Apr 9, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) during the second half at the FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 94-85. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Round 1 Preview: Clippers vs Grizzlies

So the Clippers lost their hold on the 4th seed in the conference and slipped down to the 5th seed where they lose home-court advantage against their 1st round opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies.  They are going up against a team that I believe is capable of beating anyone in the Western Conference.  No team wants to face the Grizzlies in the 1st round, unfortunately for the Clippers, they have no choice.  When analyzing how 2 teams match-up against each other in the NBA, there are 6 seemingly basic, but important areas that I like to compare and dissect.  I’m going to take a look at the starting lineups for both teams, position by position, then move on to their bench to see who has the better second unit.  First things first…

Point Guard Match-Up:  

An interesting side-note between these two players: Chris Paul led the league in steals this season with 2.5 a game, Mike Conley was 2nd in the league with 2.2.  Expect to see a handful of forced turnovers from both players in this series.  Although Conley is a good player, this match-up is a little one-sided.  Chris Paul is one of the big-name stars highlighting this series.  He is a top-5 MVP candidate this season and is a crunch-time hero that comes through for his team on what seems like a nightly-basis.  He’s received some criticism this season from analysts who think he plays on cruise-control for the first 3 quarters of games in order to save his energy (and body)  for the 4th quarter.  It does seem like there is some truth to that theory but we all remember what he did in last years playoffs against the Lakers (22 points, 6.7 rebounds, 11.5 assists), forcing mismatches and running circles around big-men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.  There is no doubt in my mind that he will turn his game up a notch as soon as the ball goes in the air in Game 1 of this series.  His ability to control every second of the game will be a huge factor in this series.  Advantage: Clippers

Shooting Guard Match-Up:

This is a tricky one.  Tony Allen is a defensive-minded stopper, while Randy Foye is primarily an offensive-minded shooter.  I happen to think Allen is the best 1-on-1 wing defender in the entire league, he’s going to make life very hard for Chris Paul when Lionel Hollins inevitably assigns him with that defensive task.  The guy averages 1.8 steals in less than 30 minutes a game, that equates to 3.3 steals a game per 48 minutes of playing time!  He’s going to play hard every minute he’s in the game.  Now for the Clippers, you have a guy that’s been a knock-down 3-point shooter all season long, and is capable of exploding for 20 or more points a game, we’ve seen it happen several times this season.  He’s averaging 15 points in his last 5 games, while shooting 45% on 3-pointers.  As great as Tony Allen is on defense, he gives his team almost nothing on offense.  Advantage: Draw

Small Forward Match-Up:

This debate would be a lot more interesting if this was the Caron Butler from two seasons ago, or even the one from last year with the Dallas Mavericks.  He has played like an average player this season, he can help space the floor and provide some shooting but he hasn’t done much else for this team this season.  The Grizzlies have Rudy Gay, an above average player at his position who will get them 20 points a game, some rebounds, and will use his long arms to play the passing lanes.  This Memphis team went on a run in last years Playoffs without him and the question around the league was, would they have been better or worse if they had Rudy Gay last year.  Because without him, the Grizzlies concentrated their offense on pounding the ball inside with their big-men and dominating the paint.  This will be the first post-season appearance of Rudy Gay’s career, we’ll see how far Memphis goes this year now that they have all their core players available.  Advantage: Grizzlies

Power Forward Match-Up:

Blake Griffin’s first taste of the Playoffs.  He wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Chris Paul.  I’m curious to see how well he plays.  I already know he’s going to play hard every minute, grab rebounds, throw down some vicious dunks, and also brick some key free-throws.  That’s the biggest problem with Blake Griffin.  It’s like the complete opposite of what Chris Paul gets criticized for.  Paul takes it easy for 3 quarters then goes into beast mode in the 4th, Blake goes hard for 3 quarters then disappears in the 4th because his free throw shooting becomes a liability.  His team can’t throw him the ball late in games to try and get a bucket, which puts all the pressure on Chris Paul to execute.  Marreese Speights matches Blake pound-for-pound and will provide the Grizzlies with energy and a couple easy buckets, if Zach Randolph was their starting power forward this would be a different discussion, but since he isn’t this category is a no-brainer.  Advantage: Clippers

Center Match-Up:

DeAndre Jordan is still relatively the same player he was last season.  I’ve seen him go into the post confidently and perform quick low-post moves several times this season.  I’d like to see him develop some more post-moves for next season.  For now he’s still an athletic guy who can protect the rim, get easy dunks, and grab some rebounds.  But he’s going up against a guy that can do so much more.  Marc Gasol is so versatile, and so consistent, he can affect the game in so many different ways, much like his brother Pau.  He can post-up his defender or spread the floor a little and knock down mid-range shots.  If he isn’t scoring, he’s rebounding and blocking shots, and on top of that he’s the best Center in the league when it comes to passing.  If I was starting a team right now, forget Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, even if his numbers aren’t as gaudy as the aforementioned players, I’d take Marc Gasol, I just love his skill set.  Advantage: Grizzlies

Bench Match-Up:

The Clippers bench has the ability to be explosive on any given night.  They have their own mini-version of Jason Terry in Mo Williams, and a guy who has the ability to get a hot streak going in Nick Young, along with their spark plug Eric Bledsoe.  Plus their big-men Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans bring defense, physicality, and energy every time they enter the game.  The Grizzlies decided to make Zach Randolph a part of their bench unit which I think is a very smart move by Lionel Hollins.  There is almost no drop-off when the Grizzlies starters go out of the game and their bench comes in.  O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph are both starters in this league.  They also have Gilbert Arenas, who isn’t the scorer he used to be, but whatever he can give them is a plus.  What separates the Grizzlies bench from the Clippers bench is the fact that you know what you’re getting from them.  We’ve seen it all season, they always show up with energy and they will punish you.  The Clippers bench is different, they’re basically a bunch of guys taking turns shooting 3-pointers, and when those shots are going in, its great, but when they aren’t, you aren’t getting much else from them.  Advantage: Grizzlies

So if you’re keeping score, the Grizzlies have a 3-2 advantage in the above categories.  This series is going to be close, in order for the Clippers to beat this team, it’s going to take the brilliance of Chris Paul and his mastery of the point guard position.

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