LOS ANGELES – Understandably, the Clippers still feel the sting from the playoff loss that ended their season last May. Forgetting hasn’t been easy.
They’ve moved on, as most teams do, but their games against the Memphis Grizzlies — whether in the regular season or the postseason — never seem run of the mill.
So when the Clippers face the Grizzlies on tonight at Staples Center, they’ll know what to expect. And they’ll no doubt recall how they blew a 2-0 lead to Memphis in the first round of the playoffs last season before losing four in a row.
“Absolutely,” forward Matt Barnes said. “Any time you go up 2-0 in a playoff series and get swept out, that still sticks with you. You circle these games.”
The Clippers aren’t exactly the same cast of characters. They have two new starters in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, and two of their key reserves, Darren Collison and Byron Mullens, also weren’t with them last season.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll need a primer on how physical and competitive the games are against Memphis. The Grizzlies are still big up front with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, whose dominance under the basket was a deciding factor in eliminating the Clippers last season.
“The new guys, they’re not naïve,” guard Chris Paul said. “They have television; they watched the playoffs. But we’ve got a new team, we play a little bit different, and it’s going to be interesting to see how that game goes. It’s a big game for us. We’ve been pretty good at home and we’ve got to keep it that way.”
In fact, after beating the Brooklyn Nets 110-103 Saturday night, the Clippers are 5-0 at Staples. They won three of four from the Grizzlies last season and took the first two games of their Western Conference playoff series before Randolph and Gasol grabbed control of the best-of-seven matchup.
The Grizzlies’ size and their willingness to get physical has sometimes given the Clippers problems, especially forward Blake Griffin. Like a couple of UFC fighters, he and Randolph have tangled often, sometimes winding up on the floor.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Griffin said. “I know they are. It’s not quite the playoffs yet, but with them it’s always a physical game and it’ll be the same type of game.”
Rivers, asked how the Clippers plan to combat Memphis’ size, said, “We’re not going to grow. We’re not going to get any bigger or stronger. I think we’re big enough and strong enough, quite honestly, and we’re just going to look them in the eye and guard them. And they’re going to look us in the eye and guard us.”
If that happens, it’s probably going to be another rough-and-tumble night. Anything less would be a surprise.