Will this be the year the Los Angeles Clippers get over the hump and make a run to the NBA Finals?
The road to do so won't be easy, as the team opens with the No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. If the Clippers survive that matchup, they would likely face the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals.
Yet there are plenty of reasons for optimism in L.A. The team comes into the playoffs having won seven straight. The Clippers also finished 3-1 against the Grizzlies in the regular season, and Lob City has one of the deepest benches in the NBA, always a plus in the postseason.
Five players (Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler and Matt Barnes) average double-digit points per game. In Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins, the Clippers have the players on the block to do battle with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Plus, the Clippers have the best player on the court in Paul, who had another excellent season, averaging 16.9 points, 9.7 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Paul alone is worth a win or two for the Clippers in this matchup.
Still, Memphis is a tough matchup. There's no two ways about it. The team finished 9-2 down the stretch, Gasol and Randolph are a handful down low and, like the Clippers, the Grizzlies are very balanced.
But if the Grizzlies are going to have success in the postseason, it will be behind their defense. Memphis allowed the fewest points in the NBA this season (89.3 points per game). Memphis isn't going to outscore most foes, that's for sure, but they won't give up many easy buckets, either.
Let's take a closer look at the Clippers heading into this key matchup.
Schedule and Television Info
|No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies|
|1||Saturday, April 20 ||10:30 p.m. ET||Clippers||ESPN|
|2||Monday, April 22||10:30 p.m. ET||Clippers||TNT|
|3||Thursday, April 25||9:30 p.m. ET||Grizzlies||TNT|
|4||Saturday, April 27||4:30 p.m. ET||Grizzlies||TNT|
|5 (if necessary)||Tuesday, April 30||TBD||Clippers||TBD|
|6 (if necessary)||Friday, May 3||TBD||Grizzlies||TBD|
|7 (if necessary)||Sunday, May 5||TBD||Clippers||TBD|
Key Player: Chris Paul, PG
Paul is this team's engine, no doubt, and is the league's finest point guard. When the Clippers need a big shot, they turn to Paul. When the offense stalls, Paul finds a way to involve his teammates or exploit the defense's weakness. You could make the argument that the Clippers are too reliant on Paul, but in the postseason, he'll have to be the team's horse.
The Clippers are a deep team and a lot of fun to watch, but their success begins and ends with the play of CP3.
Key Matchup: Slowing Down Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph
The pair of Gasol and Randolph averages 29.5 points, 19.0 rebounds and 2.15 blocks per game. If they control the game down low, the Grizzlies are very tough to beat.
Really, the only way Memphis could win this series is if Gasol and Randolph are double-double machines, the defense frustrates L.A. and a perimeter player for Memphis has a huge series. With Rudy Gay no longer in Memphis, the team lacks a true go-to scorer.
Jordan and Griffin will have their work cut out for them down low, that's for sure. If they get beat up and Memphis is able to crash the offensive glass and create second-chance opportunities, the Grizzlies will grind out a win in this series.
If this series gets ugly, scrappy and turns into a rebounding and defensive battle, Memphis will win. If the Clippers are able to run their offense, can come at the Grizzlies in waves with a slew of options off the bench and we see vintage CP3, the Clippers will win.
But here's the thing—the defense of Lob City is underrated, as the team allowed just 94.6 points per game this season, fourth in the NBA. The Grizzlies have enough problems scoring (93.4 points per game, 27th in the league), and the Clippers won't make it any easier.
In the end, Gasol and Randolph will help Memphis grind out two wins in this series, but the Clippers are a deeper, more well-rounded and simply more talented team. The Clippers win this series in six games.