Clippers vs. Grizzlies: 5 Ways Los Angeles Must Improve to Win This Series

Will Osgood@@BRwillosgoodAnalyst IMay 3, 2012

Clippers vs. Grizzlies: 5 Ways Los Angeles Must Improve to Win This Series

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    As the Los Angeles Clippers head home to the Staples Center after splitting the first two games of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series in Memphis, they have much to consider. 

    In reality they were very fortunate to split the series in Memphis after the grizzlies largely outplayed them in both games. Only a historically amazing comeback (from 27 down at one point) could rescue them from the unwanted fate of being down 2-0 in a seven-game series. 

    Anyone who watched any of the first three quarters can tell you the Clippers did not deserve to win that game. If you only got to see the fourth quarter you missed much of the atrocity displayed by DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and the majority of the Clipper team. 

    Game 2 wasn't much better. It was as if they played the first quarter like the fourth quarter of Game 1, then reverted back to their first three quarters of lackluster play. 

    With all that being said, the Clippers have at least five major adjustments to make before they take the court for their first home playoff game under Vinny Del Negro on Saturday afternoon. 

5. Small Forward Production

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    As I was watching Game 2 on Wednesday night, I was telling a friend, "the Clippers better hope for the quickest healing of a broken hand in the history of the world." The reason of course is that Caron Butler has a broken left hand which will likely keep him out until the Western Conference Finals, should the Clippers even advance that far. 

    In Game 2, Bobby Simmons started in Butler's place with little success. Sure he scored nine points, but recorded only one rebound. Butler averaged close to four a game this past season. But more importantly, Butler does the little things that go unnoticed. 

    He always boxes his guy out to prevent him from getting the offensive rebound. He moves without the ball and makes intelligent offensive plays. And though he'll never be confused for Bruce Bowen, he plays good team defense. Most of those things were dearly missed in the Clippers' lineup on Wednesday night. 

    For my money, in steps Nick Young. Though Young gives up a little size to Bobby Simmons, he makes up for it with his energy and ability to spread the floor on the offensive end. I'll talk about this more later, but the entire Clippers offense would be better if both Young and Randy Foye were on the floor with Chris Paul

    Nick Young is a tough guard for anyone, even the versatile Rudy Gay. Plus Young can at least hang with Gay on the other end. 

4. For Chris Paul, Less Is More

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    In the 37 wins Chris Paul took part in during the regular season, he averaged 9.4 assists per game, which so happens to be 0.3 assists more than his per game average. 

    And in the 23 losses in which he participated, he averaged 8.4 assists per game. Some of his highest assist games took place in losses, but so did most of his lowest assists games. The point is that as a general rule, the Clippers offense is better when Chris Paul is facilitating. 

    That is a rather obvious statement. 

    But even more to the point, Memphis intentionally forced Paul to score more on Wednesday and took away passing lanes and other ways of getting the ball to teammates. Obviously Paul is more than able to score. Truth be told, he could score just about every possession if he wanted to; he's that good. 

    But he knows his team is always going to play better when he's getting others involved. For one of the few times this season, Paul began Game 2 looking for his own shot. Early on the strategy looked to be working, but it was a trap, fool's gold if you like. 

    By the time Paul and the Clippers recognized the trap, Memphis had seized momentum and taken the Clippers' primary scorers out of their comfort zone. The result was a flustered Clippers offense. 

    Fewer shots, especially early on, will force players such as Randy Foye and Nick Young to pick up the slack. But it will also get the entire team into a better rhythm and allow Paul to ease into his role as a scorer. 

    Statistics can be funny, but his 29 points Wednesday night hurt the team, whereas his 14-point, 11-assist effort on Sunday night was more of what the team needed. But even that effort required an amazing comeback. 

    The real answer is some early dime-dropping followed by some late-game scoring heroics, if necessary. That's the Chris Paul that has been effective in this lockout-shortened season. It's the same Chris Paul the Clippers need in this series. 

3. Get Randy Foye Going

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    In his first two playoff games, Randy Foye scored three and six points respectively. For a bench player who was playing 10 or so minutes in a game, that would be a decent contribution. 

    But for a guy who is starting at guard alongside Chris Paul and coming off a month-and-a-half stretch of the best basketball of his career, more can and should be expected from the fifth-year veteran. 

    He's shooting 30 percent, but he's only taken 10 shots in two games. That simply isn't enough. 

    Some of that can be attributed to Memphis' aggressive defense which is keeping the ball out of his hands. But some of it must also be attributed to him not taking good shots. Many of his shots have been rushed and he isn't playing with the same confidence he showed at the end of the regular season. 

    Getting Foye going early on Saturday afternoon ought to be Chris Paul's No. 1 objective. Whether it's finding Foye after a drive-and-kick or getting Foye to the rim off a screen or back-cut, the Clippers' offense needs his involvement in Game 3 and beyond. 

2. Cut Down on Turnovers

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    The Grizzlies have done a great job of creating significant pressure on the basketball. They are trapping, they are helping hard and getting in the passing lanes. 

    All of this has caused the second-best team in the league at not turning the ball over to leak like a siv. In two games the Clippers have turned the ball over 17 and 20 times. That's an average of 18.5 per game. And that's way too many. 

    Crazy enough, the world leader in not turning the ball over, Chris Paul, has turned it over four and five times. 

    To avoid this sudden turnover bug, the Clippers must be quicker with the basketball. Dribbling should be kept to a minimum and passing must be of premium importance. When Memphis traps ball screens, the passer must immediately find the open shooter in the corner and get it to him immediately. 

    Though the Clippers are better when they're getting the ball to the rim, Randy Foye, Nick Young and Mo Williams are the kind of outside shooters who can tear apart this particular Memphis defense. Strong perimeter shooting will keep the possession in favor of the good team and slowly cause the Memphis defense to rest on its heels and play less aggressively. 

    As a result, turnovers will be largely avoided. 

1. Rebound the Ball on the Defensive End

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    In the first two games of the series, the Grizzlies have gained 14 and 16 offensive rebounds, respectively. The Clippers got 13 themselves in the first game, but that same energy was lacking in Game 2 when they obtained only four. 

    This is the area where Caron Butler was very valuable though. Though he didn't grab a ton of boards himself, the guy he was guarding rarely got the rebound. He does a great job of keeping the paint clean and secure. 

    On the other hand, Deandre Jordan is getting worked in this department. Zach Randolph is tearing him apart and Marc Gasol is getting to the glass with regularity as well. 

    It isn't as if the Clippers are physically out-manned or that they are incapable of boarding with these guys; Memphis is simply outworking them. 

    In this case it is less about X's and O's and more about the players on the floor taking their responsibility seriously and deciding they are going to keep Memphis off the offensive glass. If they can only do that, a series win becomes much more attainable.