2013 Playoff Preview and Predictions: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So, my friends, the 2013 Playoffs are finally here and our beloved Los Angeles Clippers are in them. This time I would like us to take a look at what sport sites and betting sites are saying about the series between the Clippers and the Grizzlies.

Below you will find ten (10) sites and their predictions: seven (7) sites believe the Clippers will win series, with the other two (2) giving the Grizzlies the edge and one (1) not predicting an outcome.

The one thing all sites have in common is the fact that it will be a close and well-fought series.

Thoughts?

1. The Guardian gives the edge to the Grizzlies in 7 games

To some it looked like Memphis were packing it in after having a remarkably hot start. The Grizzlies traded away their best scorer, Rudy Gay, to the Toronto Raptors for an odd assortment of players in the middle of a season that began with them going 12-2. What many in the media interpreted as a salary dump may have actually ended up making the team better. (Rudy Gay clearly hasn't made the Toronto Raptors much better, at the very least.) Maybe the decision to hire statistician John Hollinger away from "a cable sports company" hasn't been entirely unsuccessful.

Meanwhile the Clippers, wrapping up their first season in franchise history where they were inarguably the best team in Los Angeles, have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. This means that the playoffs will be a lot more fun if the Clippers put an end to the Grizzlies and advance to the next the round. Not that the Clippers are merely Lob City anymore. With an extra year with the franchise, Paul has transformed himself into the best point guard in the league who is carrying an offense that's a lot more than just him dishing lobs to Griffin and others (although there have been plenty of those as well).

What may be the best case scenario entertainment-wise might not be what actually happens, of course, especially since this looks like the most even matchup in the NBA Playoffs (which I suppose is what's supposed to happen when fourth-seeded teams face fifth-seeded teams). This should be a fun close series, hopefully seven games. It might all come down to which team provides the best off-the-court comedic hijinx, and if so these clips of Memphis defensive genius Tony Allen mangling Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" gives the Grizzlies a slight edge overBlake Griffin and hs KIA commercials.

Prediction: Memphis in 7. That is how they will do it.

2. Sports Illustrated likes the Clippers giving them the series in 7 games

Why The Clippers Will Win

They have Chris Paul. Despite the Clippers' depth, the ball will be in his hands at the end of every game, and there is nowhere a team would rather it be. Like last year, this series will be tight, and like last year, Paul will make the decisive plays down the stretch, whether he's passing or scoring. He is relatively rested, having logged the fewest minutes per game of his career this season, and he's flanked by the supporting cast he helped put together last summer. The Clippers' defense is much improved and the Grizzlies are only ranked 26th in scoring. As long as Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can hold their own against Gasol and Randolph, Paul will make the difference again. He becomes a free agent in July, and before re-signing, he wants to see the Clippers take another step forward. He won't let them take one back.

Why The Grizzlies Will Win

You can't find a tougher team. A year ago, they turned the series into a cage match, and pushed the Clippers to seven games. They'll do it again, but this time, they won't blow a 24-point lead in eight minutes at home. The Grizzlies allow the fewest points per game in the NBA and they will upset the timing of the Clippers' high-wire offense. Fast break opportunities will be reduced. Highlight dunks will be limited. Gasol and Randolph will harass Griffin and Jordan, forcing them to earn points with free throws instead of ally-oops. The Clippers bench is superior, but in the playoffs, the bench is marginalized and starters rule the day. The Grizzlies boast two legitimate candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, with Tony Allen and Gasol. They will hound the Clippers and frustrate them deep into fourth quarters.

Keep An Eye On ...

Blake Griffin. This was his third NBA season and he averaged a respectable 18 points and 8 rebounds per game, but his numbers were stagnant or down in most relevant categories. Of course, his minutes were also way down, in hopes that he would be fresh for the postseason. Griffin was banged up in the playoffs last year, and while he still scored more than 19 points per game, his rebounding dipped. The Clippers believe Griffin is a budding superstar, but in order to validate their confidence, he must be able to absorb the punishment he'll get from the Grizzlies frontline and win the matchup with Randolph. Paul wants to see whether Griffin can eventually grow into a second franchise player. He obviously possesses the athleticism and he's getting more of the experience. For the Clippers to advance in the playoffs, Griffin needs to command double teams and help Paul by making key shots to close out games and series.

The Pick

Clippers in 7. This will be the best series of the first round, with seven close games, and two teams struggling to score. In the end, Paul will make just enough plays to send the Clippers on.

3. Opposing Views: Clippers edge

LOS ANGELES vs MEMPHIS

This is the best series in the Western Conference first round by far. These two have gone toe-to-toe time and time again and while the Clippers may have won the season series 3-1, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see a repeat of last year's seven game first round thriller.

The Clippers emerged victorious that time and since day one of this season when the Clippers narrowly slipped by Memphis again, these two have been on a crash course toward another postseason faceoff. A top ten offense up against the best defense in the league, two superstar power forwards going at it and one of the best defensive point guards taking on one of the best offensive point guards, this series has everything.

The two are separated by one small sticking point most likely; their benches. The simple fact is the Clippers have a deeper bench that will give them the longevity they need to go the entire distance in this series. The fact that Memphis has the best defense in the league won't intimidate them much as the Clips boast the fourth best defense in the league, all they have to do is outgun them on the offensive end and their bench, fourth in bench scoring in the league, can help them do that.

Prediction: Los Angeles wins series 4-3

4. SB Nation: No prediction

After contesting a thrilling seven-game, opening-round series in last year's playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers will again get together to open the postseason in 2013. Game 1 will be played Saturday at 10:30 p.m. in Los Angeles on ESPN.

The Clippers won the series between these two clubs and come off the most impressive regular season in franchise history. In 2013, Los Angeles won their first Pacific Division title ever and also won 50 games for the first time in franchise history.

For the Clippers, the key to victory over Memphis will be, as always, the play of point guardChris Paul. Now in his second year with the franchise, Paul has been spectacular in 2013, averaging 16.8 points and a team-high 9.7 assists. Paul combined with Blake Griffin to provide a solid inside-outside punch for the Clippers, with Griffin averaging team-highs in both points (18.1 per game) and rebounds (8.3) this season.

However, what separates the 2013 Clippers from the one which advanced to the second round of the playoffs last season is their depth. With eight players averaging at least eight points per game, this might be the most talented team top to bottom in the league.

Jamal Crawford could also be a key player in the series. Along with the Knicks' J.R. Smith, Crawford is a front-runner for this season's Sixth Man of the Year award. Despite not starting a single game in 2013, Crawford averaged over 16 points a game for Los Angeles.

For Memphis to avenge their disappointing opening-round playoff loss last year, they will need a big series from their best player, Zach Randolph. After Rudy Gay was traded at mid-season, Randolph became the go-to scorer for the Grizzlies, finishing 2013 with a team-high 15.3 points to go along with over 11 rebounds per game.

Randolph needs to step up after struggling in last year's postseason. After missing most of the lockout-shortened regular season to injury, Randolph scored just 13.7 points per game in the 2012 playoffs, a number which fell drastically from the 22 points he averaged during the 2011 postseason.

5. CBS Sports go with the Clippers in 7 games

1. What Happened: The Clippers won the series over the Grizzlies 3-1 this season, but we've got to date back to last year's playoff series to get the full scope of this matchup. Yes, the rosters have changed a bit during this time, but the basics of the matchup are still strong. It started with Memphis blowing a 27-point lead in Game 1 of last year's series, and since then, it seems like the Grizzlies have been trying to stay afloat against the Clippers. Los Angeles won that series in seven games.

This season, they used a lot of transition offense and points off turnovers to win the first two games against Memphis. In Memphis' lone win against the Clippers this season, Chris Pauland Blake Griffin had very good games, but the Grizzlies managed to shut down the supporting cast. LA had just nine points off its bench and shot 26 percent from downtown. The Clippers got a big win in their fourth meeting late in the season by grinding out a victory in Memphis. It was the type of ugly, rough game the Grizzlies pride themselves on winning.

2. X-Factor: The pace of the games could very well determine who wins this series. The Clippers like to stretch their legs and get out to run. They love lobs, they love quick layups in transition, and they love hitting the trailing wing in transition for big 3-pointers. When Memphis beat the Clippers this year, it was a low possession game (80) the Grizzlies scored efficiently in. In the other three games, the possession count averaged 92 and the Clippers mostly thrived on transition and secondary transition scoring. If the Clippers can pump up the volume on the pace of this series, they will be playing the style they love and the style Memphis is uncomfortable playing.

3. The Big Play: The Clippers can't get out and run all the time. They know this, so you have to find a way from stopping their half court execution on the offensive end. The Clippers' half court offense seems to begin and end with the side pick-and-roll. It's a very basic play they run with perfection because of two big factors. First, they have Chris Paul orchestrating it and he's the maestro of the pocket pass. Second, their athletic bigs -- whether it's DeAndre Jordan or Griffin -- have impeccable footwork rolling off setting the screen and being in position to attack the basket immediately. And sometimes, even if you defend it well, it will still result in points.

They start the play with smoke and mirrors movement and ball placement on the opposite side of the court. It may seem like unnecessary movement, but it does force Memphis to have to shift side-to-side defensively, which is exactly how you have to try to break down a great defense. Once the ball reverses to CP3, it leaves him with a quick pick-and-roll with Griffin (or sometimes Jordan). In the clip above, Zach Randolph plays the pick-and-roll poorly by never committing to the role man or the ball handler, but it's OK because Marc Gasol is his teammate and is in great help position. Even with the great positioning by Gasol, the Clippers can still utilize their athleticism to score over the defense when it's in place. And if Griffin had felt like he couldn't get a good shot, the dump-down pass to Jordan underneath was available.

4. Prediction. This series is going to be great, just like last year's series between these two teams was great. You've got two contrasting styles with the grit and grind mentality of the Grizzlies, and the highlight-filled execution of the Clippers. That couldn't be more evident than when you compare the two star power forwards battling each other. Home court advantage should help the Clippers enough in this series and their bench has enough firepower that I think they'll outlast Memphis and win this series in seven awesome games.

The pick: Clippers in seven.

6. Hoops World tells us that the Grizzlies will take the series in 7 games

Why Los Angeles will win: In Paul, the Clippers have best point guard on the planet running their offense. This is a deep, versatile team with youthful athleticism (Griffin, Jordan, Eric Bledsoe) and veteran smarts (Grant Hill, Caron Butler) alike. These teams' first-round matchup last season was decided by a scoring outburst from Nick Young in the first game, and Jamal Crawford is similarly capable of taking a game over.

Why Memphis will win: The Grizzlies boast one of the most suffocating team defenses in the league. There's not a more formidable starting frontcourt in the league, at both ends of the floor, than Randolph and Gasol, and Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince can shut down just about anyone on the perimeter. If Memphis can slow the games down to its pace, it will be very difficult for the Clippers to keep up.

Did you know? Last year's first-round series between these two teams went to seven games, but only one was decided by 10 or more points.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 7.

7. The Bleacher Report: Clippers are favored

The Clippers are favored in this matchup, and for good reason. Los Angeles has gone 3-1 against the Grizzlies this season, including a 91-87 victory in Memphis on April 13.

With all the Lob City talk, what some people fail to realize is that the Clippers actually rank better in half-court efficiency (fifth) than they do transition efficiency (12th), as noted byKevin Pelton of ESPN.com.

Sure, Memphis ranks second in defensive efficiency this season (complete with perimeter defenders Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Tayshaun Prince), but that didn't keep the Clippers from shooting 46 percent from the field on April 13.

And the fact that Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph-who have an advantage in the post against the Clippers-combined for 34 points and 27 rebounds on April 13 and the Grizzlies still lost tells you a lot.

You can be a superb defensive team and still get burned by the pick-and-roll between Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

8. Clippers Report also going with Clippers in 7 games

Here are some keys for the Los Angeles Clippers in their first-round playoff matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, which begins Saturday:

Control the tempo

The Grizzlies play a self-proclaimed "grit-and-grind" style of basketball, averaging the second-slowest pace in the league and physically punishing opponents with their bruising big men inside and pesky wing defenders on the perimeter.

This style of play suits the Clippers. The biggest misconception about them is that they're a fast-paced team. They rank just 19th in pace (25th after Feb. 1), and Chris Paul is notorious for being the ultimate shot-clock practitioner.

However, the Clippers may be better served trying to speed up their games with the Grizzlies. While Memphis has one of the best half-court defenses in the league, it's vulnerable in transition against the Clippers' athleticism.

In their most recent matchup in Memphis on Saturday, the Clippers scored or got fouled on 10 of their 14 transition possessions (a 71.4 percent conversion rate). Accounting for the second-most recent game in mid-March, the Clippers scored in five of six transition possessions against the Grizzlies.

That's definitely a small sample size, but it aids the theory that Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph don't want to get into a running game, especially against highfliers like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen can stymie most players at the rim in transition, but not the Clippers' dynamic big men.

Of the four matchups this season, the Grizzlies' only win came in the slowest game (80 possessions). All three Clippers wins were 87 or more possessions. To put that in perspective, the slowest team in the league, the New Orleans Hornets, averaged 90.9 possessions per game.

Even going back to last year's grueling seven-game playoff series, possession count mattered. Three of the Clippers' four wins had 92 or more possessions. Meanwhile, two of the Grizzlies' three wins were 90 possessions or fewer. Each won one 91-possession game.

Transition opportunities could help the Clippers scramble the Grizzlies' cohesive defense. Almost every game between these two is decided by a few possessions, so easy baskets can swing a game.

Defensive X factors

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has stated that he prefers veterans to younger players, and it's clear by his minute distribution. Until recently, he favored Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins over Jordan late in games, and he often plays Jamal Crawford, Willie Green or Chauncey Billups alongside Paul instead of Eric Bledsoe.

But Jordan and Bledsoe have been vital parts of the Clippers' three wins over the Grizzlies this season. Bledsoe was also a decisive factor in last year's playoff series, shutting down Mike Conley.

Conley has struggled against the Clippers all season, shooting 30 percent from the floor, but when Bledsoe is defending him, he is shooting just 18 percent. If that holds up over the course of a long series, or at least in critical moments of a close game, the Grizzlies will struggle to win more than a game against the Clippers.

Moreover, Jordan has done a great job inside against Gasol and Randolph, holding them to 44.4 percent and 41.2 percent shooting at the rim, respectively. With Jordan off the floor, Gasol (66.7 percent) and Randolph (50 percent) shoot a lot better, especially with Griffin or Hollins in the middle.

Jordan's length and defensive timing allow him to play the big men one-on-one. In particular, his reach bothers Randolph, who struggles to get clean looks against him. The Clippers have started games by defending Randolph with Jordan but will likely switch up their coverage depending on which big man is playing better.

The trio of Conley, Randolph and Gasol leads the Grizzlies' offense. If the Clippers can contain at least one of them, it significantly increases their chances of winning the series, as Memphis' 18th-ranked offense is already inconsistent because of its lack of shooting prowess.

Fight in the paint

While the other three Western Conference first-round playoff series figure to be high-scoring contests, the Clippers-Grizzlies matchup is going to be an old-school slugfest.

This is as close to a rivalry as any of the playoff series, and the Grizzlies still believe they were the better team and should have won last year. Griffin and Randolph have an acrimonious history and Matt Barnes and Allen are two of the league's most physical wing defenders, so there could be a handful of double technical fouls.

Because the Grizzlies make the fewest 3-pointers per game in the NBA, they have to find creative ways to score. Whether it's by using their size in post-ups or Gasol's ability to dissect the defense at the high post, the Grizzlies are going to try to bash the Clippers in the paint.

Gasol and Randolph rely on their unmatchable size to gain position in rebounding situations, so Griffin and Jordan will have to recover on defense and can't afford to miss box outs.

Not only do the Clippers and Grizzlies rank third and fifth in points in the paint, but they also rank second and sixth in defending opponent points in the paint, meaning something has to give.

Prediction

The Clippers must find consistent sources of offense, as Griffin (13.8 PPG, 44.4 percent shooting) and Paul (16.3 PPG, 47.2 percent shooting) have struggled against the Grizzlies, but these teams are evenly matched overall.

Even though the Clippers have won nine of 14 matchups dating to last season, most of the games have been decided in the final minute, where the Clippers have a slight advantage because of Paul's brilliance. It's going to be ugly at times, but this promises to be the most competitive series of the first round. The Clippers in seven.

9. SBR Forum (Betting Site): Clippers have the edge

The Memphis Grizzlies hope their brand of defense-oriented basketball can come out on top against the star-driven play of the Los Angeles Clippers. The betting market is giving the edge to the Clippers, but only by a relatively small margin.

10. Los Angeles Times: Clippers edge in 6 games

CLIPPERS VS. GRIZZLIES

4. Clippers

56-26 (Home: 32-9; Road: 24-17)

5. Memphis

56-26 (Home: 32-9; Road: 24-17)

Season series: Clippers, 3-1.

Key stat: The Clippers' bench averages 40.1 points a game while the Grizzlies' reserves combine for only 27.6 points. Big advantage, Clippers.

Outlook: This is a rematch of the breathless seven-game series the Clippers won a year ago after overcoming a 27-point deficit in Game 1 and winning Game 7 on the road. Memphis hasn't exactly improved since then, jettisoning Rudy Gay in a midseason trade that brought it defensive stalwart Tayshaun Prince.

Prediction: The Grizzlies are angry about last season's playoffs and they'll be even more miffed after these are over. Clippers in six.

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