Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate the Lakers fans in my life, if for nothing else than to appreciate their mastery of the spin job. When the Lakers took down the Thunder in double overtime yesterday, there were plenty of perfectly acceptable storylines to pimp, such as “Look, Jordan Hill did something!” or something more Lakery like “Kobe Bryant knows how to win, and the Thunder don’t!” Instead, I was treated to an incredible tale that starred Metta World Peace as a martyr who sacrificed himself to eliminate the threat of James Harden and help the Lakers hang on to the Pacific Division lead.
That’s right — MWP going all Jon Jones on the side of Harden’s face was a completely calculated maneuver to knock Harden out of the game (or unconscious, either/or) and bring the Lakers back from the dead. He did this, you see, because Metta World Peace appreciates the way the game was played back in the 80s and because he’s a real winner. Quick temper? No, no, no…quick thinker.
So, uh, props for a truly brave elbow, Ron. Conversations with “those” types of Lakers fans remind me of watching talking heads on TV. It’s amusing at first when you’re wondering, “Are they serious? Oh my god, they’re completely serious” but eventually you’re scrambling for the remote to change the channel. It’s a shame you can’t mute real people, which is why I don’t go outside. Martyr World Peace, ladies and gentlemen. Always three steps ahead of us.
CP3 = MVP?
There’s a lot of momentum on the Chris Paul for MVP train lately, but lets shoutout resident Clipster Jordan Heimer for tooting that horn before everyone else did a few weeks ago. Fact is, the MVP award is as much about the storyline as it is about statistics, so even though LeBron is a homerun for MVP in the stat crowd, being far and away the best talent isn’t sexy. Paul, meanwhile, turned a terrible offense into a dominant one overnight, and resurrected, as Andrew Han said in the latest ClipperBlogLive, the worst franchise in North American sports history. It’s not like Paul doesn’t have the numbers to support the cause — he’s second to LeBron in almost every player rating formula and has put up another historically great season. You could argue that Paul would be a more deserving MVP than Derrick Rose was last year, who won mostly on the strength of the narrative that he “carried the team” with Chicago’s injuries and lack of a scoring supporting cast. In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that it was defense that kept them afloat above all else, as C.J. Watson and John Lucas III have done just dandy filling in while Rose has been out. Which, to loop everything back in, is why statistics should probably matter more than the story.
LeBron should win the MVP, but Paul should come in second over Durant.
Matchmaker, make me a match
Unless the Lakers lay an egg in Sacramento, it’s looking like no banner for the Clippers and a matchup with Memphis in the first round for their troubles. Ultimately though, so long as the Clippers don’t collapse, they’ll have the real important thing in the first round, which is home court advantage in the first round. Although lots of smart people have zigged while others have zagged on Memphis (I see you, Jeremy Pargo), I still think Memphis is a very, very difficult matchup for the Clippers, particularly when considering the alternatives.
I’m hesitant to completely write off Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle, but Dallas just doesn’t put enough pressure on defenses with penetration. I don’t trust Vince Carter or Brendan Haywood even a little bit, and although Dallas has been surprisingly very good defensively, they lack the bite they had with Tyson Chandler, who brought the added benefits of mobility that Haywood doesn’t.
Denver would have been my preferred first round opponent, primarily because I don’t believe a high-tempo attack has the same effectiveness it does in the regular season. When both teams are rested with off days in between games and no insane travel or back-to-backs, I think playing at a relentless pace loses something.
I’d like to see some stats to back it up, but the old adage is that the game slows down in the postseason. You think Chris Paul values every possession in the regular season? Wait until the playoffs. I’ll take Paul in the clutch against anyone, but especially against a team like Denver that doesn’t seem to have much of a plan in crunch time. Knock “hero ball” all you want, and trust me when I say that I do plenty of that, but there’s a huge benefit in knowing your best player isn’t going to turn it over and will definitely get a shot off. I think Danilo Gallinari has the chops to be a closer one day for the Nuggets, but he’s not there yet. In an isolation setting, there is no player on the Nuggets that scares me. It doesn’t mean everything, but it means something.
The trouble with Memphis
That all seems like wasted breath, but it brings me to what makes me nervous about a matchup with Memphis. Memphis has one of the best perimeter defenders in Tony Allen to annoy Chris Paul, but maybe more importantly, they have a clutch scorer who is a prototypical nightmare in 6-foot-8 Rudy Gay, who can get his shot off over the Clippers smallish wing defenders or blow by them and finish in traffic.
What has made the Clippers one of the better offenses in the league this season, as noted by Kevin Arnovitz, has been their ability to protect the ball and at the very least, get a shot up on nearly every possession. The Clippers are 2nd in the league in Turnover Rate according to Hoopdata.com, protecting the ball better than every team outside of Philadelphia, who hasn’t taken a risk in the halfcourt since 2010.
Here’s the problem: Memphis is the best team in the league at turning over their opponents. That nullifies one of the Clippers’ biggest strengths offensively, and makes the prospect of playing questionable decision makers (but also the best defenders) like Eric Bledsoe and Nick Young major minutes a little scarier than it would in a different matchup.
Lionel Hollins doesn’t get a ton of credit, but he’s like the evolved version of Vinny Del Negro — he gets his team to play hard every night, but there’s also a smart defensive system in place that his team has completely bought into. Memphis makes teams uncomfortable with perimeter pressure because they trust Marc Gasol to wall off the rim while Zach Randolph focuses almost solely on cleaning up the glass. They’re the 8th best team in defensive efficiency for a reason.
Of course, you could look at the glass as half full here, and say that Chris Paul’s complete control of the ball nullifies the turnover advantage that Memphis prays on. Depends on how you see it.
The argument for wanting to match up with Memphis usually revolves around the Grizzlies’ inability to shoot from the perimeter. That has certainly has merit…but guess what? The Grizzlies have shot a better percentage from 3 this year than the Nuggets have. Both teams are rather inept at 23rd and 24th in the league in 3-point percentage, but would you rather have the nasty defensive team with a difference maker in the high post in Gasol, or would you rather roll the dice against a team that relies on a center rotation of Koufos and a doofus (sorry JaVale) and is 21st in defensive efficiency? That seems like an easy choice.
All that said, by no means am I saying the Clippers can’t get by the Grizzlies. Memphis still struggles to score, and as we saw in the regular season, if Marc Gasol isn’t decisive, their offense dies. He’s the trigger man at the high post, and I predict that it will be Kenyon Martin’s lone objective to disrupt him at the free throw line once he burns up DeAndre Jordan a few times with his nice 15-footer.
Ultimately though, in a sort of ironic twist, the Clippers’ return to playoffs may hinge on the performance of former Clipper Zach Randolph. If Z-Bo can somehow resemble the player who killed it in the postseason last year, the Clips could be in trouble. I don’t think that will happen, and I suspect Blake Griffin will bring the energy we’ve seen in games that have been personally important to him (think New Orleans after Jason Smith) and ultimately outwork Randolph, who is still struggling to get back into shape.
We know Paul has another gear because we’ve seen it in fourth quarters this year and in previous playoff appearances with New Orleans. Whether or not Griffin can take his game to a similar level may be the deciding factor in a Clips-Grizz series. Or maybe the Kings will take part in “The Last Stand: Part Two, Electric Boogaloo” and shock the Lakers in what could possibly be their last game in Sacramento. We shall see.