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Friday, May 11, 2012
What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

By Arash Markazi

Western Conference first round: Game 6 (Clippers lead 3-2)
Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center, 6:00 p.m. PT


Five storylines to track:

1. Game-time decision: The biggest storyline heading into Game 6 is the health of Clippers forward Blake Griffin and Clippers guard Chris Paul. Griffin suffered a sprained left knee with 1:31 remaining in the third quarter in Game 5. Griffin returned to the game and played about nine minutes but did not score and went 0-for-1 from the field. Paul strained his right hip flexor with 5:16 remaining in the game. Paul played just nine minutes in the fourth quarter and scored only 2 points. They’re both listed as game-time decisions but bother players said Wednesday night they will be in the starting lineup Friday. "They're both pretty sore today," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Thursday. "They were in here getting as much therapy as they can today and tomorrow before the game. We obviously need both of them to be playing at a high level."

LACMEM2. Closing time: With their next win in this series, the Clippers will accomplish something that has only happened to the franchise one other time since moving to California in 1978, and only twice in franchise history -- win a playoff series. The last time the Clippers won a playoff series was six years ago when they beat the Denver Nuggets in the first round in five games. Only eight teams in NBA playoffs history have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a seven-game. Game 6 in Los Angeles might as well be a must-win game for the Clippers if they want to win this series. In the history of the NBA playoffs, teams have closed out 62 of the 90 best-of-seven series when leading 3-2 and playing Game 6 at home (68.9 percent).  In the 28 instances in which the home team has lost in that situation, it has gone on to win Game 7 only 10 times (35.7 percent).

3. Battle in the paint: In Game 5, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol led the team with a playoff season-high 23 points and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the 2012 playoffs, in helping the Grizzlies stay alive. In the first quarter Randolph made all six field goal attempts and scored 15 points, while Gasol added 12 points, as Memphis scored 36 points in the first quarter, the team’s highest first-quarter output of the entire season. Meanwhile, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined for 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers. Jordan, however, didn’t do much to add to that stat line, finishing with 1 point and 0 rebounds. In the first five games of the series, the Clippers have been outscored 478-465 despite holding a 3-2 series advantage. The Clippers have also been outrebounded 250-236 in the series.

4. Close calls: Recent history says Game 6 will be a close game that will come down to the last couple of possessions. The Grizzlies lost by a one-point margin in Game 1 and Game 3.  No team in NBA history has won a playoff series after losing at least two games by a single point during the series.  Memphis did not lose a game by a one-point margin during the entire 2011-12 regular season. The average margin of victory has been only five points per game in the five games that have been played in this series.  That is the lowest average margin of victory in any of the eight first-round series in this year’s playoffs.  The average win margin has been 10.6 points per game in all of the other first-round games that have been played in 2012.

5. Bench warming up: The Clippers' bench has outscored Memphis three times in their first-round series, including holding a 26-20 advantage in Game 5. During the regular season, the Clippers' bench outscored the opposition only 19 times, holding a 10-9 record in those games. In the series against Memphis, the Clippers' bench has outscored the Grizzlies 142-132 and is averaging 28.4 points. The Clippers' bench averaged 24.8 points off the bench during the regular season. In Game 5, Clippers guard Mo Williams came off the bench and led the team with 20 points. It was the most points scored by Williams in this series, and the most points he has scored in a playoff game since he went for 22 points two years ago in Cleveland. In the Clippers' three wins in the series, the Clippers have been aided by big contributions from Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young and Reggie Evans. Young and Bledsoe have combined for 26 points and 7 rebounds in the fourth quarter in the Clippers’ three wins, and Evans has pulled down a team-high 15 rebounds in the Clippers’ three playoff wins.