Dante Cunningham, Blake Griffin

NBA Playoff preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers



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


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.


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)


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.


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.


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?


Grizzlies in seven hard-fought games.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.