PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – There’s nothing subtle about the Memphis Grizzlies. They are big, physical and unafraid to use their muscle under the basket – a fact the Clippers know too well.
“With those guys, you know what kind of game it’s going to be,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “It’s going to be a grind — not a dirty grind, but it’s going to be physical down there. We’ll be ready for it.”
They’ll have to be. Wednesday’s night game at Staples Center might carry postseason implications because the Clippers and Grizzlies are currently contending for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Finishing among the top four will mean a first-round playoff series with home-court advantage, but the No. 4 finisher could end up facing the white-hot Denver Nuggets in the first round.
That makes the game important, even though the Clippers will still have 16 regular-season games remaining.
“It’s a big game,” guard Chauncey Billups said. “Obviously it just another game, but it’s a big game with some implications to it. We’ve been pretty successful against them this year, but it’s a team that’s playing really well since the trade they made, and we want to continue to play well against them.”
The Clippers hold a 2-0 advantage over Memphis this season and beat the Grizzlies in a physical first-round playoff series last season. The Grizzlies figured to feel the effects of trading leading scorer Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 30, but they’ve played effectively, going 14-4 since the trade with wins in 13 of their past 14 games.
One thing they haven’t lost is their bruising style, with 6-foot-9, 260-pound Zach Randolph and 7-1, 265-pound Marc Gasol forming a tough combination inside.
“I’d say they’re the most physical team in the league,” Billups said. “They kind of play the game the way it used to be played, like some of my Detroit teams when it was a little more physical and the rules were a little different. They haven’t changed to the new rules. I like that, though. I can appreciate that.
“They’re physical, defensive minded — a team that punches the ball into the paint. Teams just don’t play like that anymore.”
No one knows the impact of Randolph’s style more than Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who is used to the Grizzlies forward getting physical under the basket. He concedes that Randolph likes to employ tactics designed to get under his skin.
“Yeah, he tries to,” Griffin said. “You just keep playing. That’s the only way. You don’t acknowledge it really. You just keep going.”
Billups said the best way for Griffin to combat Randolph, who was expected to play Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers after missing four games because of a left ankle sprain, is to make him work and get him to commit fouls.
“He’s just a tough, tough cover,” Billups said. “He’s got a knack for the ball. He’s got great anticipation as far as getting rebounds and things like that. But not only that, he’s physical. He’s very crafty with how he uses his hands, his body and his positioning.
“He’s a tough cover, but I think we have to have Blake be tough on our offensive end, try to get him into some foul trouble and wear him down a little bit.”
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said reserve Jamal Crawford, bothered by a sore left ankle, will probably play, but Eric Bledsoe (sore left calf) is out. So is starting forward Caron Butler, who has a strained left elbow and is expected to miss one week.