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Clippers looking to take down the Grizzlies!
For the second season in a row the Clippers and Grizzlies are meeting in perhaps the most intriguing first round NBA Playoffs series. The two clubs treated fans to one of the hardest fought and most competitive series in last year's playoffs. The Clippers prevailed in seven games with a ten-point road victory in Memphis to seal the series. This year the Clippers have home court advantage and the benefit of hosting the first two games at STAPLES Center.
The Clippers had the upper hand in the season series between the two teams this year, winning three of four including both games in Memphis. The Clippers victories followed a familiar script, with consistent play from Blake Griffin and Chris Paul and a dominant performance by the Clippers superior bench. In the three Clippers victories the Grizzlies bench unit was consistently outplayed by the Clippers reserves. The game within the game during the series will be how the Clippers athleticism can counter the Grizzlies tremendous size and bulk inside. In an era when many NBA clubs are going to more of a "small ball" approach the Grizzlies leverage the post play and passing skills of their two big men, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Both players are extremely adept at scoring in the past and passing out of double teams or the high post. By virtue of the Rudy Gay trade the Grizzlies have gotten even bigger inside and improved their overall team defense with the acquisition of Tayshaun Prince. Prince combines with defensive stopper Tony Allen and the underrated Gasol to form one of the best overall team defenses in basketball. As a result the Grizzlies have the stingiest team defense in the NBA.
The Clippers will counter the Grizzlies size with the most athletic interior combo in the league in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Both players thrive on the break and in odd number situations. These opportunities will be less prevalent versus the Grizzlies who play a very deliberate half court game that emphasizes reducing fast break opportunities. The key for the Clippers will be Chris Paul who should have a significant advantage over Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. Conley is lightning quick and strong defensively but is also undersized. Paul's playoff experience and overall ability to score from the point guard position should be the difference-maker in the series.
The coaching matchup will receive a lot of attention from the NBA pundits. Vinny Del Negro has led the Clippers to back to back outstanding seasons but still is often criticized by many for his in-game decision making and how he manages his rotation. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins is considered by many as a dark horse Coach of the Year candidate for the manner he's handled the Grizzlies club. He gets maximum effort out of his team, especially on the defensive end. The key for Del Negro versus Hollins will be how Vinny uses his bench in the playoffs. NBA playoff basketball is often very different than regular season basketball. The defensive intensity ratchets up several notches and each possession take on increased importance. How Del Negro manages is bench players will be interesting to see. The Clippers rode their outstanding bench to great heights this season but that rotation is likely to change in the playoffs. If the Clippers can still get strong bench play, even at reduced minutes, they should have the edge versus Memphis.
Prediction: Clippers in 6.
By: Chris Michaels