Clippers Vs. Grizzlies - Playoffs Round 1 - Series Preview

Mar 24, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) is fouled by Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo (32) during the third quarter at the Staples Center. The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 101-85. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE
2011/2012 NBA Playoffs - Round 1
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vs.
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40-26

41-25
Game 1 - April 29th, 2012, 6:30 PM, Memphis, FedEx Forum
Game 2 - May 2nd, 2012, 6:30 PM, Memphis, FedEx Forum
Game 3 - May 5th, 2012, 1:30 PM, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 4 - May 7th, 2012, TBD, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 5 - May 9th, 2012, TBD, Memphis, FedEx Forum *
Game 6 - May 11th, 2012, TBD, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center *
Game 7 - May 13th, 2012, TBD, Memphis, FedEx Forum *
* if necessary
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Mike Conley
Randy Foye SG Tony Allen
Caron Butler
SF Rudy Gay
Blake Griffin
PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan
C Marc Gasol
Key reserves:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Gilbert Arenas
Mo Williams SG O.J. Mayo
Nick Young
SF Quincy Pondexter
Reggie Evans
PF Marreese Speights
Kenyon Martin
C Hamed Haddadi

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The four vs. five matchup is supposed to be evenly matched, but these two teams seem unusually so. The Clippers won two of the three meetings during the regular season, but the Grizzlies won the most recent one, which also happened to be the on that mattered the most. Each team won on their home court, which seems to favor Memphis, as they have home court advantage in the series. The series will be a contrast in styles -- the Grizzlies are a very good defensive team (7th in defensive efficiency) that can struggle on offense (19th) while the Clippers are very good offensive team (4th) that can struggle on defense (18th). The Grizzlies thrive on forcing turnovers (first in the league in steals and opponent turnovers) while the Clippers are among the best at protecting the ball (second fewest turnovers and second lowest turnover percentage). The Clippers shoot almost 22 three pointers per game, fifth most in the NBA during the regular season, the Grizzlies less than 13, third fewest. So which team imposes its will on the other? If the Clippers can keep their turnovers down, their offensive efficiency up and make their threes, they'll win the series. If the Grizzlies can create turnovers and hold the Clippers to a poor shooting percentage, it's theirs for the taking.

The Subplots

  • Key Grizzlies Metrics:
    Pace: 90.8 (18th of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 104.0 (19th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 101.8 (7th of 30)
    It's worth noting that while the Grizzlies are "only" seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency, they are first among Western Conference teams. With most of the high-powered offenses in the league in the West and an unbalanced schedule, the defensive rankings are skewed towards East teams, but Memphis is the best of the West defensively.
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.2 (27th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.5 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.7 (18th of 30)
  • Home court advantage. I've already said my piece about the limited importance of home court advantage. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather the Clippers have it than not have it -- it absolutely has value. But if the Clippers are the better team as I suspect they are, then they'll win the series without it. I do know this much -- going on the road first gives you the chance to steal a game on the road first.
  • Turnovers. There is no single bigger key to this series than turnovers. Memphis has some very nice players, but they are not a good offensive team in the half court. They thrive on forcing turnovers, and can really take over games if they are getting steals and otherwise forcing turnovers, which allows them to get out in transition and get easy baskets. But if you can protect the ball and force them to play half court basketball, they struggle. This bodes well for the Clippers. No team that faced Memphis more than once this season turned the ball over fewer times on average. L.A. averaged just 12.3 turnovers in three games against Memphis, which is almost 5 turnovers fewer than Memphis forced per game against the league. Only four times all season did the Grizzlies force fewer than a dozen turnovers -- two of those came against the Clippers. On average the Grizzlies were +2.7 in turnover margin on the season -- the were -4.7 against L.A. If the Clippers continue to take care of the ball that well during the series, it's difficult to imagine how Memphis can beat them.
  • Zach Randolph. Former Clippers Zach Randolph made Third Team All NBA last season for the Grizzlies. He averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds per game on the season. And he was even better in the playoffs, at 22 and 11. In series against San Antonio and Oklahoma City, Randolph carried the Grizzlies for long stretches. He was the one place they could go for a bucket on a crucial possession, and he delivered time and again. He was flat out great. This season, he suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) on Jan. 1 that caused him to miss 37 games, and allow he's been back for six weeks, he hasn't been the same player. His scoring and shooting are way off last season, even on a per minute basis. Perhaps he'll rise to the occasion in the playoffs, but if he continues to be the player he was in the regular season through the playoffs, the Grizzlies will have a very different 2012 postseason than they did in 2011. Randolph spent most of his time post-injury coming off the Memphis bench, but was inserted back into the starting lineup in the final game of the season. It was always assumed that he would be the starter in the playoffs, but it's far from clear that he's anything close to the player he was last year.
  • Two hapless franchises. It would not be easy to find two NBA franchises with less sustained success than these two. Since the Clippers became the Clippers, these two franchises have won exactly one playoff series each -- the Clippers in 2006 and the Grizzlies last year (when they one a playoff GAME for the first time). One of these two is going to advance to the conference semifinals for the second time in their existence.
  • Chris Paul. Turnovers and defense and three point shooting are all keys to the series to be sure, but there's one thing that matters above all else for the Clippers -- Chris Paul's groin. Paul suffered a mildly sprained groin muscle last Tuesday in Atlanta. He sat out the game the next night in New York and has now had five days between games to heal. Is he 100%? If not, the Clippers will be in trouble.
  • Playoff Chris Paul. As good as regular season Chris Paul is, playoff Chris Paul has traditionally been better. In the two playoffs where he was healthy, he led the NBA in playoff PER. He almost single handedly carried an undermanned New Orleans squad to two wins against the Lakers in the first round last season. He has much more help around him with the Clippers team than he ever had with the Hornets.
  • Playoff experience. Clipper starters Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Randy Foye as well as reserve Eric Bledsoe will all be playing in their first playoff games tonight. It remains to be seen how much that inexperience will hurt the Clippers. After all, an even less experienced Grizzlies team beat the team with pretty much the most playoff experience last year. The Clippers do have veterans like Chris Paul, Mo Willams and Kenyon Martin with lots of playoff experience. Williams and Martin have each played in the NBA Finals.
  • The fake key matchup. I've seen it mentioned several times, most notably on NBA.com last week, that Tony Allen defending Chris Paul will be a key matchup in this series. Seems reasonable, except for one problem -- Tony Allen probably won't be defending Chris Paul. During the two games when Allen played against the Clippers this season, he did not draw that assignment, only defending Paul on switches and a couple of late game possessions (which did not end well for Allen, IIRC). Mike Conley is of course a fine defender in his own right (second in the NBA in steals, behind none other than Chris Paul) and I expect Conley to defend Paul the vast majority of the series. Defending on the wing will allow Allen to roam more and wreak his unique brand of havoc, but it's unlikely he'll get the chance to take Paul out of the game with his defense, nor could he if he tried.
  • The real key matchup. The real key matchup is probably going to be power forward. Can Blake Griffin handle Z-Bo? Can Griffin use his athleticism to score on Randolph? During the regular season Griffin mostly feasted on Marreese Speights (almost 20 points per game, 62 percent field goal shooting), so if Randolph can't handle him then it only gets better for the Clippers. But if Randolph can find his 2011 playoffs game, he could give Griffin a very hard time.
  • Perimeter shooting. I feel like a broken record on this, but when the Clippers are making perimeter shots, they are a very difficult team to beat. In the one game L.A. lost to Memphis this season, Mo Williams didn't play, while Randy Foye, Caron Butler and Nick Young combined to shoot just 7-29, 2-11 from beyond the arc. That's one reason I didn't feel intimidated by the Grizzlies after that loss -- if those guys make shots, it's a different game. But that's pretty much always the case.
  • Foye. Speaking of Foye, you've probably heard Ralph and Mike say that Foye has made more three pointers since the All Star break than any other player in the NBA. Since different teams have played different numbers of games, I decided to try to normalize it a bit and the results are quite impressive. In the second half of the season (games 34 through 66), Foye has 83 three pointers, which is indeed more than any other player in the league. Among those players, his 2.6 per game is also the highest in the league and he's making 42 percent in that time. His three pointers per minute is second only to Steve Novak. Shooting guard is widely considered to be the weakness of the Clippers, but having a red hot three point shooter in that spot helps a lot.
  • Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has been an absolute dynamo at times this season -- but Memphis might not be the best team for him to face. His defense on Mike Conley could be a great asset -- but EBled's tendency to get out of control and turn the ball over is like spawning salmon to hungry Grizzlies (I was going to say blood in the water, but they're grizzlies, not sharks). Bledsoe MUST stay under control and protect the ball when he plays in this series. If he doesn't, he'll need to sit back down.
  • Adjustments. In a seven game playoff series, the teams will be very well acquainted with each other by the end. Heck, they're already pretty well acquainted with each other. It's difficult to say which team that benefits. Does DeAndre Jordan benefit from seeing Marc Gasol and his quirky style night after night and preparing for him exclusively? Do the Grizzlies have a strategy for trapping Chris Paul on the pick and roll that will bottle up the Clippers offense? If so what can Paul and the Clippers do to counter? We'll start finding out tonight.
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.
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