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Can Clippers Best Grizzlies’ Defense?
Posted By Eric Pincus On April 2, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
Last year, the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in a hard-fought seven-game series. It took a late scoring burst from Kenyon Martin in Game 7 for the Clippers to overtake the Grizzlies, but they were able to advance. From there, Los Angeles was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semifinals.
The Clippers are currently seeded fourth in the Western Conference at 49-26 and the Grizzlies are currently seeded fifth at 50-24. Even though Memphis is the lower seed, the Grizzlies would have home court advantage in the first round since they hold the better record.
If these two meet in the playoffs again, this year’s series will look very different because both teams have made significant changes. Memphis traded away high-scoring forward Rudy Gay for veteran defender Tayshaun Prince. Los Angeles replaced Martin with Lamar Odom and Mo Williams with Jamal Crawford.
A rematch would be another lengthy battle, but the Clippers may have trouble repeating history.
The Case for Los Angeles
Along the way, the Clippers won on the road against the Utah Jazz (twice), Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. At home, they defeated teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and Jazz (a third time).
Throughout the year, the Clippers have wins against the San Antonio Spurs, Miami HEAT, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
The Clippers have beaten the Grizzlies twice, once in Los Angeles and once in Memphis. However, the Grizzlies won recently in L.A.
If the Grizzlies face the Clippers in the postseason, they’ll need to deal with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and the Clippers’ depth (Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, etc.).
L.A. has a strong mix of size, speed, experience and athleticism. The Clippers average 100.6 points a game while playing defense at a respectable level (94.5 points against).
Paul is arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Griffin is explosive. Crawford is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year. Bledsoe is a disruptive defender who can score while coming off the bench.
The Grizzlies are a defensive force, holding teams to just 90 points a game but can they generate enough offense against the Clippers? Memphis scores just 93.8 points a night, which is worst in the Western Conference.
It’s unclear if Chauncey Billups will be able to return in time for the first round after suffering a groin injury. If he can make it back, he adds another playoff-tested veteran capable of hitting big shots.
The Case for Memphis
The Grizzlies are a mean defensive squad. Prince adds championship-level defense at the three spot next to ball-hawking guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen. Inside, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are a powerful tandem.
Memphis doesn’t have tremendous depth but players like Darrell Arthur, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and Ed Davis can provide support to the starters. The key for the Grizzlies is their defense. They rely on holding teams down.
With Prince replacing Gay, the Grizzlies even more stifling than they were a year ago against the Clippers – with the combination of size and bulk inside flanked by tremendous individual defenders on the perimeter.
Los Angeles hasn’t been the same since their winning streak. Billups hasn’t been healthy. Grant Hill isn’t expected back from a knee injury. The Clippers haven’t had the same on-court chemistry as they did earlier in the year.
Better defensive squads have been able to send help against Paul, forcing him to give up the ball. Players like Crawford and Barnes have come through at times for the Clippers, but have also struggled in that role.
In the Grizzlies’ 96-85 win over the Clippers in Los Angeles, Crawford hit just 1-10 from the field.
Gasol is a difficult cover for Clippers center Jordan. Gasol scored 21 points on 10-14 shooting to lead the Grizzlies to the win at STAPLES Center.
When the Clippers defeated the Grizzlies last year, players like Nick Young, Reggie Evans and Martin made major contributions. They are no longer on the roster, and Odom has been inconsistent for the Clippers. Not only that, he isn’t as physical a defender as Evans or Martin (despite greater championship experience).
The Clippers team that rolled through the league to finish out 2012 just hasn’t existed in 2013. The Grizzlies may have a real opportunity to take advantage of an L.A. team still searching for consistency.
The Clippers at their best can beat the Grizzlies. Memphis just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up while holding Chris Paul down for four games out of seven.
The catch is, the Clippers haven’t been at their best for months now.
Since February 8, the Grizzlies have won 20 of 26 games (76.9 percent). Over that same stretch, the Clippers have won just 14 of 24 (58.3 percent).
If the Grizzlies draw the Clippers with home-court advantage, they’re going to make anyone but Paul beat them by pressuring the ball, sending help on the pick-and-roll and closing off the paint.
It’s going to be up to Crawford, Barnes and other perimeter players to make shots with players like Prince and Allen closing out.
Without Gay, Memphis will continue to focus more on punishing the Clippers inside. It won’t be an easy series for either team, but with home court and suffocating defense, the Grizzlies will bring an edge they didn’t have a year ago.
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