Clippers dominate the glass, dominate the Grizzlies in Game 1 victory

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LOS ANGELES — The Grizzlies finished the regular season second in the league in rebounding differential, but you wouldn’t know it sorting through the wreckage of their 112-91 loss to the Clippers to open the playoffs on Saturday.

It’s normally Memphis who bullies opponents on the glass and gets plenty of second chance opportunities, but in Game 1 the boards were completely dominated by Los Angeles.

The Clippers outrebounded the Grizzlies 47-23 in total, and 14-4 on the offensive end of the floor which translated into a 25-5 advantage in second chance points.

“Very surprised,” Lionel Hollins said about the rebounding disparity afterward. “But I’ve been saying it when we’ve played them before, they’ve gotten more rebounds than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds. … But what’s more surprising is that our two big people had six between them, and no offensive rebounds.”

“Just one of those games,” Vinny Del Negro said. “Obviously it was a big focal point as always, and we were just fortunate the ball bounced our way a little bit. I thought our guards got in there, if you look at the numbers, and did a good job off the bench for us. But it’s everybody. It’s team rebounding. [Blake Griffin] and [DeAndre Jordan] maybe don’t get as many rebounds, but their job is to take those other guys off and our guards did a good job of getting those long rebounds.”

The rebounds were a big part of the story, but there were other components that were worrisome for the Grizzlies.

A slow start didn’t help, where Memphis shot just 38.1 percent from the field in the first quarter while allowing the Clippers to shoot 55.6 percent. Foul trouble was an issue, as both Mike Conley and Zach Randolph were saddled with two fouls apiece before the opening frame was through.

The Grizzlies got a boost off the bench from Jerryd Bayless, who helped bring his team back in both the second and third periods where he scored 14 of his 19 points in 16 minutes off the bench during that span.

But the Clippers’ bench was fantastic, with L.A.’s reserves finishing the game with as many rebounds (23) as the entire Grizzlies team. Chris Paul knows that’s been his team’s identity all season long, so when asked about the production his team got from the bench unit, he wasn’t exactly surprised.

“Yeah, we’re used to that,” he said.

Eric Bledsoe’s night was particularly special, as he poured in 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting, to go along with six big rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. For the record, Bledsoe is listed at 6’1″, and had as many rebounds as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol did combined, and the Grizzlies’ two bigs logged a total of 65 minutes between them.

“Bled is that blur,” Paul said of his teammate’s strong performance. “He runs probably faster than me and Chauncey put together. Me and Chauncey are a little more crafty and different things like that, and I think it gave us versatility. They didn’t know who to guard. I think it was something different and it worked for us.”

Memphis didn’t get blown out until the very end, and continued to battle back every time the Clippers stretched their lead. The Grizzlies pulled to within one with just over 10 minutes remaining, but that’s when the wheels fell off, and the Clippers responded with a 15-2 run over the next five-plus minutes to put the game out of reach.

Hollins tried to explain the run that decided the game.

“The whole game was about mental mistakes and not all-out effort all night long and we didn’t play that well, but we were right there,” he said. “We made a mistake, we gave up a three, we came right back and fouled somebody, and now they’re up seven, and then it keeps steamrolling. We tried to call timeout, tried to get some different personnel in there, and it got out of hand.”

Those are the types of droughts that Memphis absolutely can’t afford against this Clippers team.

The good news from the Grizzlies’ perspective is that they were right there in the fourth, despite the rebounding woes and the Clippers’ bench production. They’ll need to get their effort and execution in blocking out the Clippers’ guards and wings together for Game 2, which should be doable based on their successful statistics in that category over the course of the 82-game season.

Both Gasol and Conley said the exact same thing during their separate postgame interviews when summing up this game’s biggest problem, and how it ultimately affected the end result.

“If we can win the rebound battle, we have a chance to win,” they said.

In Game 1, that was much easier said than done.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.