Clippers-Grizzlies Preview

The stunned and battered Memphis Grizzlies had legitimate hopes

of going farther in the NBA playoffs than a year ago when they fell

to Oklahoma City in seven games in the Western Conference

semifinals is a distant memory.

Now with their egos bruised, they’re just focused on avoiding

elimination in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers.

Memphis hosts the Clippers on Wednesday night in Game 5 still

trying to figure out how to stop Chris Paul and hoping to force

Game 6. It’s been every bit the rugged series expected with two

games decided by one point and Monday night’s 101-97 win by Los

Angeles in overtime.

Guard Mike Conley said the Grizzlies have to treat this as the

last game.

”It could be the last game for us,” Conley said. ”We’ve got

to give everything we got regardless if guys are happy, if guys are

not. You have got to play for one another and understand that

winning is all that matters at this point. It doesn’t matter how we

do it. It doesn’t matter who steps up or who doesn’t. We have to

win.”

The Clippers are on the verge of something special and very rare

for the franchise. The Clippers beat Denver in the first round in

2006, and one more win clinches only their second playoff series

since the Buffalo Braves relocated to California. Paul has plenty

of playoff experience while with New Orleans and knows well what

his current teammates face now.

”The close-out game is the toughest one, especially in their

place,” Paul said.

”I’m sure they’re excited to be going back home, and we’ve

showed the ability to win there. So we need to come out ready to

play because it’s going to be a difficult game there too obviously

with the crowd behind them. We got down early (Monday night), and

our crowd’s energy got us back into it. It’s not going to be that

way on the road.”

The Grizzlies had less than 1,000 tickets available Tuesday

night with the mantra ”Believe Memphis” applies not just to the

team but the entire town.

Still, with Paul and Griffin leading the way, the Clippers are a

confident group.

”We have to take it one game at a time and understand that if

we go down there and we play our game and play together, we’re

going to have a great chance to close them out,” Clippers guard

Randy Foye said.

Both teams took Tuesday off, flying from Los Angeles to

Memphis.

This series has been a battle royale so far with the Clippers

picking up seven technical fouls and the Grizzlies six. Blake

Griffin estimates he’s racked up 5 1/2 fouls per game and said he

knows he must do better. Grizzlies guard Tony Allen says the

Clippers deserve credit for ”pretty much manhandling” the series

going up 3-1.

Paul has been a key, scoring eight of his 27 points in overtime

Monday night. Paul also got to the line where he hit all six of his

free throws.

Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said Tuesday he used the wrong word

after Monday night’s loss in saying that Paul flops when the

All-Star guard is simply too good at creating fouls. The Memphis

coach wants his Grizzlies to be smarter, stay poised and avoid

confrontations that result in technical fouls.

”We don’t need to be macho in those situations,” Hollins said.

”We need to go out and play and be macho and get the ball off the

glass and get the ball in the post and get the ball up the court

and defend.”

The Grizzlies were 3-1 a year ago in their opening series, lost

Game 5 and returned to Memphis where they closed out the series and

advanced.

But Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol dominated last postseason,

taking control of the paint. In this series, the Clippers have been

so physical that Gasol has had few, if any, points, late in games

while Randolph often finds himself taking shots from outside late.

Gasol averaged a double-double last postseason, but the All-Star

center has had only one this series.

”Even when we’ve gotten the ball inside, there’s not a lot of

space to operate,” Hollins said. ”They just decide that they’re

going to come and try to take the ball out of their hands and make

us beat them from the outside. And we haven’t been able to do that

consistently.”

Only eight NBA teams have rallied to win a series trailing 3-1

with Phoenix over the Lakers in 2006 the last. Hollins was with

Philadelphia when Boston rallied over the 76ers in the 1981 Eastern

Conference finals. Hollins dismissed any talk of history.

”We have to win one game, that’s the game here at home before

us and that’s basically all we can worry about,” Hollins said.