A grueling seven-game playoff battle proved the Los Angeles
Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies possess championship aspirations
after spending numerous seasons accumulating extra ping-pong balls
for the draft lottery.
Los Angeles hosts Memphis on Wednesday night in the teams’
season opener, 5 1/2 months after the Clippers knocked off the
Grizzlies in the first round.
The Clippers (40-26) qualified for the postseason for the first
time since 2005-2006 after acquiring Chris Paul from New Orleans in
the offseason, teaming him with young star forward Blake Griffin.
Los Angeles signed Griffin to a five-year, $95 million extension in
Shortly after, Griffin had surgery to repair a torn left medial
meniscus he suffered while practicing with Team USA for the
Olympics. He said he’s fully recovered and ready to help guide the
previously floundering franchise to its first consecutive playoff
appearances since 1991-92 and 1992-93.
”We’re up there with anybody,” Griffin said. ”We can play
with anybody. With our talent and depth, we can go toe to toe with
whoever it is.”
Los Angeles, though, was swept by San Antonio in the conference
semifinals after knocking off Memphis, which also expects to be a
contender in a loaded West that features the retooled Lakers and
reigning conference champion Oklahoma City.
The Grizzlies (41-25) ended the regular season on a six-game
winning streak before battling back from a 3-1 deficit versus the
Clippers to force a decisive game. The loss left a feeling of
unfinished business for a team that upset the top-seeded Spurs
before taking the Thunder to seven games in the 2011
”It can make you more dedicated when you’ve gone through
something like that,” coach Lionel Hollins said. ”It’s definitely
a positive, but you still have to go do it. You can talk about it.
`I have a sour taste.’ You can talk about, `I’m more dedicated.’
You have to be that, and you have to go do it.”
Former Clipper Zach Randolph had one of the best seasons of his
career in 2010-11, but he averaged only 11.6 points while being
limited to 28 games and eight starts with a torn MCL in 2011-12. He
shot 42.0 percent versus Los Angeles in the playoffs.
”Our expectations are high, too,” Randolph said. ”We just
want to take one game at a time. We don’t want to talk about doing
this, doing that. We want to take it one game at a time. I think we
do that and don’t look too far ahead, take steps, let it come to
us, we’re going to be all right.”
The Grizzlies have lost 11 straight season openers.
Memphis and Los Angeles both made offseason changes in hopes of
making deep playoff runs. Los Angeles added Lamar Odom, Grant Hill
and Jamal Crawford to help compensate for the absence of point
guard Chauncey Billups, out until at least mid-November after
surgery to repair the torn left Achilles he suffered 20 games into
Paul, who averaged 19.8 points and 9.1 assists in his first
season with the Clippers, is happy with the added depth.
”We could bring five guys off of our bench that could be
starters,” he said. ”That’s what you see with the teams that
advance and go deep into the playoffs – their bench is usually
deep. Not every night is Blake going to be able to score 29 points.
The bench is something that you count on for the long season.”
The Clippers found out early Wednesday they’d have to wait one
game to see one of their new additions. The NBA suspended Matt
Barnes, who had spent the previous two seasons with the Lakers, for
the opener after he pleaded no contest last month to a misdemeanor
for resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer.
Memphis, meanwhile, opted to let guard O.J. Mayo sign with
Dallas and traded Dante Cunningham to Minnesota for guard Wayne
Leading scorer Rudy Gay, center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike
Conley are back along with big man Darrell Arthur, who missed all
of last season with a torn right Achilles.
“We’re going to have (a healthy team to start) this year and
hopefully everybody stays healthy and shows everybody what we’re
really like when we’re healthy,” Randolph said.