The Memphis Grizzlies are getting closer to the end of the regular season and their position for the playoffs is becoming clearer. With a 91-84 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, the Grizzlies cut the deficit between them and the Los Angeles Clippers to two games.
However, the Grizzlies would have to win three more games than the Clippers to take the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference since the Clippers have the head-to-head tiebreaker. The same goes with the Los Angeles Lakers, which the Grizzlies trail by 2.5 games for the No. 3 spot.
The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks, which trail the Grizzlies by two and two-and-a-half games respectively, would have to fare three games better than the Grizzlies to finish in order to overtake them for fifth place. That’s because the Grizzlies have the head-to-head tiebreaker on both teams.
Thus, it’s unlikely the Grizzlies will change position in the final stretch of the regular season.
With the Clippers and Lakers a half game apart, that’s the most likely position switch that would affect the Grizzlies as far as the first round of the playoffs are concerned.
The following is a brief look at how the Grizzlies match up against each team.
Grizzlies vs. Clippers
Matchup to Watch: Marreese Speights and Zach Randolph vs. Blake Griffin
Griffin is widely regarded as a force to be reckoned with in the post. He’ll throw down dunks and grab rebounds.
But, that’s about all he does. He doesn’t face up defenders or play effectively without the ball. Also, he isn’t an effective all-around defender.
Would the Grizzlies beat the Clippers if they met in the first round of the playoffs?
While he shoots 54.4 percent from the field, Griffin’s true shooting percentage (58.3 percent) is dismal since he doesn’t hit free throws or hit shots from the outside.
His rebounding rates (10.4 percent ORB, 25.5 percent DRB, 17.2 percent TRB) are human because he’s not a powerful rebounder, despite pulling down 10.9 rebounds per game.
Speights and Randolph would expose Griffin in a best-of-seven series. They’d beat Griffin numerous times on the boards, especially Randolph, since he’s among the most dominant rebounders in the game. Speights would be able to stretch out for easy jump shots. Randolph would break Griffin down with his athleticism and ability to turn off pick-and-rolls.
Griffin would be hard-pressed to keep up with Randolph on either end, especially since Randolph should be 100 percent by playoff time.
Burning Question for the Grizzlies: Can they escape from Chris Paul to go in transition?
One of the key aspects of the Grizzlies' game is the transition play. The Grizzlies like to get steals and break out in transition. Mike Conley or Tony Allen will make a steal, an outlet pass will be made and it’ll be seconds before someone throws down a highlight-reel dunk. To see the Grizzlies put up 20 points in a game in that fashion isn’t uncommon.
Now, the question is whether Paul, one of the most adept point guards in the NBA, would let Conley and Allen get the best of him. Paul is one of the most efficient players in the league. His 3.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is amazing. His 2.1 turnovers per game is a pretty modest figure for a point guard.
Would the Grizzlies be able to force enough turnovers to run their transition game against the Clippers?
Paul will likely tighten things up in the playoffs. The Clippers, which run at the third-slowest pace in the league (89.1), will likely go even slower in the playoffs. This could cut off some opportunities to force turnovers.
If Conley and Allen want to get steals, they’d have to be extra attentive while tracking Paul.
Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Matchup to Watch: Marc Gasol vs. Andrew Bynum
This matchup pits two emerging centers against each other. Each made his first All-Star appearance this year and is averaging career highs in scoring and assists. Bynum appears healthy, while Gasol is currently battling through a bone bruise in his right knee. Gasol should be good by the time the playoffs start.
The battle on the boards will be interesting to watch. Both are strong rebounders. Bynum’s 12.2 rebounds per game are unquestionable. Gasol had averaged 10 per game most of the year, but is now down to 9.5 per game.
Bynum is also significantly more proficient on offense. He averages a few more points per game and shoots eight percent better from the field. Gasol’s home-road splits are vast, as he shoots five percent better at home. The Lakers’ home-court advantage should give Bynum an extra advantage in this matchup.
Burning question for Grizzlies: How will the Grizzlies stop Kobe Bryant?
The optimal way to keep Bryant from tearing a team apart is to keep him from shooting. However, that's not always easy to ensure. Bryant takes 23.2 field-goal attempts per game, and he's taken at least 15 shots in every game this season.
The Grizzlies could double-team Bryant, but that might make him work harder for shots. Then, they could try to cut off his side of the court, forcing him to take 30 misguided shots in a game. They'd put two guys on him, one on the nearest player and another player in a key passing lane. This might force him into taking a bad shot.
Even at age 33 and struggling through injuries, Bryant is difficult to defend. He'll push defenses incredibly hard. The Grizzlies would have to stay on their toes to contain him. If they can hold him to poor shooting marks, they just might get past the Lakers.