The Memphis Grizzlies have fought hard to get to win the fourth or fifth spot in the Western Conference, as will be determined on Thursday when the Grizzlies play the Orlando Magic. They’ve endured the prolonged absence of Zach Randolph and the season-long loss of Darrell Arthur to an Achilles injury.
Also, they fought through a tough stretch of games in late March and early April, which saw them win two of three in a back-to-back-to-back and then sweep a back-to-back against the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks.
In a few days, the Grizzlies will play in one of the more interesting first-round series, with the team holding the home-court advantage determined by the winner of the Grizzlies-Magic game.
The series between the teams with the two lowest franchise winning percentages will have no shortage of excitement. Blake Griffin and Rudy Gay will surely combine for a great number of highlight reel dunks. Mike Conley and Chris Paul will have a great point guard duel.
Fans will be intrigued to see whether Randolph and Marreese Speights can contain Griffin.
Following is a breakdown of what should be a fun series.
The point guard matchup is extremely intriguing in this series. Both Chris Paul and Mike Conley are top-10 point guards. Paul is unquestionably one of the best point guards in the game, while Conley is a rising point man.
The newcomer in red and blue has turned the Clippers into a solid team with his outstanding play. Paul is one of the most efficient players in the league. He doesn’t turn the ball over too much, committing 2.1 turnovers per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 4.41. Also, his turnover rate is a mere 10.2 percent.
Paul’s assist numbers are impressive. He puts up 9.1 assists per game and has a stellar 43.7 percent assist rate.
Also, Paul drops buckets like few other point guards do. He averages 19.8 points per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range.
Conley doesn’t have quite the numbers that Paul has. He averages 12.9 points per game on 43.6 percent from the field. He shoots a team-leading 37.7 percent from three-point range, one of the few statistical categories where he beats Paul. He turns the ball over only twice per game but has a middling 14.2 percent turnover rate.
His assist numbers (6.6 per game and 30 percent assist rate) just don’t compare to Paul’s. That, along with his turnover rate, is a function of the Grizzlies offense. The overall pace of the Grizzlies offense is somewhat faster than that of the Clippers. Also, the Grizzlies run in transition more often than the Clippers.
Thus, Conley makes more high-risk passes and takes more chances with the ball. Some may wonder if Paul will take advantage of Conley’s risk-taking, considering that Paul averages a league-leading 2.5 steals per game.
This will be a close matchup and fans will see the two going at it a great deal, since both play more than 35 minutes per game. Some may say that Paul easily wins the matchup, but Conley may take an advantage if the Grizzlies are able to play the kind of transition offense they want to play.
Blake Griffin is a ruthless player. He stays at home in the post and buries shots at close range. Additionally, he dunks a bunch (195 dunks, according to CBSSports.com), amounting 35 percent of his field goals made on dunks.
Zach Randolph and Marreese Speights will have their work cut out for them in the matchup against Griffin. They’ll share the defensive duty, as Speights will likely start while Randolph will play a few more minutes than Speights. Both are good defenders. Randolph allows 101 points per 100 possessions and has one win share, while Speights has 1.7 win shares.
Randolph and Speights are both solid defensive rebounders. Randolph pulls down 7.2 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes while holding a 23.5 percent defensive rebounding rate. Speights pulls down 6.5 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes to go with a 21.8 defensive rebounding rate.
Both are strong, tough players who can stand their ground in the post. The key for them is to keep Griffin in front of them. If they can do that, they’ll keep Griffin to a low shooting percentage and win the matchup.
O.J. Mayo has been the only bench player to figure as a reliable scoring threat the whole season. He averages 12.6 points in 26.8 minutes per game. While he only shoots 40.6 percent from the field, Mayo forces his way to substantial scoring figures, as he puts up 15 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes.
Mayo has come up big on occasion. In a March 11 overtime win against the Denver Nuggets, Mayo scored 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Clippers will have to key in on Mayo when he’s on the floor. If they don’t stick to him, then he’ll become even more aggressive and pile up more points.
Mo Williams is still fighting to retain relevance a couple years after losing the distinction as LeBron James’ point guard. Williams has found a nice role with the Clippers as a scorer off the bench. He averages 13.3 points in 28.3 minutes per game.
He scores more efficiently than O.J. Mayo, hitting 42.6 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free-throw line (compared to 76.8 percent for Mayo).
Like Mayo, Williams likes having the ball. Williams also takes 1.49 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes. Williams has a 22.9 percent usage rate, showing just how much he likes to touch the ball.
Williams isn’t too turnover prone, but he’ll cough it up. He averages 2.1 turnovers per 36 minutes and has a 11.7 percent turnover rate. Grizzlies players will likely be hawking him to see if they can steal the ball from him.
Lionel Hollins has a strong coaching advantage over Vinny Del Negro. Del Negro doesn’t have much more experience than Hollins as a head coach. While Hollins has two fewer years as a head coach than Del Negro, he had a few stints as interim head coach beforehand.
Also, Hollins’ total coaching experience dwarfs that of Del Negro, who never coached before starting with the Chicago Bulls four years ago. Hollins served as an assistant for almost a decade before taking over with the Grizzlies.
Hollins is the exact opposite of Del Negro as a coach. Hollins enables player creativity, maximizes player output and is a masterful manager. He adds depth by having a defensive specialist in Tony Allen start ahead of a scorer in O.J. Mayo, as well as a rebounder in Marreese Speights ahead of an all-around threat in Zach Randolph.
He’s also a masterful manager. The Grizzlies faced almost no drama this season through Randolph’s time on the bench and the Mayo trade rumors. He’s seen players like Marc Gasol, Speights, Mike Conley and Dante Cunningham elevate their games this season.
Meanwhile, Del Negro is none of that. He doesn’t direct players well. He faced the possibility of being fired this season because players didn’t buy into his system. When he coached the Bulls, players tended to drag out personal issues in the locker room.
He’s more known for holding players back than developing them. He tends to confine Chris Paul in the offense. This is the same coach who hindered the development of Derrick Rose when he coached the Bulls.
Personality of the coaches plays a role in the makeup of these two teams. If Hollins took a Meyers-Briggs personality test, he would probably test as a “J” because he’s such a direct coach. He demands a great deal from his players and calls them to be unselfish. He concerns himself with what he has on his roster, rather than what the team’s missing.
Del Negro is a freewheeling personality. He lets personalities on his team loose. His style isn’t as demanding as that of Hollins.
Whereas the Grizzlies rally around a team purpose, the Clippers form a collection of individual personalities. The way the two teams differ in character is a reflection of the differences in the two coaches.
Prediction: Grizzlies win in five games
The Grizzlies will come out more aggressive than the Clippers. They’ve been labeled dark horses in the playoffs, despite pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder to the limit in last year’s Western Conference semifinals. This likely has put a chip on their collective shoulder.
While the Clippers run the fourth slowest-paced offense and commit the second-fewest turnovers, the Grizzlies will be able to force turnovers and turn on the transition game. Tony Allen will be watchful of the passing lanes. Marreese Speights and Zach Randolph will grind down on Blake Griffin, reducing his impact on games.
On the other end, the Grizzlies will dominate on the inside. Marc Gasol will score plenty of points, ousting DeAndre Jordan in a matchup of two stout big men. Jordan is strong, but Gasol will show his advantages in basketball IQ and experience. Similarly, Randolph will use his guile and moves to expose Griffin’s defensive weakness.
Paul should have a good series, scoring a fair amount. However, disconnectedness among Clippers players will show, bogging down their attack.
The Grizzlies will be the more cohesive unit, rallying no matter which team has the home-court advantage.