Game 1: Sat. 4/20, 7:30 p.m. PST (ESPN)
Game 2: Mon. 4/22, 7:30 p.m. PST (TNT)
Game 3: Thurs. 4/25, 6:30 p.m. PST (TNT)
Game 4: Sat. 4/27, 1:30 p.m. PST (TNT)
Game 5: Tue. 4/30, TBD
Game 6: Fri. 5/3, TBD
Game 7: Sun. 5/5, TBD
It’s finally here. Playoff time. And the ClipperBlog staff is here to keep you informed. Usually, we go with 3-on-3, but it’s the NBA Playoffs. Everything is bigger now – and that includes our previews. So today we’re going all out, 5-on-5 style:
1. The Clippers’ bigs are athletic. The Grizzlies’ bigs are burly and physical. Who outplays whom in this series?
Jovan Buha, (@jovanbuha): The Grizzlies’ big men. If we can agree Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol are similar in skill level/ability (with a slight edge to Griffin), then Zach Randolph clearly is the third-best big. What’s more, I like the Grizzlies’ bench bigs – Ed Davis, Darrell Arthur – better than the Clippers’.
D.J. Foster, (@fosterdj): Marc Gasol might be the best all-around player not named LeBron, so I’ll give the Grizzlies a slight edge merely because Memphis wisely runs more of its stuff through him this year. One thing to watch, however, is Zach Randolph. He’ll sumo wrestle with Griffin again defensively, but Randolph’s percentages from within 10-feet of the hoop have dropped significantly this year.
Andrew Han, (@andrewthehan): Mutually Assured Destruction. Here’s a working theory: Z-Bo gets under Griffin’s skin, but Griffin also gets under Z-Bo’s, causing both their production to drop. DeAndre’s the x-factor, though. If he can bother Gasol’s court vision, then any offensive production Jordan provides is a bonus.
Jordan Heimer, (@jordanheimer): Wrestling the Grizz bigs to a draw would be a victory for the Clips. Blake and DJ sometimes rely on transcendent athleticism to compensate for so-so fundamentals. If they don’t work for good position on D and on the glass they will pay the price.
Fred Katz, (@FredKatz): Memphis, if only because the Grizzlies’ bigs are more integral to their team than are the Clippers’ bigs. Randolph and Griffin tend to neutralize each other when they compete head-to-head and since Gasol might be the best center in the NBA right now, I’ll give him the edge over DJ. Fortunately for the Clippers, though, they learned last year that they can beat Memphis in a series in which Griffin and Jordan each get beat up a little bit.
2. The Grizzlies aren’t exactly a dominant perimeter team. What should their strategy be against a Clipper team whose biggest weakness is its three-point defense?
Buha: Back-cuts and a lot of weak-side action. The Clippers can fall asleep defensively (look at Tony Allen’s wide-open cuts from last game), and their perimeter defenders struggle dodging screens. With Gasol stationed in the high post, the Grizzlies can find creative ways to score in the paint via off-ball movement.
Han: Shoot more three-pointers. Not only is there evidence to suggest shooting more threes correlates to more wins, but also that the perception of being a middling to poor three-point shooter is actually the equivalent of being an adequate two-point shooter. The mediocre three-point shooting with their Gasol-Randolph inside game would give the Grizzlies the optimum strategy.
Patrick James, (@patrickmjames): Run the offense through point-center Marc Gasol. He’s such a clever passer, and he shoots 49.4 percent from 16 to 24 feet. If he starts knocking down jumpers (or scoring in the post), Clipper wings will likely cheat off their men to help. Even though the Grizzlies don’t make many threes, any of Pondexter, Bayless, Conley, or Prince is capable of draining one if he’s open.
Michael Shagrin, (@mshaggy): The first option for the Grizzlies is for Conley to create either for himself or his teammates, but he’ll be defended by Chris Paul and proven Conley antidote Eric Bledsoe. Another option (and likely the most effective) would be to run the offense through Gasol in the high post. Resorting to a Z-Bo centric attack would spell trouble for Memphis.
Seerat Sohi, (@DamianTrillard): They should stick to what they know. The Grizzlies thrive when they’re moving the ball around and working through Gasol. If they can capitalize on a few open treys, that’s great for them but their perceived advantage from outside could turn into a disadvantage if they change their game plan for it.
3. Who or what might be the this series’ x-factor?
Foster: The start of fourth quarters. The Grizzlies go into a shell in the beginning of fourth quarters for some reason, and the Clippers have put away many a game during that time. This should be an extremely tight series, but the Clippers’ second unit could certainly swing it.
Heimer: Did you know Jamal Crawford led the NBA in 4th QTR plus/minus this season? Me neither. The man is volatility personified. The Clips could ride a Jamal hot streak into the conference finals…or find themselves on summer vacation late next if he goes cold.
Katz: Jerryd Bayless. Bayless got off to a slow start this year, but has averaged 13.4 points per game on 39.5 percent three-point shooting in 27 minutes a night in his past 22 games. He tends to play well off the ball when he’s on the floor at the same time as Mike Conley. If Eric Bledsoe stifles Conley as usual, it might be up to Bayless to make the Grizzlies offense growl.
Shagrin: The 20 or so minutes going to Chauncey Billups. We can’t expect too much from Chauncey based on his recent performances, but we also don’t expect his playing to reflect those struggles. It’s tough to predict whether Chauncey’s presence on the floor might negate a relative advantage elsewhere in the starting unit.
Sohi: Blake Griffin. We’ve seen many sides of Griffin this season and Randolph particularly seems to get on his nerves. If Griffin can fight through the frustration and play his game, the Clippers’ chance at victory improves exponentially.
4. Did we learn anything from last year’s Clippers-Grizzlies series that could carry over to this year?
Foster: Sure. We know Eric Bledsoe gives Mike Conley the fits, and we think we know that Vinny Del Negro knows that. Fingers crossed.
Han: Eric Bledsoe’s straw reaches all the way over to the Grizzlies’ backcourt and drinks their milkshake. His ball-hawking is a true game changer in the series against an opponent still shaky at managing turnovers. The Clippers backup frontcourt will also have wrestling questions to answer as Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin won the tag team title last year.
Heimer: Um yeah: Eric Bledsoe terrorizes Mike Conley. Coley shot a dismal 25 percent from the field with Bledsoe on court last spring, and was even worse this season, making only 18 percent of his shots against Bled’s disruptive D. Without the shooters to punish Bledose’s risks, he’s free to buzz around the court, harassing at will.
James: We learned that Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph are mortal enemies. Also, we learned that Griffin can be effective even if he’s not scoring or rebounding. When he and Z-Bo get tangled and chippy, it neutralizes both players, but that can hurt the Grizzlies as much as or more than the Clippers. Oh, and Bledsoe needs to play serious minutes.
Sohi: This is going to be a close one. Last year’s series featured just one game that was decided by over 10 points. With neither team having a clear advantage this time around, things should be just as exciting.
5. How deep can the Clippers go in the playoffs?
Foster: Second round. I think Oklahoma City is more vulnerable than most, and stylistically I think it’s a fine matchup for the Clippers. At its core though, Kevin Durant can’t be stopped, and Chris Paul stops himself because it’s in his job description.
Han: The Clippers can have the misfortune of losing to the Grizzlies or go all the way to the Western Conference Finals. And once there, who knows? All the way to the Finals? Their potential is simultaneously infinite and null. All I know for sure is that every game against the Grizzlies will be very, very, very closely contested.
James: I want so badly to say “hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy,” but I just don’t see the Clippers beating the Thunder in the Conference Semis (provided they get by Memphis in the first place). Their only hope is that the detective from the Kevin Durant commercial puts the pieces together and the dunking trial keeps Durant off the floor.
Katz: Sure, they can beat the Grizzlies, but it might be unrealistic to expect the Clips to do anything beyond that. Oklahoma City is good, really good. And on top of that, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are bad matchups for the Clippers from a personel standpoint. The story will probably end by the second round.
Shagrin: The Clippers should scrape by the Grizzlies in the first round by playing hard-nosed defense and aggressive offense. If the shots fall, the Clippers should win. This type of strategy doesn’t quite work against the Thunder, the Clippers’ likely second round opponent. The only defense that stops the Thunder’s well-oiled machine is succinct rotations, which the Clippers lack entirely.
Clippers in 7
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