The Florida sun and fun is over for the Clippers after two easy victories to start a seven-game trip.
It’s back to the grit and grind of facing a hated rival.
Or is that too strong of a word for the way the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies feel about each other?
“Because it’s a team with a bunch of bigs that are physical, I think it can become a very physical, nasty game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday. “Hatred thing, I’m not so sure.”
It’s fair to say that Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” will never make it onto the playlist inside FedEx Forum, where the Clippers and Grizzlies meet Sunday afternoon. This is the same spot where the Clippers won Game 7 of a first-round playoff series against Memphis in 2012 before returning the next year and being eliminated in the first round during a Game 6 rout.
There is usually as much pushing and shoving whenever these teams meet as there is scoring and rebounding. Rivers said he wasn’t concerned about power forward Blake Griffin keeping his composure in the matchup against Zach Randolph, one of the NBA’s most notorious brutes.
“He’s a grown man,” Rivers said of Griffin. “Blake played terrific against Memphis last year, so I don’t think that’s a worry.”
The Grizzlies (11-2) have the best record in the NBA and are undefeated at home, where they have won 21 consecutive games dating to February. They had a doctor’s excuse for their loss at Toronto on Wednesday, with five players stricken by a stomach virus that forced them to take a chartered flight home instead of playing against the Raptors.
Everybody except starting guard Tony Allen and reserve swingman Quincy Pondexter returned to play Friday in Memphis’ victory over Boston.
The Grizzlies could be further bolstered Sunday by the season debut of guard Nick Calathes, who has been serving a 20-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy that started during last season’s playoffs.
Beating Memphis means managing to find ways to score against a team that’s holding opponents to 92.5 points per game, third-lowest in the NBA. It also entails slowing Randolph (16.5 points per game and 12.1 rebounds) and center Marc Gasol (19.1 and 7.8).
“Offensively, those two have to be as good as there are in the league,” Rivers said of the Grizzlies’ big men.
The Clippers (7-4) are coming off their two most lopsided victories this season, albeit against lesser foes in Orlando and injury-depleted Miami. Those triumphs came by an average of 20.5 points, qualifying as much-needed breathers for a team that had posted its first five victories by an average of 6.6 points.
Griffin didn’t want to oversell the idea that the Clippers have suddenly rounded into form.
“It just helps to start out a trip with two wins,” Griffin said, “but we can win these two games and lose the next one. It’s really about the entire trip, not these two games.”
A victory over the Grizzlies would provide more than another early-season confidence boost; it would give the Clippers the satisfaction of one-upping a nemesis.
“I just like playing games like this, because it’s one game, but it has meaning,” Rivers said. “The meaning is you beat a good team.”
CLIPPERS AT MEMPHIS
When: 3 p.m. PST.
Where: FedEx Forum.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Clippers 7-4; Grizzlies 11-2.
Record vs. Grizzlies (2013-14): 1-2.
Update: This starts a stretch of five games in seven days for the Clippers to conclude their trip. Clippers small forward Matt Barnes is expected to play despite experiencing soreness in his left calf.