Western Conference 1st Round: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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A rematch from last years 1st Round matchup promises to be exciting and chippy. It’s safe to say these teams hate one another based on last years tense 7 game series that ultimately ended in Memphis in a tight game 7. It may be a rematch but these teams couldn’t be more different from what they were last year. The Grizzlies traded away Rudy Gay for Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince, and Austin Daye in a salary dump, pre-deadline deal. The Clippers boast a different bench consisting of Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill. They also have a much improved Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin this season. The game plan will sound very similar for both teams but when you look at it, both teams have a low-post all-star and play through them first. The only difference is the style of play. L.A loves to play fast, while Memphis is comfortable grinding it out.

How the Grizzlies Win:

The Grizzlies love to fight, they love to grind it out, they love the grit that comes with basketball. They play dirty and they play tough and they let you know that if you want to beat them in a playoff series, you’re going to have to have to be ready to get knocked out in the process. The Grizzlies do everything that a playoff contender should do. They hold teams to a league lowest 89.3 points a game while swiping 8.6 steals a game. In simplest terms, they are probably the best defensive team in the NBA. It’s just in their DNA, they don’t allow teams to come in and score easy points nor do they let teams fast-break on them. They give up only 12 points a game in fast-break situations. Coincidentally, the Clippers offense runs on transition points. They’re team is notorious for showtime – hell they’re even called Lob City. They love to run and gun, and score 16 points a game on fast-break points. The Grizzlies will subdue L.A’s fast-break game and stop their points in transition, which will force them to play in the half-court. The playoffs aren’t an up and down game, they’re a slow, grind it out atmosphere that forces teams to treat every possession as a privilege. The Clippers are not going to be able to get up and down as much in the playoffs, never mind the fact that their opponent is Memphis. The Clippers’ offense is primarily operated through pick and rolls with CP3 and through post ups for Blake. I hate to break it to you L.A fans but you’re getting nothing inside against the Grizzlies. They have in my opinion the DPOY in Marc Gasol, and one of the meanest guys around in Z-BO down low. Blake only averages 13 points a game against Memphis this season. Blake isn’t going to get easy points down low against Memphis and I don’t think the Clippers can really win a series in the half-court especially when the team you’re playing excels in stopping teams in the half-court. Statistically they’re not a good shooting team either – shooting only 35.8% from the three point line. I think if the Grizzlies can take Blake out of the series than they’ll win. It sounds easier than it is, but really it’ll come down to one on one defense down low from Z-BO and if need be, Gasol. The key match-up besides the twin towers down low, will be if Tony Allen can defend Chris Paul on the perimeter. I suspect he’ll be assigned Chris Paul as he is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the entire league. He’ll need to keep Chris Paul contained because without him, the Clippers’ offense does not set up and does not flow.

Offensively, the Grizzlies need to pound it down low like they usually do. They have a duo of amazing low-post players and their offense goes through them every possession. The X-factor for the Grizzlies will really be their perimeter guys. They can defend against Los Angeles but they’re going to need to make shots. The Clippers are 4th in opponents points per game and they don’t let teams score on them easy either. The Grizzlies aren’t statistically a good shooting team so they’re going to need Conley, Bayless, Prince and Daye to hit shots on the perimeter. Really, they just have to do what they do. The Grizzlies play tough and they play inside out, everybody has to be ready to hit shots and step up for Gasol and Randolph so there is less pressure on them down low. Additionally, their role players are going to have to show up offensively. They’re going up against the best bench in the NBA and they’re going to need to match that 2nd unit’s intensity for them to win games. When Marc, Z-Bo, and Conley come out they need guys like Bayless, Davis, Arthur, Prince, etc, to keep up the intensity and score points to keep Memphis in the game.

How the Clippers Win:

The Clippers have to be able to play in the half-court. They didn’t do that during the regular season, characteristically, it’s not their game. They want to get up and down and get DeAndre and Blake some moments in the highlight reel. They’re not used to playing slow, and playing grit and grind basketbal for 48 minutes. This series is really going to come down to their ability to play smart and efficiently in the half-court. It’s only going to be harder against the Grizzlies. They’re also going to need Blake and DeAndre to be ready to defend and fight down low. They’re both subpar low post defenders and will need to step up if they want a chance of stopping the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies aren’t a great shooting team so if they can try and dilute their effectiveness down low then they’ll be well off. The big thing for the Clippers to win is their bench. Their bench is by all standards the best bench in the league. They have a top 6th man candidate in Jamal Crawford, they have their defensive stopper in Matt Barnes, an electrifying guard in Eric Bledsoe and other guys like Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom. Their bench more often than not will be the difference between a win and a loss. They score 40 points a game, as well as grabbing 18 rebounds and 4 steals. They provide an offensive spark, but are also the best defensive unit that the Clippers have. Their bench is going to need to and probably will continue their dominance throughout this series for them to beat the Grizzlies. The Clippers also have home-court advantage. Add that to the first time the Clippers have had a dominant team in god knows how long makes for an enthusiastic crowd that will fuel the team. Another improvement that may be under-looked is Blake Griffin’s development from last season. He saw the playoffs for the first time last year and was shell-shocked. You could see it in his body language and the way he performed down the stretch last year in the playoffs. It’s a completely different atmosphere to the regular season but now he has the luxury of experience. He knows what it’s like and now he gets a 2nd chance against the Grizzlies to come out stronger than ever. I truly believe he’ll be a different player this off-season now that he knows what to expect, but he has played quite awfully against the Grizzlies this season, only averaging 14 and 7 in 4 games against Memphis this season. That means Chris Paul is going to have to be more aggressive than he would usually prefer to be because Blake may not be there to throw it down to. He’ll have to be ready to score and be an easy 2 points whenever they need it.

Who Will Win?

I’ll take the Grizzlies in this one. Blake doesn’t play well against Memphis’ tough interior defense and as a team I don’t think the Clippers will be able to play in the half-court for a full 48 minutes and be successful. They’re not used to it and the playoffs are a completely different game that forces teams to honor every possession. It’ll be a tough, long series but in the end I’ll give it to Memphis.

Final Prediction:

Memphis in 7.

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