The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers face off in Game 7 Sunday. Here are five things to watch.
1. At Least You’ve Got Your Health, Or Not: It’s become a pretty big deal that Blake Griffin has a sore knee (no ligament damage known of at this time) and that Chris Paul has a hip flexor. The hip significantly bothered Paul at the end of Game 6, keeping him from being able to try and close the game. Lost in all of this is that Memphis has dealt with a sore knee for Tony Allen, their best perimeter defender, Zach Randolph is less than four weeks back from a ligament tear in his knee, and that it’s the playoffs. Everyone’s banged up. The Clippers aren’t going to get easy dunks at the basket, most times in these games. If they want to advance, they’re going to have to tough through it. This game may simply come down to attrition and who has anything left.
2. Painting Classes: Whoever wins inside wins the game. That’s pretty simple. If it’s Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph dropping the ball in with expert passing and a soft touch, Memphis advances. If it’s Blake Griffin and Reggie Evans (?!) and Kenyon Martin getting easy dunks on the pick and roll, the Clippers will go on. The battle inside has determined this series, with Memphis’ 3-1 comeback cued by their improved emphasis on getting the ball to their bigs.
3. Expect The Unexpected: Reggie Evans has been a huge swing in this series. His effort on free throw attempt rebounds and making the tough, scrappy plays has given the Clippers life. That Evans has manged to do this without consistently fouling out, turning the ball over, or completely and totally losing his man in rotations stands in stark contrast to his recent career. But this is the playoffs. Someone’s going to have to get unlikely contributions. The Grizzlies had a big momentum swing in Game 6 from Hamed Haddadi. Whoever gets someone to step up who you don’t see coming gets a big edge.
4. Controlling Whistles: This is a fierce, physical series. Both sides are getting hit, and both sides feel the officials aren’t being fair to them. The officials have tended to call more whistles on drives than in the post, and that’s a pattern that helps the Clippers. If contact is allowed on swipes and bodies and elbows inside, that helps the Clippers, because most of their action starts on the perimeter and goes in. Getting a handle on the zebras is key, and if there are adjustments that have to be made, make them.
5. One Shot At A Time: This game could come down to Chris Paul in isolation vs. Rudy Gay in isolation. If that happens, who do you think comes out on top? The Grizzlies have lived and died by late game situations in this series. They have to make sure it doesn’t come down to a Rudy Gay pull-up jumper.
A month into the season, the Lakers the only team in the Western Conference that can absolutely be written out of any hopes of playoff contention. They’re in an awkward position with the upcoming draft: they still need talent long-term, and they owe their pick to the Sixers if it’s outside of the top three. Not surprisingly, Byron Scott isn’t thinking about it at all.
Via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
With the Lakers fielding the NBA’s second-worst record, how much effort will the franchise put in retaining its top-3 protected draft pick?
“I don’t think about that whatsoever,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “I probably won’t until April. That’s something I can’t control.”
The Lakers are in a precarious position. They appear likely bad enough to lose a lot of games. But will they lose enough to land in the top three? Otherwise, the Lakers owe Philadelphia their first-round pick as part of the Steve Nash trade.
“It’s impossible to think about the team, try to get our young guys better, the team better and also thinking about a pick,” Scott said. “That’s six months away and you might not even get it.”
Given Scott’s mentality, it’s not at all surprising that he isn’t thinking about the draft. But with his insistence on playing Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams more crunch-time minutes on this dismal Lakers team than D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, it’s pretty laughable that he talks about wanting to develop their young players.
Scott may not be thinking about the draft, but with the position the franchise is in and the likelihood that they lose their pick, he should be.
Jahlil Okafor‘s first month in the NBA has been eventful for all the wrong reasons. Early Thanksgiving morning, he was caught on video getting into a fight with a heckler in Boston. Then, a report surfaced of another altercation from October, in which Okafor apparently had a gun pulled on him. Now, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Okafor was recently pulled over in Philadelphia for driving 108 miles per hour:
Four sources independently confirmed to The Inquirer the 76ers center was pulled over on the Ben Franklin Bridge around three weeks ago for 108 miles per hour. Anything over 40 m.p.h. is considered reckless driving.
108 miles per hour in a 40-mile zone isn’t a minor speeding infraction—it’s incredibly dangerous. It might be possible to write off any of these incidents by themselves—particularly the one where he had a gun pulled on him, which doesn’t seem to have been his fault at all. But together, the Boston incident and this speeding report aren’t a good look at all for Okafor. He’s had a solid start to the year for the Sixers, but off the court has been another story.
The Warriors’ Friday night 135-116 win over the Suns was bittersweet: Harrison Barnes suffered a sprained left ankle in the third quarter and left for the remainder of the game. He missed Saturday night’s blowout win over the Kings as well, which extended the Warriors’ best-ever start to the season to 18-0.
Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton didn’t have an answer for how long Barnes will be out, but he said it could be a few weeks.
Via ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:
“He’s being evaluated [Saturday]. We haven’t gotten the results back yet,” interim head coach Luke Walton told reporters before Saturday’s game. “It’s all speculation. It could be a few weeks. It could be a week.
“We’re not going to rush him back because we want to be healthy for later in the season and we don’t want lingering injures, so we’ll have him take his time.”
Losing a starter is never good news, but the silver lining for the Warriors is that they have enough depth and enough of a cushion to be able to take their time and not rush Barnes back. Saturday night, Walton opted to keep Andre Iguodala in his usual sixth-man role and instead start the little-used Brandon Rush in Barnes’ place. Rush responded with a 16-point performance, shooting 4-of-5 from the three-point line. If they can keep getting that kind of production out of their reserves, the Warriors will be able to withstand the loss of Barnes just fine.
Emmanuel Mudiay is still a work in progress on the court — he’s a rookie, what did you expect? — but he has the court vision and flair you cannot teach.
As evidence, I present this pass from Saturday night, where in transition Mudiay goes with the no-look, behind-the-head dish to Darrell Arthur for the dunk.
The Nuggets dropped this game to the Mavericks 92-81 and have lost six in a row.