippers (9:30 p.m. tip) that would make up for those devastating Game 1 and Game 7 home playoff losses to the Clippers last spring. But that doesn't mean they won't be particularly amped for this one. And I do wonder if the Clippers, even in their home opener will have the same intensity given that probably half of their potential rotation — Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins, Willie Green — are new additions who didn't participate in that series.

I probably won't be doing many standalone game previews this season, but an opener with this kind of wattage deserves one. So here are three subplots I'll be keeping an eye on tonight:

1. Zach Randolph vs. Blake Griffin: In last season's Griz-Clips playoff series, an increasingly banged-up Griffin averaged 18 points on 53% shooting, while a significantly diminished Randolph averaged 14 points on 42% shooting. Given how close most of the games were, it isn't much of a stretch to say that Randolph equalling Griffin's offensive production would have tipped the series. So this opening night provides a very good first test for how far back to All-Star level Randolph is. For the Grizzlies to be a contender this season, they need a Randolph that's roughly on the same level at his position as Griffin.

2. Mike Conley vs. Chris Paul: And speaking of good opening tests ... Mike Conley looks fabulous in the pre-season — stronger, quicker, more confident. I was impressed enough that I tabbed him to be a top contender for the Most Improved Player award this season. So how about seeing the New Mike Conley stacked up against the best point guard in the world?

3. Jerryd Bayless vs. Backcourt Pressure: When last we saw the Grizzlies in a game that mattered, anyone not named Mike Conley was struggling to transport the ball safely up court against the defensive pressure of Paul and Popeye-armed back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe. This crippling problem, an even bigger pothole on the Grizzlies post-season path than three-point shooting, is something the acquisition of Bayless is meant to correct. Bledsoe has been even more of a beast in preseason and Paul is Paul. Bayless is likely to be checked by one of those players most of the time he's on the floor. Let's see how he handles it.

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