Experts love to make bold predictions and lavish statements, but how many of them actually are on point?
One thing is for sure, fans should be excited for a rematch of the great series the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers played last season. That was a hard fought seven-game series and many expect this year's opening-round tilt to be more of the same.
After scouring numerous articles on the series, I found plenty of assessments to both agree and disagree with. The common theme is that the Clippers may well win the series, but Memphis is going to push them to the limit.
In a tightly contested game, the team that creates the most easy baskets is likely to win. ESPN’s Jovan Buha discussed why the Clippers speeding up the game could benefit them this series:
Transition opportunities could help the Clippers scramble the Grizzlies’ cohesive defense. Almost every game between these two is decided by a few possessions, so easy baskets can swing a game.
This analysis is spot on. The Clippers are seen as a fast-paced, run-and-gun offensive team. However that is far from the case. According to hoopdata, the Clippers rank 19th in the NBA in pace.
Chris Paul is a methodical point guard, one who is able to break down a defense and penetrate to create open looks for his teammates. Paul prefers to slow down the pace of the game, but against Memphis that works right into the Grizzlies' defensive plans.
Memphis ranks first in points allowed per game, mainly because they slow down the tempo and suffocate teams with their half-court defense. The Clippers have the speed and athleticism to create turnovers which lead to easy transition baskets.
While the Clippers normally play at a slower pace, if they are able to turn over the Grizzlies and speed up the game, Memphis’ game plan goes right into the garbage.
Next, the Clippers’ three-point defense has been abysmal all season, ranking 26th. When discussing the type of strategy the Grizzlies should employ on offense, Andrew Han, from Clipper Blog, lobbied for more long-range shooting:
Shoot more three-pointers. Not only is there evidence to suggest shooting more threes correlates to more wins, but also that the perception of being a middling to poor three-point shooter is actually the equivalent of being an adequate two-point shooter. The mediocre three-point shooting with their Gasol-Randolph inside game would give the Grizzlies the optimum strategy.
But while the Clippers’ perimeter defense is worrisome, the Grizzlies should continue to play to their strengths. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin were unable to slow down Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in last season’s seven-game series.
Furthermore, Memphis finished 23rd in three-point percentage and last in three-point attempts, according to hoopdata. If Memphis is able to beat the Clippers up inside, there will be plenty of open looks from the perimeter. However, Memphis does not need to shoot more threes, but rather play inside out to create a high percentage of open threes. They are likely to have more success by collapsing L.A.'s defense and kicking the ball out than by attempting to swing the ball around the perimeter.
Like the Clippers, Memphis has a very efficient point guard leading the offense. As ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle reports, the point guard play should ultimately decide this series:
This matchup is everything. If Paul beats Conley like a drum, the Clippers will run away with the series. Conley did a great job against Paul in last year's playoffs, holding him to 45.8 percent shooting and forcing 3.6 turnovers per game. During the regular season, Conley struggled against Paul in terms of his shooting (11-for-32) and protecting the ball (six turnovers in one of the meetings). The latter is possibly the biggest factor, as Conley must keep Memphis' turnovers to a minimum and control the tempo. "Lob City" can break out in a hurry.
Paul will also have help defending Conley. Eric Bledsoe gave Conley fits in last season's playoffs, severely limiting the Memphis point guard's offensive impact.
Conley is going to have his hands full, but Paul will as well. Memphis will likely send Tony Allen to defend CP3 as much as possible. Paul has struggled when being defended by long, quick guards, and Tony Allen is exactly that.
The point guard that is the most effective in beating his defender off the dribble will give his team a major advantage in this series.
Finally, which team is going to advance out to the conference semifinals? I could not agree more with CNNSI’s Lee Jenkins:
Clippers in 7. This will be the best series of the first round, with seven close games, and two teams struggling to score. In the end, Paul will make just enough plays to send the Clippers on.
This series is certain to be a battle. Neither team likes the other, and some bad blood has been brewing between players on both sides. Griffin and Randolph got into plenty of shoving matches over the past two seasons, so expect a few more.
In the end, the Clippers are too deep and talented on both sides of the ball to lose this series. Home-court advantage might not be as important as with some of the other series since both teams have shown the ability to win on the road.
Overall, Chris Paul’s ability to control the flow of a game will allow the Clippers to strike from all areas of the floor. Los Angeles has clutch shooters to spread the court, the bigs to match Memphis’ frontcourt size and the talent off the bench to stay fresh and create easy transition baskets.
The Clippers win in seven hard-fought games and advance to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.