The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies once again meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. A series that went to seven games last time around should yield similar results, with both teams growing since they've last met.
With the season tipping off Saturday, the battle of who will win in what should be a grinding series begins. The Grizzlies allow a league-best 89.3 points per game and will force the Clippers to earn every bucket. Memphis will need to limit its turnovers and eliminate the Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan alley-oop show.
If the Clippers big men are going to score, they'll have to do it against the physical defense of both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Can Griffin effectively score in a half-court offense? Will Jordan ultimately be a liability on offense, especially with his lowly 38.6 percent free throw shooting?
The battle between point guards Mike Conley and Chris Paul will be one of the most intriguing of the series. Conley has continue to fly under the radar as one of the most complete point guards in the league, but Paul reigns supreme as one of the best in the game with the ball in his hands. Can he make enough plays, drain enough shots, and lead the Clippers to a victory to open the series?
Both teams will be testing the water in the first game of the series, which takes place in Los Angeles. Through the regular season, though, the Clippers found favorable results. Los Angeles won three of the four match ups, adding more confidence on top of their playoff series victory last season. In those three games, they were able to score over the Grizzlies 89.3 points allowed mark, their only loss coming when they were held to 85.
The blueprint is clear for the Grizzlies -- keep the pace bogged down to their league-low. Achieving that goal may be something else entirely, and then there's the issue of the offense supporting the defense. The Grizzlies may have the best defense in the league, but they also score only 93.4 points per game on average. Adjust to pace, they're 17th in the league at 104.9 points per 100 possessions.
Where the Clippers struggle is dealing with perimeter shooting, which is one of the Grizzlies' weakest points. From beyond the arc Memphis only makes 34.5 percent of their field goal attempts. The Clippers' opponents, meanwhile, have shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc when playing Los Angeles (27th out of 30).
All signs point to this series coming down to 50-50 balls, clutch plays and execution on both sides of the ball. Last season the Grizzlies held home-court advantage but still lost the series. The Clippers took the first game on the road in Memphis. Neither team struggled on the road, though, as the Grizzlies won back-to-back games in Los Angeles in the third and fourth games.
With the last slot on opening day of the NBA playoffs, the Grizzlies and Clippers are set to tip-off a series which should be a perfect nightcap.
10:30 p.m. ET