If you feel like we’ve been here before, we have. If you’re excited, then you should be. If you’re nervous, don’t be. This is the greatest week of the NBA season until the playoffs start.
If you’re a fan of the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers or Oklahoma City Thunder then you know what you’re capable of this season. The sky is the limit.
If you’re a fan of that second tier of teams like the Spurs, Celtics, Nuggets or even the Brooklyn Nets, fret not. You’re close and you will be heard from at some point during this season. I’m not even ruling a title run out for you, nor should you.
Personally, I would put the Memphis Grizzlies close to that second tier, though they may be the cream of the crop in the third tier. That’s a tier that’s capable of winning a playoff series, but little else.
It’s easy to look at the landscape of the NBA and feel like the Grizzlies’ title window has been slammed shut with the Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard. However, the Grizzlies are still the team best equipped to slow the Lakers and maybe even pull an upset, especially if they meet in the Western Conference Finals where the veteran Lakers will have likely played close to 100 games, which means 100 extra games on the older bodies of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies only have two players that you would classify as “old” in Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. With the re-signing of Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur, it would only make sense to limit Randolph’s minutes during the regular season and unleash him in the playoffs on some poor, unsuspecting foe.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There’s a lot of basketball between now and then and the Los Angeles team that the Grizzlies need to be focused on is the one that they will face for the eighth straight time tonight at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
We’ve covered the Grizzlies’ off-season already in this space, but let’s look at the Clippers.
The Clippers had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history last year, winning a playoff series before bowing out to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Escaping the first round was pretty exciting for the Clippers and their fans, but winning a game 7 at FedEx Forum was the cherry on top of a successful first season of the Chris Paul era.
Speaking of Paul, he’s back and if the playoffs in 2012 were any indicator, he’s still one of the best basketball players in the World, and without question the best pure point guard as well. Quite simply, anytime you have Chris Paul as your point guard, you have an advantage at the position. Derrick Rose is phenomenal, as is Deron Williams, Steve Nash so on and so forth, but you’re always in good hands with Paul.
Blake Griffin is back after a knee injury ended his Olympic run before it ever really began. This will be Griffin’s third season as an active player after missing his entire rookie season with a scary kneecap injury in the preseason. He also got a 5 year, $95 million extension over the summer that will keep him with the Clippers for the foreseeable future.
As fun as the 2011-2012 season was for the Clippers, they did some retooling over the summer. They bid farewell to Reggie Evans, Randy Foye, Kenyon Martin and Nick Young, who all earned their stripes as certifiable Grizzly killers in the playoffs. However, the Clippers did acquire Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford to replace them.
Obviously, Odom is a lottery ticket at this stage of his career. If he gets even close to the level of play he enjoyed with the Lakers during their three straight western conference championships, then he could vault the Clippers into the conference finals. If he’s the same guy that spent a lost year in Dallas last year, his career will probably be over. But no pressure, Lamar.
Crawford spent an unhappy year in Portland, but still has the ability to score in bunches and is really a rich man’s version of Nick Young. Grant Hill is nearing the end of his injury ravaged career, but as far as a leader and locker room guy, you can’t do any better. He can also still play basketball, though many pundits have wondered if leaving Phoenix and their top-notch training staff was a good idea for a guy that’s spent so much time banged up in his time.
Basically, it seems like the Clippers are a better team today than they were last season, but chemistry will be as important as anything. Once teams stumble onto the right chemistry for their squad, they usually try to keep that intact, but the Clippers turned over a good amount of their roster and added two guys (Odom and Crawford) who have the potential to disrupt everything. Odom was always one of the good guys in the league, but an incident last season in the locker room with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban could have been a red flag. Crawford also recently mixed it up with Atlanta’s front office over a contract extension that never came.
Time will tell with the Clippers, but the Grizzlies have a little more familiarity on their team right now:
Happy opening night everyone, and enjoy the ride.