Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph

Dominant Zach Randolph leads Grizzlies to Game 3 win over Clippers

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Zach Randolph didn’t have much of an effect at all on the first two games of the Grizzlies playoff series against the Clippers in Los Angeles. In a must-win Game 3 situation once the series shifted to Memphis, he was the reason the Grizzlies stayed alive.

Randolph finished with a game high 27 points and 11 rebounds as Memphis came away with the 94-82 victory that cut the Clippers lead in the series to two games to one.

The play of the Clippers’ bench had been the story of the series to this point, but as is often the case with role players on the road, those performances tend to disappear. That was certainly the case with Eric Bledsoe, who had sparked the Clippers in each of the first two games, but couldn’t get anything going in Memphis. Bledsoe finished scoreless in 14 minutes of action with three personal fouls, and he probably shouldn’t have been left out there even that long considering the negative impact he was having on the game for his team.

Instead, it was the reserves of the Grizzlies who were able to provide a lift, led by Quincy Pondexter with 13 points in 26 minutes of action.

But even in the first two games that the Clippers won in this series, Memphis largely was able to outplay L.A. when both teams had their starting units on the floor. That was once again the case in Game 3, but it was even more extreme.

In addition to Randolph’s monster performance, Marc Gasol was effective offensively with 16 points, and was consistently free of defenders with plenty of space to shoot. That was helped by Randolph’s presence inside, as well as by Mike Conley’s ability to distribute, which gave him 10 assists against zero turnovers for the game — numbers that outweighed his lackluster 1-for-9 shooting performance.

Statistically, this was essentially a reversal of Game 1, where the Clippers got everything they wanted and killed the Grizzlies on the boards. In Game 3, Memphis won the rebounding battle 45-33, but more troubling for L.A. was the Grizzlies’ 17-5 edge on the offensive glass that led to a 22-4 advantage in second chance points.

In addition to the Clippers’ bench not providing the spark L.A. has grown accustomed to over the first two games of the series, Chris Paul was completely ineffective in this one in running his team’s offense. He finished with just eight points and four assists, to go along with an uncharacteristically high five turnovers.

It’s funny, because the very first possession of the game for the Clippers was executed to perfection. Blake Griffin posted deep on the low block in isolation, Chauncey Billups found him with a clean entry pass, and Griffin spun toward the basket and banked home a four-footer for the first points of the game. From then on, it seemed as though the Clippers were struggling to even initiate their sets, and possessions became reduced to dribbling misadventures that more often than not resulted in long jumpshots (or heavily contested ones) as the shot clock was about to expire.

A great performance from Randolph came just as his team needed it the most, but overall, in a game that essentially would have meant the end of the Grizzlies’ season had they lost and fallen behind 3-0 in the series, the bounce-back effort from a 56-win Memphis team was to be expected.

The Clippers aren’t expecting to see two subpar games in a row from Chris Paul, and they will likely make adjustments to ensure that Randolph goes back to a closer version of the player they saw in the first two games. The pressure on the Grizzlies won’t be any less in Game 4, however, because a loss would mean an opportunity for the Clippers to close out the series at home next week.

Report: Doc Rivers says Clippers not interested in moving Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin, Jason Smith
Associated Press
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NBA general managers are vultures — if they see an opportunity to buy low on a player, they circle and hope to pick off a meal.

You can be sure Clippers’ GM Doc Rivers phone was full of those calls starting soon after the word leaked of Blake Griffin required surgery on his hand after punching a team employee. The vultures have called with lowball offers, and even when shot down some teams have made sure word of their call leaked out in a “look how hard we are working to get you a star” kind of way. It’s good for PR.

The Clippers are not looking to trade Blake Griffin. Right now, at least.

From Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.

Bolch expanded upon that in an article.

The Clippers have fielded calls involving various trade proposals but remain reluctant to part with a cornerstone of their franchise and a player who, at age 26, was having possibly his best season before he was sidelined by a quadriceps injury the day after Christmas and subsequently a broken hand sustained in a scuffle with assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Right now the vultures are circling, and lowball offers are all the Clippers will get — they couldn’t come close to getting value back. This season the Clippers will get Griffin healthy and hope they can make a deep playoff run.

If the Clippers are bounced in the first or second round this spring, they have some soul searching to do — can the core of Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan beat the Golden State Warriors? If they feel the answer is no, then they must consider changes. And if they were to shake up the core, Griffin may be the most movable piece — plus the Clippers have shown they can play well without him.

However, the Clippers may try to upgrade the pieces around that core and make one more run at the Warriors, then consider breaking things up in 2017 if it doesn’t work out. It’s hard to put together a core as good as the Clippers have right now, and breaking it up comes with great risk. They are not just going to leap blindly off that cliff.

The bottom line is, any Griffin trade rumors you hear up until Draft night, and likely beyond that, are more teams trying to look good to their fan bases than valid trade talks.

Robert Horry says Stephen Curry better offensively than peak Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, greets Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) prior to an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Associated Press
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Stephen Curry has a long road ahead to walk away from the game with the resume and legacy that Kobe Bryant will leave with come April.

But is he already a bigger threat on offense than Kobe ever was?

Former NBA player, Kobe teammate, and Lakers studio guy Robert Horry said yes, while on SiriusXM NBA Radio with host Justin Termine. Here is his quote (hat tip Hoopshype):

“Kobe in his prime really wasn’t that great of a three-point shooter. He was a drive, get-to-the-hole, dunk-on-you type of guy. Steph can drive and float you. He can shoot it from half court. You have to guard him at all times.”

Peak Kobe on offense (the 2006-07 season, I would say) averaged 31.6 points and 5.4 assists per game, with a true shooting percentage of 58 percent and a usage rate of 33.6. This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4

This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4 assists, with a true shooting percentage of 68.2 percent and a usage rate of 32.3.

There are a lot of difficulties in comparing the apples and oranges of those seasons, but we can safely say that because of the three ball Curry is a more efficient scorer than Kobe ever was. He is certainly more dangerous that way. I agree that Curry creates more problems on offense because of how his shooting stretches the defense, plus he can drive the lane.

Kobe, at his peak, was a better defender than Curry. (Curry is better than some critics want to give him credit for, he led the NBA in steals last season, but he does it more within a team system where he is solid, he is not the lock-down wing defender Bryant was back in the day.)

I hate comparing all-time greats and saying X is better than Y, because the game evolves and situations are different. Kobe will walk away from the game this summer one of the all-time greats, no question. We’re a long way from knowing Curry’s final legacy, but it will be as probably the greatest shooter and one of the greatest offensive forces the game has known. A guy built for today’s NBA rules and style.

Maybe we could just try to enjoy both and not compare.

Snowed-out Jazz/Wizards game rescheduled for Feb. 18

Bradley Beal, John Wall
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We haven’t seen a back-to-back-to-back in the NBA since the lockout season, when the league tried to cram 66 games in after Christmas.

The Washington Wizards have one now.

The Utah at Washington game originally scheduled for Jan. 23, which was snowed out because of a major storm hitting the Eastern seaboard, has been rescheduled for Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Eastern at Verizon Center.

That makes the Wizards’ schedule:

Feb. 18: vs. Utah
Feb. 19: vs. Detroit
Feb. 20: at Miami

The Jazz have a back-to-back as well, facing Boston on the 19th.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.