No team has been able to slow down Blake Griffin lately. One opponent which has consistently done so is the Memphis Grizzlies.
The final meeting between these teams - unless they square off in the playoffs for a third straight year - features Griffin going for a 10th straight 25-point game as his Los Angeles Clippers visit Memphis on Friday night.
These teams have two of the league's best records over the past six-plus weeks, with the Grizzlies winning 15 of 19 and the Clippers 14 of 20. However, Memphis is one game out of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, while Los Angeles (37-19) leads the Pacific Division.
Griffin is a big reason why, averaging a career-best 24.4 points, and he's scored at least 25 in a career-high nine consecutive games. He's averaged 32.6 points in that span while shooting 58.3 percent, and the All-Star forward posted his sixth double-double in seven games with 35 points and 12 rebounds in a 113-103 loss to San Antonio on Tuesday.
"He scored like 60, didn't he? Blake's great," Spurs veteran Tim Duncan said when asked about trying to contain Griffin. "He's been playing the best basketball of his career thus far."
Griffin, though, wasn't happy about his team's defensive effort as the Clippers had a three-game winning streak snapped. They gave up more than 110 points for the fourth time in six games.
"Sometimes you can't control if you're shooting the ball well or things like that. But you can always control your energy on defense," Griffin said. "Even when you're tired, you can still bring a little bit more.
"... It's on me. I think I have got to show a little more energy at the start, especially defensively."
No team has been better on defense lately than the Grizzlies, who have surrendered 87.8 points per game since Jan. 14 to join Chicago (93.3) as the only teams allowing an average below 96.0 in that span.
Griffin is fully aware how tough Memphis and its big front line of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph can be. That duo has helped limit Griffin to a 14.3 scoring average since the start of last season, including the Grizzlies' first-round series win. Griffin has scored 25 or more in only two of 26 meetings, including playoffs, and his 16.5 career average is his lowest against any opponent.
He was held to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the last meeting, but the Clippers won 101-81 at FedEx Forum. Gasol missed that game and Randolph was held to 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, but that duo accounted for 49 points and 24 rebounds in a 106-102 win in Los Angeles on Nov. 18.
Memphis now looks to win the regular-season series for the first time since 2008-09, and enters this matchup on a three-game winning streak.
In the Grizzlies' first game following the All-Star break, Mike Conley had 22 points in a 98-93 home win over New York on Tuesday. Reserve Mike Miller added a season-high 19 points, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 45.9 seconds remaining.
Memphis (30-23), which won its third straight, was four games under .500 as recently as early January.
"For us, unfortunately, because of injuries or what have you, we put ourselves in a position where every game is kind of a playoff game," said Miller, who turned 34 on Wednesday. "We have 30 games left, every one of them is important, so I'm going to go out there and let it fly."
The Clippers received the rights to shooting guard Cenk Akyol, a 2005 second-round pick now playing in Turkey, after trading 37-year-old forward Antawn Jamison to Atlanta on Thursday. Jamison, who has appeared in only 22 games, had not played in 16 of the last 17 contests for Los Angeles.
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