Grizzlies need to control the boards, increase the pace to bounce back in Game 2 against Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — After the Clippers took Game 1 from the Grizzlies by dominating the glass, that was the area that Memphis seemed most focused on improving for the next game of the series and beyond.

Being on the wrong end of a 47-23 rebounding margin will do that.

But it wasn’t the big men of the Clippers who were necessarily doing the damage. While they did a good job putting a body on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph that helped limit them to just six rebounds in total, it was the guards and wings, especially off the Clippers’ bench, that were creating the most problems.

“They’re athletic, man,” Mike Conley said of the way the Clippers were able to crash the boards after Game 1. “They’ve got two and there guys going to the glass every time, jumping over us and just using their athleticism. We’ve got to do a better job of checking them, our guards have to do a better job of coming back to rebound and helping our bigs. If we can win the rebound battle, we have a chance to win.”

Gasol said the same thing about winning the rebounding battle, and given the fact that the Grizzlies were second in the league in rebounding rate during the regular season, it’s expected that they’ll do a better job in cleaning up that mess in time for Game 2.

Closing the gap on the boards will definitely help the Grizzlies’ cause, but that alone won’t be enough. They’ll need to manufacture offense consistently throughout the course of the game, and can’t afford to go several minutes without scoring. Despite the rebounding disadvantage, Memphis was within one point of the Clippers with just over 10 minutes left in Game 1, before L.A. put together a 15-2 run to seal it.

Believe it or not, Memphis actually got the pace it wanted in Game 1, at least defensively. It was just an 85 possession game, though the Clippers’ efficiency ended up coming in at a blistering 129.3 points per 100 possessions.

Offensively, though, it would help if Memphis could speed things up, and get into the team’s sets a little sooner to exploit the Clippers’ defense for easier opportunities. Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins explained before Game 1 why he believes playing faster would be beneficial to his team’s offense.

“Everybody thinks we want to play at a slow pace,” he said. “We don’t. What I’d like to see us do better is rebound the ball, and then run off misses. But we don’t do that as often as we should. We have done it in the past, and we’ve done it in certain games, but it’s just a mindset of going out and doing it. We need our big people to run, we need our wings to run, we need our point guard to push the ball.

“I think they’re confident in playing the way they play but I’d rather play a little bit quicker,” Hollins continued. “I’m not talking about running up the court and taking the first three-pointer; that’s not what I mean at all. I mean, just get over half court [with 20 seconds still left on the shot clock], and explore it from there.”

On the Clippers’ side, they’ll need to continue to get production off the bench, but the Game 1 numbers don’t tell the entire story. Lamar Odom, for example, finished with seven rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes, but was just 1-7 from the field and largely brutal for stretches on both ends of the floor.

Eric Bledsoe finished 7-7 from the field, but four of those shots and eight of his 13 fourth quarter points came in the game’s final five minutes, with the Clippers already up double digits and the game having already been decided.

To bounce back in Game 2, the Grizzlies will need to shore up the problems in the rebounding category, avoid any long scoring droughts, and limit the impact of the Clippers’ reserves. Do all of that, and the series will be tied at a game apiece heading back to Memphis.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.