LOS ANGELES — A pair of five-win teams in the Western Conference will hook up at Staples Center on Saturday feeling good about early success, while somewhat leery of a recent downward trend.
The Clippers emerged from a two-game skid with a 119-98 victory over the lowly Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, using an inferior opponent to get back to the solid defense and high-percentage shooting that defined them in the early going.
The Grizzlies, though, remain in the midst of their mini skid. They opened the season 5-1, but dropped a 104-99 decision to the Charlotte Hornets on Monday and were upended 101-99 on Wednesday by the Orlando Magic, a setback that caused consternation.
While bowing a double-digit lead to the Magic, the Grizzlies were reportedly bickering amongst themselves during timeouts and still had the chance to win despite the lack of unity. But when Mario Chalmers blew a late-game layup that sealed the defeat, all that angst was allowed to hitch a ride on the plane to Los Angeles.
“Every time there was an issue or a problem, we couldn’t solve the problem,” coach David Fizdale said, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “It was a mess. Obviously, connection and communication is something that I stress a lot with these guys. We’ve got a lot of new faces combining with some old faces that we’re trying to blend.”
Guard Mike Conley did not play Wednesday because of a left Achilles injury, while center Marc Gasol did play despite left ankle discomfort. And the Grizzlies still almost defeated the Magic.
Conley’s Achilles tendon issues date back to the 2015-16 season and soreness also was an issue for him early last season. Gasol’s ankle problems surfaced over the summer playing for the Spanish national team.
Conley is expected to be a game-time decision against the Clippers. Guard Wayne Selden is also day-to-day with a quadriceps injury. Ben McLemore (foot) and JaMychal Green (ankle) are at least two weeks from returning, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Clippers starting guard Milos Teodosic remains out with plantar fasciitis, an injury suffered in the team’s home opener against the Suns on Oct. 21. Other than that, they will head into Saturday’s game healthy.
Making them feel even healthier heading into a tough test against an angry Grizzlies team was the opportunity to put the pieces back together against the Mavericks this week. But the productivity reversal was not immediate after two consecutive defeats.
“It felt like the first five minutes we still had a hangover defensively,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of the Mavericks victory, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We were awful. And then all of a sudden, we clicked in and started getting stops and running. (It was) the first game in three games that we got our pace back. We were running.”
The Clippers shot nearly 58 percent from the field in the victory, while holding Dallas to 39.3 percent. But the Grizzlies are one of the NBA’s top defensive teams as well, with a new efficient offense that is a far cry from the struggles they showed last year.