MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Every member of the Memphis Grizzlies left the locker room Wednesday night with binders.
In those binders, all they need to know about the Los Angeles Clippers. There is already plenty of familiarity, four games this season and a recent playoff history. But it’s deja vu, a first-round playoff rematch with plenty of story lines leftover from last season’s seven-game win by the Clippers.
“They’ve been a pain in our butt,” Grizzlies forward Tony Allen said.
No. 5 seed Memphis has bad memories of fourth-seeded Los Angeles, particularly an ever-souring Game 1 memory. Sure, the Clippers won three of four from Memphis this season, but most of that bad taste is nearly a year old. Memphis watched L.A. erase a 27-point lead in an opening-round game here at FedEx Forum. The Clippers then came back to Memphis and won Game 7.
The teams now sport identical 56-26 records.
“For us to let it slip away, especially the way we did, I think it stuck with a lot of us,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said. “We’ve got to use that as motivation. Most of us are going to go home and look at our big folders that we got on the Clippers and worry about getting that Game 1.”
It may be the most intriguing of any of the first-round matchups, thanks to such contrasting styles. Memphis goes inside-out, starting with big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. L.A. goes outside in with point guard Chris Paul leading the charge.
Conley and the Grizzlies went home Wednesday after a season-ending win against Utah, as Memphis set a franchise record with 56 wins and had its best ever home and away marks. Randolph scored 25 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. If Memphis is to replace bad memories with more pleasant ones, its big man needs to be the Randolph he was on Wednesday.
He had ice on both knees and both ankles after the game, one he tweaked early in the game but said it was no big deal. It was a big deal last season. Randolph played in 28 games of the shortened season — only eight starts — due to an MCL tear in his right knee.
“Last year we had just gotten Zach back and he was coming off the bench,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “I’m not sure if he was ready.”
If nothing else is guaranteed, it will be physical. Randolph and Clippers forward Blake Griffin were engaged in a bear hug at one point in a 91-87 Clippers win in Memphis last week.
The Grizzlies will enter the game as the league’s best regular season defense, allowing 89.3 points per game. L.A. scores more than 101 per game.
A major factor behind the comeback and series win for L.A. last season: Paul. He leads the league in steals and makes Los Angeles one of the league’s most dangerous teams. He’ll be checked by Allen, one of the league’s top lockdown defenders, most of the time.
“Chris Paul, running the show, getting people involved and guys like Blake (Griffin) running and jumping. But it’s the playoffs. Things slow down, more halfcourt,” Randolph said. “It’s going to be physical. We’re two physical teams.”
Memphis is making its third straight playoff trip, the lone series win in franchise history two years ago.
“Momentum is big, especially in the playoffs. That first game, it settles out a lot,” Randolph said. “We’ll see which way it’s going. Tonight was a good night for me. I’ve just got to carry on to the new season.”
Gasol alerted awaiting media Wednesday as he was about to toss his warmups into a wash basket across the room. He made it, no rim at all.
“I finally made one,” Gasol joked.
The big Memphis center didn’t have a great finale, four points and seven rebounds on 2 for 7 shooting. He says revenge is not a factor against L.A., but Memphis will need more from him to win the seven-game series.
Memphis is obviously a different team without Rudy Gay, traded to Toronto in January. Insert Tayshaun Prince, a title winner in Detroit, into the starting five and load the bench with new faces and Memphis has made a run that at one point only the new ownership thought it could make.
The Grizzlies’ bench outscored the Jazz 33-18 Wednesday. Jerryd Bayless wasn’t around last season, but could be a major factor in the outcome this time. The first guy off the bench is scoring 10 points per game in his last 10 but only 6 per in four games against the Clippers.
“We can’t just do it with the starters,” Hollins said. “There are some things that are showing up lately that are getting me really excited. This is where players make their names. This is an opportunity to play for a championship. This is what everybody dreams of and lives for. It is up for grabs. There are a lot of really good teams and we are one of them. We are excited to be here.”
Game 1 will be Saturday night at 9:30 CT in Los Angeles. Game 2 is scheduled for the same time on Monday. The series shifts back to Memphis on Thursday.