The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies took part in a riveting seven-game battle in the opening round of last year's playoffs, with the Clippers ultimately stunning the Grizzlies in Game 7 in Memphis. The two teams will go at it again this season, kicking off their first-round series on Saturday night at the Staples Center.
Both Los Angeles and Memphis finished with identical 56-26 records this season, with the Clippers nabbing the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage due to winning their first Pacific Division crown in franchise history. Los Angeles also took the season series, 3-1, which included two wins in Memphis.
The season has been a bit of a roller coaster at times for the Clippers, who started the year 32-9 and won 18 games in a row from Nov. 28 to Dec. 30. After encountering a bit of a rough patch during the middle of the season, they finished strong, winning seven games in a row to close out the year.
Chris Paul is the man who makes the Clippers go, and he has had an excellent year despite battling a few injuries. Paul averaged 16.9 points and 9.7 assists on the season, closing out his campaign with an excellent 25-point, 11-assist performance against the Sacramento Kings. The Clippers' offense takes a big hit when he's on the bench, as they score 10.8 points less per 100 possessions with him off the floor, according to NBA.com.
Paul will need plenty of help from Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford against a Grizzlies defense which is one of the NBA's best. The battle down low between Griffin and Zach Randolph should be a good one, with a strong likelihood that things will get extremely physical. Meanwhile, Crawford is one of the frontrunners for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 16.5 points per game off the bench.
The Clippers will also hope to get a boost from Chauncey Billups, who recently returned to the lineup from a strained groin. Billups has missed most of the season with a variety of injuries, and he will likely be on a minutes limit for this series.
The stingy Memphis defense is led by Marc Gasol and Tony Allen, two players who are legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates. For the season, Memphis led the league in scoring defense at 89.3 points per game and was second in defensive rating. Allen is sure to see time on both Paul and Crawford, and his defense could be a key to the series.
One of the big questions for Memphis will be where they get their offense from, especially in crunch time. Detractors of the Rudy Gay trade questioned the Grizzlies' decision to move the "star" who could create his own shot, but Memphis has actually performed better offensively since the deal. Things could turn out differently in the postseason, but working through their big men instead of relying on Gay is probably a better option for the Grizzlies down the stretch.
Game 1 of the series rematch between the Clippers and Grizzlies is scheduled to tip-off at 10:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN.