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Clippers' Chris Paul on mend, Blake Griffin on alert

The point guard insists his strained groin is better; his knocked-around teammate promises to show restraint if things get even more physical in the playoffs.

April 27, 2012|By Baxter Holmes
  • Clippers point guard Chris Paul, getting a high-five from power forward Blake Griffin in a victory over the Trail Blazers this season, says he'll be ready for the playoff opener Sunday.
Clippers point guard Chris Paul, getting a high-five from power forward… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

"CP3" expects to be A-OK come Sunday.

Chris Paul, the Clippers' All-Star point guard, was held out of practice Friday with a mild groin strain that had sidelined him during his team's loss at New York on Wednesday.

Paul, who was named the NBA's Western Conference player of the month for April, has been receiving treatment for the injury and said he's improving. "They didn't let me practice, but I'll be ready" for practice Saturday, Paul said.

But will he be ready to play when the fifth-seeded Clippers open their Western Conference first-round playoff series at fourth-seeded Memphis on Sunday?

"That's the big question, but I think he'll be fine," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said.

Paul has said several times that he'll be ready to play in the opener.

When the Clippers do step on the court for Game 1 at the FedEx Forum, they will be entering what Memphis fans and players refer to as "The Grindhouse." That epithet is in honor of the Grizzlies' defensive style, one that their top defender, guard Tony Allen, dubbed the "grit-and-grind."

It's a physical, blue-collar approach that has helped Memphis' defense lead the NBA in forced turnovers the last two seasons — 17.1 a game this season, 16.2 a season ago.

When discussing keys to defeating Memphis, the first item off the tongue of several Clippers players and Del Negro was limiting turnovers.

The Clippers are pretty good at that generally — they averaged the second-fewest turnovers in the NBA this season (13.3 per game) — and they did that fairly well against Memphis this season, averaging 12.3 turnovers in three games.

"The reason we beat them a couple times is because we handled the turnover situation," Del Negro said, speaking of the Clippers' two home wins against Memphis. "We didn't give them many easy baskets."

Some teams — such as the Lakers — rely on an inside presence as a defensive backbone.

Memphis has size inside with 7-foot-1 center Marc Gasol and 6-9 power forward Zach Randolph, but its defensive backbone curves around the three-point line, where sticky-fingered guards such as Allen, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay probe the passing lanes of opposing teams.

In fact, Memphis is the NBA's only team with three players ranking in the top 20 league-wide in steals: Conley is No. 2 (2.19 a game), Allen is No. 5 (1.79), Gay is No. 16 (1.46). The NBA steals leader? Paul, at 2.53 a game.

To earn those steals, Clippers guard Randy Foye said Memphis tries to "muck" up opposing offenses, creating chaos by applying intense pressure on the ball. "They want to make every possession a dogfight," Foye said.

"They want to grind it out. They want you to take the shot they want you to take, not the shot that you want to take. That's what makes it tough."

How do the Clippers counter?

"Really, just executing our plays," Blake Griffin said.

Griffin has been battered like a piñata in recent weeks, with his drives to the basket being greeted by forcefully thrown shoulders, elbows, hips, forearms, etc.

And Griffin has heard that the playoffs will be even more physical.

"If it gets any more, I might not make it," he said, half-joking. "I know it's going to be physical, but I can't imagine it getting a whole lot more physical than it's been. But I'm ready for that."

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said this week that Griffin should hit back, but the Clipper forward said he'd take a different approach.

"Now is not the right time," he said. "Going into the playoffs, we need everybody on the floor and you can't give up stupid points as far as technical fouls or flagrant fouls or something like that. You just have to keep your composure whenever something like that happens."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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