PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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SEASON RECORDS

Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West

L.A. Clippers: 56-26, fourth seed in the West thanks to winning the Pacific Division

SEASON SERIES

Clippers took three of the four meetings.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Grizzlies: offense 101.7 (18th in NBA), defense 97.4 (2nd in NBA)
Clippers: offense 107.7 (4th in NBA), defense 101.0 (9th in NBA)

Differential: Grizzlies +4.2 (8th in NBA), Clippers +6.7 (4th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

Pace: It’s no secret that this is essentially an offense versus defense matchup, and one that’s about as extreme as you can get. The Clippers prefer an uptempo, high-possession game where they can get out in transition and allow Chris Paul to create easy opportunities for his athletic bigs on the break. The Grizzlies prefer a grind-it-out, half court contest where it can use one of the league’s best defenses to force their opponent into low percentage shots.

The thing about it though, and what the problem will be for the Grizzlies in this series, is that the Clippers can play in the halfcourt just as well. L.A.’s fourth ranked offense comes from a team that ranked just 19th in the league in pace on the season, while the Grizzlies were second to last in the same category.

The fewer possessions the better as far as Memphis is concerned, but that will only help their cause. Against this Clippers team, it still won’t guarantee success.

For the Grizzlies: Memphis has to lock the Clippers up defensively to have any chance in this series. That means containing Chris Paul, defending the pick-and-roll action with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan smartly as a team, and not letting Jamal Crawford get loose for too many points off the bench. That’s easier said than done, but Memphis is one of the few teams that has the personnel to make it happen.

Once Memphis gets its defense firing on all cylinders, it needs to find a way to finish the game with more than 80-something points on the scoreboard. Mike Conley has really improved in the last couple of months both offensively and as a distributor, and the Grizzlies can always go with heavier minutes for Jerryd Bayless off the bench in relief of Tony Allen if the offense is sputtering. As good as Allen is defensively, he’s a misadventure on the opposite end of the floor, and in this series especially the Grizzlies might have to go with a more offensive-minded lineup than they typically are used to.

Marc Gasol is in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, but Zach Randolph is the one who does the majority of the damage offensively inside. Gasol is a capable scorer, however, and the Grizzlies may need to lean on him a little more this series in that area than they have throughout the season.

For the Clippers: There might not be as many transition opportunities as L.A. is used to in this series, but when they do present themselves, the Clippers need to take advantage. Getting guys like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan going early with easy buckets on the break will be helpful, considering the bruising team defense that they’re likely to face against Gasol and Randolph in the half-court set.

The Clippers will also need to execute at least minimally offensively even if the shots aren’t falling for stretches, because despite last season’s miraculous 27-point comeback in Game 1 of the playoff series between these same two teams, digging a big hole against the defense of this year’s Grizzlies is a recipe for disaster.

As long as the Clippers execute offensively and get production from anyone in their stable of capable role players, L.A. should have a large advantage in the series.

OUTLOOK

I’ve said it all season long — the Grizzlies’ lack of offensive production and ability to consistently and cleanly execute on that end of the floor makes them extremely beatable by a team like the Clippers which has multiple ways to score. The “defense wins championships” mantra is overrated; it’s only true if you can can actually outscore your your opponent, and I don’t see Memphis doing that more than once or twice against this edition of the Clippers.

PREDICTION

Clippers in six, though if they end up winning the series in five it won’t at all be a surprise.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.