Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Clippers
When: 1st Round, Western Conference playoffs
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA and FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (56-26), Los Angeles (56-26)
Media: ESPN, TNT, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Opposing Views: ClipperBlog, ESPNLA- Clippers
Memphis is facing the Clippers again in the playoffs and the Grizzlies are going in knowing that they lost both games against the opposing squad in Memphis this season. The Grizzlies are an old-fashioned team focused more on defense than high-flying offense games. Led by Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Marc Gasol, the ever-improving Mike Conley, and All-Star double double machine Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies look inside first, second and third to score. While this philosophy has proven effective in imposing their will on pace, they have struggled to produce points on the offensive end. Although ball movement has improved since the Rudy Gay trade and Jerryd Bayless has emerged as a formidable option in stretches, the lack of consistent outside scoring threats has led to stagnation, dry spells, and on occasion over-passing. The Grizzlies have succeeded, however, on the defensive end, illustrated by their league leading 89.5 points allowed per game, or for the advanced stats guys and gals, by their second in the league defensive efficiency rating of 97.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. They give up perimeter shots to prevent teams from getting easy looks inside, and make a living creating havoc in the passing lanes. The Grizzlies were very impressive in winning at Dallas and defeating the Jazz who were fighting for their playoff lives in their last two games, and the team seems to be maturing at precisely the right time. The bench has been strong and the starters even stronger in contributing to the Grizz winning 9 of their last 11 games.
Los Angeles is set to host a playoff series with home court advantage for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The Clippers finally found their early season form to finish in fourth place by record as well as winning their division winning their last 7 games including wins over the Lakers, Grizzlies and the Kings in likely their last game in Sacramento. That run was needed after losing the previous three games, all to playoff teams. Perhaps coincidentally the Clippers are as healthy as they have been all season with Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups back from irritating injuries (a sore knee and groin respectively). They may not have the x-factor power forward bruisers Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin to derail the Grizzlies’ front line the way that they did last year, or sharpshooters Randy Foye and Nick Young to make it rain from three, but the Clippers are still a very deep team and a force to be reckoned with. Say what you want about the flopping and all that jazz, but this is a supremely talented squad capable of beating anybody when firing on all cylinders, that bested the good guys 3-1 in the season set. Behind the leadership of Chris Paul, the Clippers move the ball with the best of them, as on average 18.5% of their possessions end in an assist, which is good for third in the league, and it is no secret that they kind of like lob passes. What is surprising though is that for all of their fast break highlight reels, they are tied for 19th in the NBA in pace, at 93.5 possessions per game.
Expected Starting Lineups:
This is an important matchup for the Grizzlies to not lose. They can afford Conley to play even with Paul but, as was seen last Saturday, Paul has the ability to dominate games whenever he wants. Conley needs to be ready to match Paul on the opposite end if the Grizzlies want to hang with the Clippers. He followed up a hot string of five straight 20+ point performances by finishing out the year with four straight games shooting under 50% from the field. The final game was the best of which, at 45.5%, so hopefully his shooting will begin trending upward, because the Grizzlies’ offense is heavily reliant on his role as the catalyst.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Chauncey Billups returned to the court for the first time in 9 games against the Portland Trailblazers Tuesday night. Billups has only played in 20 games this season prior to his return but the Clippers were 14-6 in those games. Allen is being mentioned for 1st team all defense against this season in no small part to the fact that teams score fewer points per possession (94.2) when he is on the court than any other player in the NBA this season. Billups allows Chris Paul to focus on offense when he is on the court and can help get Paul rest by taking over the point guard role at times as well. Allen has played over 25 minutes just once in the last 11 games so he is rested and ready to give his all in this series.
Butler played only 9 minutes in the last game against Memphis, leaving with a sore knee. That may not have been all bad for the Clippers as Prince has outplayed him in both of the teams last two meetings. Butler is a solid perimeter shooter (37.9 3 pt%) but knee injuries have cost him his first step making it difficult to get open when covered. Prince has fit in nicely on defense with the Grizzlies but only recently has started to make an impact on the offensive end. When Prince is being aggressive it opens up lanes inside for the Grizzlies attack. When passive it allows teams to converge even more on the inside. Teams must respect his outside shot (40.9 3 pt%) much more than Rudy Gay’s and he is a far better passer allowing the team to get easier looks at the basket.
Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph may be cool off the court but there is no sign of that once the ball is tossed into the air. The battle between the two All-Stars has resulted in double fouls, technical fouls and a lot of bad blood. Griffin’s numbers are way down against the Grizzlies compared to his season averages as his game doesn’t translate well against the physical play the Grizzlies are known for. This year Griffin is averaging only 13.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG and shooting only 44.4% from the field against Memphis. Z-Bo has done even worse against the Clippers. Randolph is shooting only 37.3% from the field, scoring 14.8 PPG but has grabbed 12.0 RPG. Randolph’s draining play has kept Griffin below the rim more than he’s used to, but has done so at the cost of his own performance as well. These two great players basically neutralize each other.
Marc Gasol would love to teach Jordan a few lessons but the Clippers aren’t willing to let that happen, preferring to hide Jordan on Randolph most of the time to allow him to use his size to greater advantage. When faced with Gasol, Jordan often falls for pump fakes creating easy foul situations. Jordan is not only hidden from Gasol, often in the fourth quarter he is hidden on the bench because of his poor FT shooting. Jordan is shooting 39.2% from the charity stripe this season. Gasol is one of the top choices for defensive player of the year and has picked up his offense since the Rudy Gay trade hitting 52% of his shots and scoring 15 PPG. Where Jordan is an athletic freak, Gasol survives on his grit and intelligence. His rare combination of brains and brawn make him a terror on both ends of the court for most teams. Even more dangerous could be his passing. When double teamed he can find the open man for open shots.
This could be one of the most important matchups in the entire series. Eric Bledsoe is one of if not the best defensive PGs in the league. If Dooling is unable to handle that pressure then Conley will be forced to work that much harder just to get the offense in motion while Paul gets to rest thanks to Bledsoe and Billups. Conley holds his own over the majority of the game but at the end his legs have been too tired and Paul has dominated. It is Dooling’s job to keep things running against Bledsoe’s pressure so Conley can be fresh at the end when Paul usually takes over the game. If Dooling fails there isn’t a realistic option with Wroten promising but not ready to play. Dooling doesn’t have to score but he does need to keep Bledsoe away from the basket where his questionable outside shooting is a liability almost as much as his love to shoot from out there.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Jamal Crawford is one of the favorites for 6th man of the year. A slow April may have cost him any chance for the award however. In April, Crawford has shot 39.0% from the field and hasn’t shot above 50% in a game since April 3rd against Phoenix. However his long-range shot hasn’t lost its effectiveness hitting 37% from the arc. Crawford is strictly a scorer and when he isn’t scoring his effectiveness on the court is limited. Bayless struggled early in the season trying to learn to be a point guard instead of a scorer. After the Rudy Gay trade that attempt was abandoned and Bayless played the bench scoring role very effectively. Since the All-Star break Bayless is averaging 11.7 PPG and is hitting 37.5% of his 3 point attempts. Surprisingly the team’s defense hasn’t suffered playing Bayless at SG. holding opponents to a mere 9.6 PER. Crawford didn’t have a great effort against Bayless going 3-17 in the two games since the All-Star break compared to 15-29 in the first two games.
Matt Barnes has been known to throw a dagger into the Grizzlies from time to time. Perhaps it’s because the Grizzlies traded him after drafting him in the draft. Perhaps it’s because the Grizzlies have never had a genuine defensive backup SF. Whatever the reason Barnes usually elevates his game when playing Memphis. The 33-year-old UCLA alum has made it clear he prefers playing in LA than anywhere else. Pondexter has been recovering slowly from his torn meniscus but has been rounding into form of late. He will have to elevate his game again in this matchup because Barnes will use his experience and deadly outside shot to take advantage of any mistakes. Barnes has hit nearly 66% of his FG attempts in April so he is ready for the playoffs.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Odom has been a disappointment at times but has also been a key player at the end of games as his experience is far more important than his production. Odom can play and defend nearly everyone on the court from center to point guard although he isn’t asked to do that too often. When his head is in the game he is immensely talented even at 33. He is a career 31.2% three point shooter but that number is down to 19.1% this season. His FG% is 40.2% so it isn’t just his long-range shot that is off. In April, Odom has shot 52.6% from the field and is looking ready for the playoffs. Arthur was slow to start the season after getting injured again in pre-season. He was rounding into shape until a horrific fall against Miami sent him back to the sidelines. When healthy Arthur is a defensive force with a nice jumper out to 15 feet. However he hasn’t been healthy very often which has slowed his development. This season he has been mostly disappointing. If either player steps up in the playoffs it will be a huge lift to his team and Odom seems ready to do so more than Arthur.
Advantage: Los Angeles
If there is a wild card to this battle it could be Ed Davis. One of the few players expected to contribute who has never played in the playoffs, Davis looked lost at times in the last matchup with the Clippers but when he feels comfortable Davis can alter a game unlike anyone else on the Grizzlies bench. His length allows him to block shots and grab rebounds but his lack of size also allows him to be pushed out of position too often by bigger players. Hollins is a more known quantity even if what is known is not that impressive. He will hit a high percentage of his shots but isn’t skilled enough to get too many attempts. He isn’t a great shot blocker or position defender often relying on fouls to cover for poor positioning averaging a foul every 4 minutes or so of court time. Davis has more talent but needs to play with confidence and hunger. Being that it is his third season in the league and first time making the postseason, he should have no problem with the latter. Hollins has experience and understands his role but can’t contribute much outside of fouls and the Grizzlies bigs can hit their FTs, except for Davis that is.
Where the Clippers deep bench is loaded with experienced veterans the Grizzlies deep bench is relying on youth and inexperience. Tony Wroten, the 19-year-old rookie PG has struggled under Hollins who demands ball control first and foremost from his PGs. He has shown a lot of potential for the future but right now he is just as likely to get a charging foul as make an incredible shot and there isn’t a lot in between those two extremes. Austin Daye is probably the best long range threat on the team but, like Davis, is too thin to pound inside on PFs and too slow to guard most SFs on the perimeter. The Clipper SFs are not exactly swift of foot and that could give Daye some opportunities to show what he can do. John Leuer is 23 and has potential to be a regular player in the NBA along the lines of a Matt Bonner. He isn’t there yet however. At 228 pounds Leuer needs to get much stronger and rebound more consistently. An active defensive player with range out to 15-20 feet, Leuer can fill in for spot minutes but isn’t ready for anything more yet. Willie Reed and Donte Green were last second signees who are here more to show what they have for next season than this.
Teams rarely rely on more than their top 10 players in the playoffs. However if situations arise like injury and foul trouble the deep bench will be called on from time to time. The Clippers have some experienced players at the end of the bench worth noting. Grant Hill is one of the oldest players in the league and probably should have retired at the end of last season. His career was derailed by injury but when healthy Hill was one of the best players of his day. He has shown he is still capable of putting in quality spot minutes as he did against Memphis last week where he scored 5 points, grabbed a board and blocked two shots in just 11 minutes. Willie Green has gone from starter to 12th man. Turiaf is a big body that knows the game and can fill in for Hollins if things get out of hand. Turiaf hasn’t been seeing much court time but will throw his body around and possibly pick up a foul or tech on his man in the process.
PPG – Points Per Game
RPG – Rebounds Per Game
APG – Assists Per Game
SPG – Steals Per Game
BPG – Blocks Per Game
TOPG – Turnovers Per Game
PER – Player Efficiency Rating
WP48 – Wins Produced Per 48 Minutes