Clippers still eyeing playoffs, open second half at Grizzlies
The Los Angeles Clippers' chemistry experiment will continue in earnest Friday when they take the court for the first time after the All-Star break with a road test against the Memphis Grizzlies.
While the Grizzlies (23-36) are facing changes of their own, after trading team cornerstone Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors with an eye toward the future, the Clippers (32-27) altered their core, while giving every indication that a playoff push is still attainable.
Helping that push for the Clippers will be a pair of Grizzlies. Amid a flurry of trade-deadline deals, Memphis sent JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple to Los Angeles, who sent Avery Bradley in return.
While none of those players is expected to remain with his new team next year, in the case of Green and Temple, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers will tap into their abilities to help in order to have his team playing beyond the end of the regular season.
The playoffs sound like a tall order for the Clippers after leading scorer Tobias Harris was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles landed with a thud in a 116-92 defeat at Indianapolis after the deal went down.
But the Clippers went 2-1 immediately before the break, including a 123-112 victory at Boston on Feb. 9 that was marked their third victory when rallying from at least a 20-point deficit on a six-game road trip. The 28-point rally against the Celtics was the largest in Clippers franchise history.
Other new additions like Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet are being added to the mix. Wilson Chandler (quad) is expected to join them soon, although he is reportedly at least two games away from his Clippers debut.
Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams will be leaned on for scoring punch, while emerging rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been running the show effectively from the point-guard spot, seemingly showing growth every game.
Entering the break, the Clippers were in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and they intend to move even higher. They were just three games out of the fourth spot in the conference.
"Our mindset doesn't change," Clippers guard Patrick Beverley said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Still trying to be a higher seed in the playoffs than we're in right now."
The Grizzlies are nine games out of the last playoff spot in the conference and would have to leapfrog five teams to get into the playoffs. They lead only the Phoenix Suns in the West.
The Grizzlies' dramatic fall from Western Conference leaders early in the season to sellers at the trade deadline leaves them to pick up the pieces now that Gasol is gone. Guard Mike Conley remained, so it was not a complete roster teardown.
Conley is averaging 19.9 points per game, just off his career best set in 2016-17, with 6.4 assists, more than a half an assist above his career average.
Conley has not scored more than 15 points in the three games since the deadline passed, but he figures to be properly motivated, after yet another All-Star Game snub. He is playing some of his best basketball after Achilles surgery and continues to be inspired to prove himself.
"I think people have no idea what I went through and am still kind of going through," Conley said, according to The Commercial Appeal. "Just the challenges of getting back into game shape, defeating the odds of an Achilles surgery, being as healthy as I feel and being able to perform.
"Not even just performing but being able to exert as much energy and play as many minutes and do it back-to-back-to-back nights and not miss a beat. People overlook that a lot."
While Conley's health is fine, forward Kyle Anderson (shoulder) is day-to-day and will not play. Forward Dillon Brooks (toe) was already lost for the season, but Chandler Parsons (knee) is expected to play for the first time since Oct. 22.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 21, 2019