2012 NBA Playoffs: Caron Butler the Key to Memphis vs. L.A. Clippers Series

Marc RubinContributor IIIApril 29, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 16:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots over Caron Butler #5 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.    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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Caron Butler has endured a "Jekyll vs. Hyde" regular season as his splits are markedly different in the team's wins versus its losses.

In the wins he has shot 42.6 percent and produced a 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio.

In the losses he has shot 37.9 percent and averaged a 0.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

One can see this performance disparity and its effect on the team in the Clippers' three games against Memphis this past year. Butler played wonderfully in their two wins January 26th and March 24th, each time shooting six for 11 from the field. The first game was highlighted by his hitting three three-pointers and the latter by his garnering seven rebounds in only 28 minutes.

Yet, in the Clippers' loss to Memphis, he suffered a five-point, two-rebound night on a pedestrian two of seven shooting. In that game, Butler was overwhelmed by emerging Grizzlies center Marc Gasol and Memphis' own enigma, Zach Randolph (more on Randolph later).

Butler did have a wonderful 15-game stretch March 24th through April 18th where he shot 46.0 percent and propelled the Clippers to a 13-2 record. The Clippers know they will get great play from stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul; I believe whether they advance or not depends on the production they get out of Butler.

Memphis' destiny is even more centered on the play of one guy, Randolph. He returned from a partial MCL tear in his knee to play the last 28 games of the regular season. Memphis brought him along slowly as he averaged just 26.3 minutes per game; this is a guy who previously had eight consecutive years averaging 32.5 minutes or more per game.

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 23:  Zach Randolph #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots the ball during the NBA game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at FedExForum on April 23, 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
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And Randolph's production evolved. In his first nine games, he secured 11 or more rebounds only once; in the remaining 19 games, he did so eight times.

As of March 24th, nine games into Randolph's return, the Grizzlies stood 26-21 for a 55.3 win percentage, stuck in a playoff dogfight in the tough Western Conference. Those last 19 games of the season, however, Memphis rolled to a 15-4 record for a 79.0 win percentage. 

In that April 9th Memphis win over the Clippers, it was Randolph's 12 rebounds that spurred the Grizzlies to a 48-36 rebounding edge after the first two games were evenly contested on the boards.

So, in my opinion, the series boils down to which highly esteemed veteran, Caron Butler or Zach Randolph, can play to their one-time All-Star standards.

What makes the matchup so fascinating is that the last five weeks of the season suggest both are ready to do so. If that is the case, whatever team emerges from this series may well be a " dark horse" contender down the road.