The NBA playoffs are rapidly approaching and one of the featured matchups in the Western Conference is between the No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers and the No. 5 seed Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers and Grizzlies have seen quite a bit of each over the last year. In the 2012 Western Conference playoffs, the Clippers and the Grizzlies met in the first round and fought through a grueling seven-game series that saw the Clippers win 4-3.
The Clippers also won the 2012-13 season series 3-1. The Clippers and the Grizzlies enter this series with different players from last season’s roster. The Clippers let power forward Kenyon Martin walk in free agency and signed guard Jamal Crawford. The Grizzlies traded small forward Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors in a three-team trade that saw the Grizzlies acquire long-time Detroit Pistons small forward Tayshaun Prince.
Likely Starting Lineups
Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA and had a fantastic season running the Clippers offense. This season Paul averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Paul is technically No. 2 in the NBA is assists, but while Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo leads the league with 11.1 assists, Rondo tore his left ACL in late January and was ruled out for the season.
Paul also happens to be the most efficient point guard in the NBA with an efficiency rating of 23.8. If his offensive numbers aren’t enough to prove that Paul is the best point guard in the NBA, then his defense is another piece of evidence. Paul leads the NBA in steals, averaging 2.41 per game.
Mike Conley had another solid season running the Grizzlies offense and has proven to be solid defensive point guard. Conley averaged 14.6 points per game, 6.1 assists per game and is No. 3 in the NBA in steals averaging 2.18 steals per game. However, there is no point guard in the NBA that can contend with Paul.
Chauncey Billups has only played in 22 games this season. However, Billups is still capable of knocking down a 3-point shot. Billups is averaging 8.4 points, while shooting 36.7 percent from 3-point range.
Tony Allen is only averaging 8.9 points per game, but that is not why he starts for the Grizzlies. Allen is one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA. For example, in a matchup against the Houston Rockets on April 12, Allen limited the N0. 5 leading scorer in the NBA, James Harden, to seven points.
Perhaps Billups can turn back the clock one more time, but Allen’s defense will prove vital when it comes to stopping explosive scorer Jamal Crawford.
Forward: Caron Butler vs Tayshaun Prince
This may be the most competitive matchup as both Butler and Prince are averaging 10.4 points per game. However, Tayshaun Prince has been able to have big games against the Clippers, averaging 15.3 points per game in the three games that Prince has played against the Clippers. One of the games was when Prince was a member of the Detroit Pistons, while the other two occurred after Prince was acquired by the Grizzlies.
Blake Griffin is the Clippers’ leading scorer at 18 points per game, while also snagging 8.3 rebounds per game. Griffin also has an efficiency rating of 21.5, which is No. 4 among NBA power forwards. Griffin also leads the NBA in dunks with 202. Usually on the receiving end of a Chris Paul alley-oop, Griffin’s ability to utilize his athleticism leads to easier scoring opportunities compared to the more ground-based post game of Zach Randolph.
Zach Randolph possesses one of the best offensive games an in the post and is the Grizzlies’ leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 15.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Randolph is also No. 4 in the NBA in double-doubles with 44 and in rebounding. Randolph also has the ability to stretch the defense with his mid-range jumper. Randolph is a sub-par defensive player.
Advantage: Clippers barely
DeAndre Jordan leads the NBA in field goal percentage at 64.3 percent.The majority of Jordan’s offense comes via bone-crushing, athletic dunks and is No. 3 in the NBA in dunks with 179. Jordan also uses his athleticism on the defensive end, averaging 1.4 blocks per game.
Marc Gasol on the other hand is one of the most skilled centers in the NBA. Gasol combines a solid post-up game with a unique ability among big men to pass the ball. The 7’0″ center from Spain is averaging 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and four assists per game. Gasol has turned himself into a good defensive center as well, averaging 1.7 blocks per game.
Sixth Man: Jamal Crawford vs. Jerryd Bayless
This isn’t even close. The discussion over who should be the NBA Sixth Man of the Year is between the New York Knicks’ J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford (though Golden State Warriors guard Jarrett Jack deserves recognition as well). Crawford is the Clippers’ third-leading scorer with 16.5 points per game and can take over a game with his diverse offensive game.
Jerryd Bayless is a solid bench contributor, but is hardly competition to Crawford. Bayless is averaging 8.7 points and 3.3 assists since coming over in the Rudy Gay trade.
Bench: Advantage Clippers
The Grizzlies do not have a single player that averages double figures off the bench. The Clippers have two in Crawford and Barnes (10 ppg).
Vinny Del Negro has done a solid job this season. He helped the Clippers win the battle of Los Angeles and oversaw one of the best offenses in the NBA.
Lionel Hollins is one of the top coaches in the NBA. If there was any doubt before, there is little now. This season Hollins has guided the Grizzlies to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference despite an offense that ranks No. 27 in the NBA, averaging 93.4 points per game. Even more impressive is what the Grizzlies have accomplished on defense. The Grizzlies finished No. 1 in the NBA in points against, allowing 89.3 points per game despite the defensive struggles of power forward Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies do have solid defensive players in Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Marc Gasol, but to hold any teams in the NBA to under 90 points is an impressive feat.
Key Matchup: Blake Griffin vs Zach Randolph
The key to this series will be whether the athletic Griffin can overcome the fundamental post game of Randolph.
For the Clippers to win what needs to go right for them?
If the Clippers are going to win this series then it will have to push the pace against the Grizzlies. By pushing the pace it will allow the more athletic Clippers like Paul, Crawford, Griffin and Jordan the opportunity to put up points and make this a shootout rather than a grind.
For the Grizzlies to win what needs to go right for them?
If the Grizzlies are going to win the series it will have to slow the game down and make it a grind of a series. The focus needs to be on getting the ball to Gasol and Randolph in the post. The goal being to force Griffin and Jordan into early foul trouble.
Prediction Memphis 4-3 and Vinny Del Negro is fired and replaced by Stan Van Gundy.
This series is a complete toss up between two teams that play at different tempos. The Clippers like to run and utilize their athletic big men, while the Grizzlies want to slow it down and get it to their more fundamentally sound big men. Still, it’s the NBA playoffs, where anything can happen.