Tonight the Memphis Grizzlies will host the team that ended their season last year in one of the most thrilling first round series we’ve ever seen.
A year filled with promise and dreams of at least a trip to the Western Conference Finals was cut short in seven games at the hands of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The Grizzlies had their chance at redemption on opening day when they traveled to Los Angeles, but once again, they fell as the latest Clipper addition Jamal Crawford beat them up for 29 points.
Beating the Clippers has only gotten more difficult this season as they did what Memphis failed to do in the offseason, deepen their bench. This game comes at a time when Memphis is widely considered to be shopping Rudy Gay in order to address their bench issues, while Los Angeles has one of the best and deepest benches in the league.
The Grizzlies come into the game fresh off a divisional back-to-back which saw them beat San Antonio, but fall to the lowly Mavericks the following night. They now head home for a fresh rematch against the Clippers who are 3-3 since their unbelievable 17 game winning streak in December game to an end with the New Year.
The Clippers present such a significant problem for the Grizzlies because they are strong in the same areas that make the Grizzlies who they are, and are even stronger in the areas that Memphis is somewhat weak.
THE FRONT COURT
Many teams around the league struggle to deal with Memphis’ size with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, the Clippers have their own power dunking, shot blocking and steady rebounding duo. Los Angeles is third in the league in points in the paint, while Memphis ranks seventh. The athleticism of Griffin and Jordan presents a significant challenge for the crafty Grizzlies pair.
Rudy Gay is the best athlete in Memphis’ lineup, but against Los Angeles he is faced up against Caron Butler, a formidable defender and solid perimeter shooter himself. This match up is one area the Grizzlies have an advantage, but with Gay shooting a career worst 41% from the field, whether or not Memphis can exploit it is another matter.
Rebounding is also an area of the game that Memphis can exploit. They are seventh in the league in rebounding while Los Angeles is eighteenth. A key to whether or not the Grizzlies can squeeze a victory out of the team that cut short the season in which they were supposed to realize their potential last year is going to be whether or not they can affect the Clippers ability to shoot a high percentage. Due to their high amount of dunks, Los Angeles has the fourth best shooting percentage of any team in the league. Memphis will have to keep Griffin and Jordan from getting to the rim so easily and drag them down into a low percentage shot contest rather than try to match their efforts. Memphis is 22nd in the NBA in shooting percentage.
THE BACK COURT
Neither team possesses a shooting guard that is particularly important until Jamal Crawford enters the game to replace Willie Green. The key back court difference between these two teams is the playmaking ability of the man starting at the point.
On a given day, Mike Conley is one of the best defensive point guards around averaging 2.4 steals per game, but he is no match for a playmaker like Chris Paul. Very rarely does the former Hornet make a mistake that could cost his team the game and down the stretch is one of the finest clutch shooters around.
This is also an area where the Clippers have a distinct advantage because of their bench. Memphis’ back court second line of Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington has been inconsistent, while the Clippers have been able to rely on Eric Bledsoe and Crawford to provide plenty of scoring.
Memphis’ status as the second best defensive team in the league will be put to the test in this one, but with home court advantage on their side, look for Lionel Hollins to expect his team to put their stamp on the game. The Clippers are the fourth best fast break team in the league, so Memphis should look to slow the game down and eliminate the amount of lobs thrown to Jordan and Griffin. If they can do that and shoot better than 45 percent, the Grizzlies will prove that they have what it takes to beat the second best team in the league.
Final score: Memphis 97 Los Angeles 91