The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers meet in the first round of the playoffs for the second-straight year, and Chris Paul will look to replicate the results as he pushed the Clippers beyond Memphis last season. The teams will showcase contrasting styles, as the Grizzlies will impose their will on defense while the Clippers push the ball up court and try to keep away from Memphis' half court defense.
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated predicts the Clippers will take the series in seven. While he expects both teams to struggle scoring, eventually Paul will prevail and make enough plays to send the Clippers into the semifinals. Jenkins believes Memphis will have to rely on their defense to push Los Angeles and diminish their transition game.
In agreement, ESPN's 5-on-5 crew all agreed that the Clippers would win the series unanimously. Three of their five predictions had the series going seven games, as well, with all signs pointing to this series going down to the wire again. While the Grizzlies' defense is respected, their offense hits dry spells, and they don't have the perimeter shooting to exploit the Clippers' suspect perimeter defense.
At USA Today, Sean Highkin went the other way and predicts the Grizzlies will defeat the Clippers in seven games. He also believes the Grizzlies defense can suffocate the Clippers, but believes this time it will be enough.
ESPN's J.A. Adande believes Blake Griffin has the most at stake in the series, now needing to prove's more than a highlight reel dunk artist, but a two-time all-star that can be Paul's second fiddle on a championship contending team. It's time for Griffin to step his game up to the next level as the clock ticks with Paul.
The series will be a grind, but the majority predicts that Paul will be able to do just enough to lead the Clippers once again. A seven-game series coming down to the wire with Paul's brilliance trying to survive against the Grizzlies' defense sounds should make for great basketball.
Q&A with Steve Perrin of Clips Nation:
What concerns you most about the matchup with the Grizzlies?
Attrition. In many ways the Clippers match up very well with Memphis. The Clippers' major defensive weakness all season has been defending the three point line; they're 26th in three point percentage allowed. But Memphis is last in the league in three point attempts -- by a wide margin. It's just not something they like to do. But the Clippers went into the Memphis series last season with Chris Paul hurting and left with Paul hurting more, Blake Griffin with a bruised knee, Caron Butler with a broken hand, and assorted other nicks and scrapes. I feel good about the Clippers chances against the first round -- but what happens when the limp into Oklahoma City to take on a Thunder team that's been having tea and crumpets with the Rockets?
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul struggled against the Grizzlies in the regular season. Are you confident they'll be able to find success against Memphis in the postseason?
I do not accept your premise, sir! Paul averaged 16.9 points and 9.7 assists on 48 percent shooting against the league. I'd say averages of 16.3 points and 8.7 assists on 47 percent shooting are just fine against the toughest defense in the Western Conference. Griffin's numbers were off a little more than that, but bear in mind a couple of things: Although Paul and Griffin are legitimate superstars complete with All Star Game starter and All NBA status, the Clippers didn't lean on them to score as much this year. They each averaged career lows in minutes per game and their scoring numbers were down accordingly. And two of the Clippers' wins over the Grizz this season came pretty easily, so neither Paul nor Griffin played big minutes in those games.
Memphis is a GREAT defensive team that does an incredible job of taking you out of what you want to do. Teams will struggle against them. But Memphis also happens to be the lowest rated offensive team in the Western Conference playoffs -- so they're beatable, even if your offense isn't functioning at its peak. That's what they do -- they make the game ugly, but the Clippers have shown that they can win those ugly games. This series is going to be brutal, particularly on Griffin. He has to work so hard on Randolph on the defensive end that it takes a lot out of him. But it would be unwise to bet against a healthy Chris Paul in the playoffs.
What sort of pace are you expecting from the Clippers during this series?
One of the common misnomers about the Clippers is that they are a fastbreak team. Like all teams, they like to get easy baskets. And more than any other team, the easy baskets they get tend toward the spectacular so that a large number of them wind up on SportsCenter. But the Clippers are, in fact, 19th in the league in pace, and in the run-and-gun Western Conference, they're veritable fogies. In fact, the Grizzlies (who are dead last in pace) and Clippers are the two slowest Western Conference teams in the postseason -- the other six playoff teams are all in the top ten in the league in pace. So this series is going to be a grind it out affair, especially compared to the rest of the west. You may think that favors the Grizzlies, and it certainly doesn't hurt them, but the Clippers are perfectly comfortable grinding. The Clippers version of grit and grind just looks very different. They might repeat a Paul pick-and-roll three times on the same possession as opposed to having Zach Randolph back his defender down in the post. The Clippers led the league in steals and forced turnovers this season, and they will absolutely be looking for runouts and dunks off of any turnovers they get -- but they'll walk the ball up and settle into their possession the rest of the time.
Q&A with Kevin Lipe of Grizzly Bear Blues:
The Clippers' bench was instrumental in L.A. winning the regular season series, 3-1. Do you believe the Grizzlies will do something to change that in the postseason?
I think we'll see a much shorter bench rotation from the Grizzlies than we saw in the regular season. Two of the Griz/Clips games came before the Rudy Gay trade, when the Griz bench was anchored by guys like Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights (and the fan favorite Hamed Haddadi). One of them was part of a three-game streak where the Grizzlies got blown out by 20-plus points. The third game -- the one the Grizzlies won -- was while the Clippers were without Eric Bledsoe.
All that is to say, these teams have really only played each other at "maximum strength" once, and that was just last week. So how the Grizzlies' new-look bench matches up with the Clippers is, as far as I'm concerned, still a question mark.
What concerns you the most about the series with the Clippers?
Two things: Eric Bledsoe making life miserable for Mike Conley in 4th quarters, and the possibility that Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin break each others' arms while performing wrestling moves on each other underneath the rim.
Who needs to step up for the Grizzlies to win the series?
Marc Gasol needs to look to score more. He's a great distributor and a great defender, but the Clippers don't really have anybody who matches up well with him; DeAndre Jordan is athletic enough to mostly handle it, but even he isn't a great matchup to stop Gasol. If Gasol gets going and draws doubles, that means more freedom for Zach Randolph, and it also means the Clippers' defense can't just pack the paint, because Gasol's passing abilities mean he can find open guys better than most. If the Grizzlies are going to win this series, they're going to do it on Marc Gasol's back.