Clippers (40-26) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) at FedEx Forum, 6:30 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Playoff experience: The Memphis Grizzlies beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of last year's playoffs and took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games; falling one win short of the Western Conference Finals. Meanwhile three of the five Clippers' starters have never played in a playoff game before. “That’s amazing,” Clippers forward Caron Butler said when informed of that number. “Anything can happen in the playoffs. It’s going to be physical and it’s going to be loud.” The only way for the Clippers to get playoffs experience, of course, is to actually play in the playoffs and Butler believes playoff rookies like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Randy Foye and Eric Bledsoe, will be fine after they first touch the ball. “My first playoff games I wanted to do so many things when I first touched the ball,” Butler said. “I wanted to jab step, I wanted to shoot, I wanted to dunk and lay-up all at once. After that it was OK. You just have to take a deep breath and be patient.”
2. Turning the page: The first thing the Clippers and Grizzlies must do come Sunday night is forget about the regular season and how bad (Clippers) or how well (Grizzlies) finished the season. The Clippers finished the season losing three of their last four games while the Grizzlies come into the postseason winning six straight. Their records down the stretch enabled the Grizzlies to steal homecourt advantage from the Clippers, which was still on the minds of some players before they left for Memphis, knowing they could have easily been staying home for Games 1 and 2. “We shot ourselves in the foot,” said Clippers forward Kenyon Martin. "We know that…. Win any one of those games and we'd get home court. Games early in the season come back to bite you late in the season."
3. Foul mood: The Clippers and Blake Griffin have complained about the hard fouls Griffin has been taking this season and Griffin anticipates it only getting worse in the playoffs as he prepares to face Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Marreese Speights. “I heard it gets a lot more physical,” Griffin said. “We’ll see. I have to keep an open mind and get a feel for the first game… If it gets any more [physical] I might not make it. I know it’s going to be physical but I can’t imagine it getting a whole lot more physical than it’s been but I’m ready for that.” Butler said the playoffs will be more physical for everyone and every player has to prepare for the increased intensity. “We just have to be prepared for the challenge,” Butler said. “We have to protect ourselves, be padded up and be ready to go.”
4. Getting defensive: The first thing teams have to be prepared for when they face the Grizzlies is their suffocating defense and ability to essentially take a sledge hammer to your offensive plans. The Grizzlies topped the NBA in steals (9.6) and forced turnovers (17.1) after leading each category last season, becoming the first team to lead the league in both steals per game and forced turnovers per game for consecutive seasons since the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Seattle SuperSonics. “They try to muck everything up,” Clippers guard Randy Foye said. “They try to make everything chaotic. They try to pressure you and make you do things you don’t want to do. They want to make every possession a dog fight. They want to grind everything out and make you take the shot that they want you to take not the shot you want to take.”
5. Turning point: Last month the Clippers were left for dead after they lost three games in three days but they reeled six straight wins and won 13 of 15 games after blowing out the Grizzlies at home, 101-85, on March 24. The win salvaged the Clippers season and probably saved Vinny Del Negro his job. The Clippers win at home also underscored how important homecouurt could be in this series. The Clippers won their first two games against Memphis at home and lost their most recent match-up on the road. While the Grizzlies have won 10 straight at home and haven’t lost a game at the FedEx Forum in over a month, the Clippers have lost their last three games on the road and finished the season with a below .500 record away from home.