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.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelican Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.