Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Clippers
When: 8:30 pm, April 29, 2012
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (41-25), Los Angeles (40-26)
Expected Starting Lineups:
We are returning to our original pre-game format for the playoffs.
Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Chris Paul
This is the big money match-up for both teams. Chris Paul has been a big time performer in previous playoffs. He averages 21.9 ppg, 11.1 apg and 5.3 rpg over his playoff career. However, Chris Paul has gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. The Clippers rested Paul for the last game of the season after he injured his groin muscle against the Hawks but no one is expecting that injury to affect him in this series. Chris Paul is a very under-rated shooter as Conley and the Grizzlies found out when he lit up the Grizzlies for 42 points two seasons ago. Conley has elevated his game each season in the NBA and is now considered a solid player but not in the league of Paul. For the Grizzlies to win the series Conley has to force Paul to play defense so he can’t focus on offense only and protect the ball. Conley was 2nd in the league in steals but Paul was first. If Conley struggles early expect Tony Allen and O J Mayo to be given quick looks at guarding Paul.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Shooting Guards: Tony Allen vs Randy Foye
Tony Allen is regarded as one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league. Randy Foye emerged as one of the most deadly three-point shooters in the league this year. It is not known whether they will defend each other or not but on paper it looks like a great match-up of strength on strength. Allen has been the spark plug defensively for the Grizzlies, especially when he cheats into passing lanes but Foye will punish you if you leave him along on the perimeter. When Foye is hitting his shot he spreads to court for Paul and Griffin and allows the Clippers to function at a high level. When he struggles, as he did in the only game in Memphis this year (1-7 from the arc) then the Clippers offense struggles as well. Allen will need to maintain his focus on his man and sacrifice his helter skelter style. If he does then he should be able to stop Foye. If he doesn’t Foye will take advantage of the opportunity. Allen has to focus on Foye and not steals.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Caron Butler
On paper this would look like a clear win for Rudy Gay. Rudy averages 19.0 ppg, Butler 12.0. Rudy averages 6.4 rpg, Butler averages 3.7. Rudy has more assists, steals, blocks, shoots a higher FG% and plays about 8 minutes more a night. But those stats don’t tell the whole picture. Butler is a crafty veteran who knows how to get into players heads. Despite a bum knee Butler still moves well on the court and is capable of stopping a players best move. Rudy will have to work to get his shot off against Butler and Rudy doesn’t always like doing that. Rudy has been able to succeed against Butler this season averaging 17 ppg on 51% shooting but he can’t afford to become complacent. Butler is sneaky on defense and can still hit the long ball if left alone. The to UConn alums know each other’s game well. It will likely come down to Rudy’s determination to impact the game without trying to do too much. Emotion will be running high with Rudy as this is his first playoff series.
Power Forwards: Zach Randolph vs Blake Griffin
Last season Z-Bo dominated this head to head match-up. This season he hasn’t been much of a factor. He missed the two games in LA while recuperating his knee but did manage a double-double in Memphis with 13 points and 12 boards. Griffin went for 19 points on 9-14 shooting but only managed 6 rebounds and was 1-3 from the free throw line. Free Throws will likely play a large part of this match-up since the Grizzlies go three players deep at PF with Speights and Cunningham both ready to contribute. Griffin’s FT woes are well-known so the Grizzlies will prefer to send him to the line than allow him a highlight real dunk. Z-Bo seems a bit out of sorts in the Grizzlies offense this season but his ability to draw contact and get to the line could impact how aggressive Griffin can play. If Griffin can get out and run however Z-Bo has no hope keeping up with him much less stopping him on a break. Memphis will send Z-Bo to the offensive glass to deny Griffin the opportunity to run and likely will use all their players as well to wear him down.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Centers: Marc Gasol vs DeAndre Jordan
Marc Gasol went to the All-Star game and Jordan sat home this year. Next year could be different if Gasol doesn’t pick up his play of late. Since the All-Star break Gasol has seen a steady decline in scoring, rebounding and FG%. Hopefully the days of rest will help Gasol return to his pre all-star break form. With Randolph not showing signs of being the player he was in last year’s playoffs, it is imperative for the Grizzlies to get maximum performance from Gasol. Jordan has had a less inspiring season but has landed on SportsCenter more times thanks to his thunderous dunks. Jordan only averages 7.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg but against Gasol this season he is closer to 10 and 10. If Jordan makes an impact in this series it will be trouble for the Grizzlies. However, Gasol’s minutes have been declining toward the end of the season and the extra days rest will help as well.
Benches: Memphis vs Los Angeles
Memphis’ bench, once a weakness, is now a strength. Mo Speights moves to the bench but has been impressive against starting PFs this season. Competing against backups shouldn’t slow him down. Dante Cunningham has brought energy and defense when needed. Gilbert Arenas hasn’t played much lately but is a veteran which should help under pressure situations. However, Memphis’ bench is led by O J Mayo and as Mayo goes so goes the bench. When Mayo’s game is on, and it has been for quite a while now, everything clicks. When he is off it is difficult for the bench to score. Los Angeles’ bench is even more experienced and just as talented. Kenyon Martin, Mo Williams and Nick Young are solid players off the bench. Nick Young is every bit the scorer of Mayo and somewhat less erratic. Mo Williams has been an all-star PG when in Cleveland and can still score. Martin and Reggie Evans bring a physicality to the Clippers lacking in the starting lineup. Mayo brings his big game to big games is what makes the difference.