2012 NBA Playoff Preview and Predictions: Grizzlies vs. Clippers

Jake WestrichSenior Writer IApril 27, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks on against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on April 25, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

2012 NBA Playoffs" href="http://www.whatifsports.com/nba_playoffs_2012/">WhatIfSports.com Predicts the 2012 NBA Playoffs

Record: 41-25
Analysis: Coming off an exciting playoff run last spring, one that saw the eighth-seeded Grizzlies topple the top-seeded Spurs in the opening series and engage in an epic duel with the Thunder in the conference semifinals, Memphis was pegged as an upstart squad prepared to make the leap into the league's upper echelon in the 2011-12 season. Not only was the franchise's core intact, but star Rudy Gay, who was sidelined during the team's postseason conquest with a shoulder issue, would be returning to the lineup.

Alas, All-NBAer and offensive catalyst Zach Randolph succumbed to a knee injury in the first week of the season, leaving a cavernous hole in the post. As a corollary, the Griz sputtered out of the gate, sitting at a mediocre mark of 14-14 in mid-February.

Yet thanks to the unwavering contributions of Gay (19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds) and stalwart center Marc Gasol (14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks), Memphis righted the ship, winning 20 of their next 29 contests. Aiding the two in this endeavor were efforts from the defensive-minded trio of Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marreese Speights, as well as the sharpshooting of sixth-man O.J. Mayo. With Randolph back in uniform and providing a powerful presence off the bench, the Griz are a dark horse Finals candidate.

Record: 40-26
Analysis: Is it fair for Clippers fans to dream of postseason success when simply making the playoffs was a feat in itself? The franchise is playoff-bound for the first time since 2006 and just the fifth time in the past 36 years. Regardless of the outcome of their first-round matchup with the Grizzlies, the season has to be considered a resounding success for the other team in L.A.

The December trade for Chris Paul instantly transformed the Clippers into a contender. He teamed up with Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups to form a nucleus that ignited the Clippers to a 15-7 start before Billups was lost to a season-ending injury. Without Mr. Big Shot's veteran presence at off-guard, the team struggled to find consistency, losing 14 of their next 25 games. Ignoring calls to dismiss head coach Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers righted the ship and finished the season by winning 14 of their remaining 19 contests. The late-game heroics of Paul will likely determine how far the Clippers are capable of advancing.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Grizzlies 42.9% - Clippers 57.1%