Mar 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) and Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) battle for the ball at the Staples Center. The Grizzlies defeated the Clippers 96-85. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Previewing The Grizzlies/Clippers Matchup

Tonight, the NBA playoffs finally begin, and in the final game of the tonight, the Memphis Grizzlies will face the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staplces Center. Going into the playoffs, the hype for this series has been intense, as many expect it to be the closests eries of tghe opening round. This makes sense, considering the two teams finished with identical records of 56-26, and last year they met each other in a brutally close series, which the Clippers would wind up winning in seven games.

This series could very well be just as close as last year’s was, as the Grizzlies and Clippers have proven to be very evenly matched. While the Clippers took the season series three games to one, every game was close, and the first Clippers victory came on opening night, when the Grizzlies lineup looked considerably different than it does now. In this series we can likely expect a lot games that go right down to the wire, and it may come down to which team is better equipped to come through in clutch situations.

This is why Chris Paul represents a clear and present danger for Memphis. he’s one of the five or so best players in the NBA, and he’s the sort of player who has no toruble being The Guy. He ca hit key shots in the final minutes of games, and his ridiculous passing abilities make him just as likely to set up one of his teammates for an easy game-winning shot as well. The one reason CP3 might not seem so scary is that like any other elite players, he tends struggle against the mighty Grizzlies defense. While the Clippers were victorious over Memphis in last Saturday’s matchup, Paul was rendered mortal by the tight defense of Tony Allen and Mike Conley. Against weaker opponents  Paul is able to set up easy jumpers, and drain shots of his own with ease. Against the Grizzlies, he had to work relentlessly for every bucket he scored or created. For the Grizzlies to win, they need to continue to make life miserable for Paul. if he gets in his comfort zone, he can put a lot of points on the board in quick succession.

In the front court, a thoroughly entertaining duel is shaping up between the terrifying two somes of Z-Bo and marc, and DJ and Blake. If the Grizzlies have the best front court in the NBA, the Clippers have the most athletic. Watching these pairs go to war against each other will be immensely entertaining regardless of where your allegiances lie. Marc Gasol has had a brilliant offensive season, and is the favorite to win Defensive Player Of The Year. This means he’s one of the few defensive centers who is capable of handling the athletic prowess of DeAndre  Jordan. Jordan has a somewhat limited offensive game, but his thunderous dunks are extremely difficult to defend – just ask Brandon Knight (assuming he has a pulse).  Gasol is the rare player with a strong enough defensive presence to be able to bang bodies with Jordan. This is also why the Grizzlies desperately need Gasol to stay out of foul trouble. In Saturday’s loss to the Clips, Gasol picked up two quick fouls, and spent the majority of the first half on the bench. Jordan did not hesitate to capitalize o this opportunity, as he would hit eight field goals in the first half.  When Gasol returned in the second half, Jordan was basically absent from the Clippers offensive sets. Basically, what Jordan is able to do might depend entirely on whether Gasol can stay on the court. He’s a one-dimensional player, and Gasol has the presence to render him ineffective. If Darrell Arthur or Ed Davis is tasked with the job of stopping Jordan, they will likely struggle a great deal.

Meanwhile, we get another interesting position battle between Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph, whoa re basically polar opposites. Z-Bo has never been a particular athletic player – his inability to get especially high off the ground has been noted/joked about for years, while Blake Griffin is probably the most athletic power forward in the game, and he once managed to dunk over a car (JaVale should have won, but still, it was pretty cool).  What Z-Bo lacks in athleticism  he makes up for an both intelligence and relentlessness. No power forward in the NBA is better at grabbing rebounds, and tipping in missed shots. That’s Z-Bo’s biggest contribution to the Grizzlies; his ability to get the an extra two points in what would have otherwise been a  lost possession.  This matchup will be  a battle of experience and toughness versus pure athletic ability. Griffin has refined his game considerably since his rookie season, but he still lacks the instincts of a player like Randolph, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Will Blake be throwing monster jams left and right, or will Z-Bo’s skill in the post guide the Grizzlies to victory? This will be an excellent match-up to watch.

The Clippers have the luxury of bringing an especially deadly weapon off the bench in Jamal Crawford. While Crawford is not a strong defender he makes up for that by being, well, damn near impossible to defend, His crossover is the stuff of legend around the league, and when he gets hot, he is extremely effective from the three point line. There will likely be a lot of time in this game when Allen is asked to defend Crawford (although Tayshaun Prince would be up to the task as well). The Allen-Crawford match-up would be yet another dual of polar opposites – Crawford is an all-offense/no-defense player, and while Tony Allen is certain capable of doing some things in the offensive end, the vast majority of his value is derived from his defensive prowess. If Allen can keep Crawford from busting out crossover, and get in his face when he puts up threes, the Grizzlies have a good shot. Crawford can be the deciding factor in close games, and Allen will have to do his best to not let that happen.

This will be a hard-fought extremely close series, and like last year, it will likely require all seven games to be resolved. This time, however, I think the Grizzlies will emerge victorious. They’re a better team than they were last year, and they’ve worked too hard to suffer the disappointment of another first round loss. It won’t be easy, but they’ll just barely be able to fight their way past CP3, Blake, the Clips, winning their second series, and making this a true rivalry once and for all.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 7


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