NBA Playoff preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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SEASON RECORDS


Grizzlies: 41-25 (4 seed)
Clippers: 40-26 (5 seed)

SEASON SERIES


Clippers took it 2-1, with each team winning the games on its home court. Memphis won the most recent meeting April 9, 94-85.

KEY INJURIES

Memphis: Nothing serious.

L.A. Clippers: Chris Paul is playing through a strained groin. The Clippers need him to be at his best to win this series, if he is hampered so is Los Angeles.

Chauncey Billups is out for the season and while that is not new news this is where they will miss him most.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)


Memphis: offense 104.0 (19th); defense 101.8 (7th)
L.A. Clippers: offense 108.5 (4th); defense 105.7 (18th)

THREE KEY GRIZZLIES:

Tony Allen: He will provide some offense and three point shooting but his real value is as a defender who will be given the Chris Paul assignment at key moments. CP3 is the best point guard walking the planet, is the key to the Clippers offense (particularly in the fourth quarter) and dropped 21 on Memphis in the last meeting. You don’t stop a guy like CP3, but if you can make him work hard for it you have slowed that team.

Marc Gasol: His throwback game with some outside touch has proven difficult for DeAndre Jordan to cover — he can go to the post, draw the double and kick out, he can pick-and-pop and knock down the midrange. He is disciplined, if DeAndre Jordan is not Gasol will make him pay.

Zach Randolph: He was the reason the Grizzlies won in the first round last season over the Spurs. Since coming back from his injury it has taken a while for him to play into game shape and get his flow back, but he seems to have don that lately. If he is a force in the offensive paint and on the glass (and can get Blake Griffin in foul trouble) it will be hard for L.A. to knock off Memphis.

THREE KEY CLIPPERS:

Chris Paul: He is the heart of the Clippers, and you can bet coach Vinny Del Negro’s offensive scheme is to run him off the pick and roll about 436 times a game. He is going to have to be him at his best — scoring, setting up teammates, getting the team in the offensive flow. He has to play at an MVP level for the Clippers to advance in these playoffs.

Blake Griffin: His physical gifts are unquestioned, but his game is going to have to grow for the Clippers to develop (both in this series and long term). He has to do better than knock down 52 percent of his free throws or he will live at the line. He is going to get some dunks — and the Clippers need to get out in transition with him for some easy buckets — but in the playoffs the other team takes away your first move, you need to go to your counters. Has Griffin grown enough to do that effectively?

Randy Foye: I bring him in to represent also Caron Butler, Nick Young and the other shooters on this team. In the last meeting between these teams the Clippers got 21.6 percent of their shots off on spot up shooters — Memphis is going to work to keep Paul from scoring in the lane and lobbing to Griffin, which means the spot up guys will get looks. Knock it down and the Clippers can win this series.

OUTLOOK

This is going to be the best series of the first round in either conference — a throw back series between two physical teams. Two of the up-and-coming teams in the league who have a world of physical talent. The Clippers need a lot of Chris Paul and they need to get some of the easy buckets in transition that key them — which means they need to play defense. The Clippers have played good defense this season in spurts but not consistently, do that hear and the Grizzlies will exploit it. Memphis knows who it is — they get the ball into their big men in the paint, they have Rudy Gay attacking from the wing, with Mike Conley directing traffic. Tony Allen and Conley will be key — Memphis was average in defending the pick-and-roll ball handler this year, they need to be better than that against CP3.

Memphis is a team that wins not because of its spectacular talent but because they execute. The Clippers late in the season started to win games that way rather than just relying on their amazing collection of athletes. But Memphis is consistent at winning that way, the Clippers still seem to try and catch lightening in a bottle too much, they are too easy to knock off their game. If the Clippers play up to their potential — and do that on the road, where they have struggled this season (16-17) — they can win the series. The question is will they?

PREDICTION

Grizzlies in seven hard-fought games.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.

Warriors take 3-0 series lead over Blazers with 119-113 win

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 34 points, Klay Thompson added 24 and the short-handed Golden State Warriors overcame a slow start to take a 3-0 lead in their playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 119-113 victory on Saturday night.

The Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but couldn’t hold off the Warriors, who can clinch the series with a win Monday night in Game 4 at the Moda Center.

Golden State was without Kevin Durant, who was sitting for a second straight game cause of a left calf strain, and coach Steve Kerr stayed back at the team hotel because of illness.

The Warriors took a 108-100 lead after Andre Iguodala‘s dunk with 4:05 to go.

Noah Vonleh‘s dunk got Portland within four at 110-106 with 1:29 left, but Curry answered with a 3-pointer that all but sealed it, sending fans streaming for the exits.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 32 points, while Damian Lillard added 31.