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: Knicks interested in Kyrie Irving trade, but Kristaps Porzingis is off the table

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Kyrie Irving wants out of LeBron James‘ shadow and has asked for a trade in what seems a preemptive “if he’s going to leave then I’m going to leave first” kind of move.

Irving also gave the Cavaliers a list of preferred destinations. Which is nice. Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause, he has no real power in these negotiations because he has two years on his deal — it is basically a child’s Christmas list to Santa starting with “a Dragon-themed Luxury Playhouse.”

The Knicks are on Irving’s preferred list, and they are interested but know the team’s best player is off the table, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The Knicks, obviously, have strong interest in Kyrie Irving (just like 29 other teams) but I’m told people in the Knicks front office would not be willing at this point to include Kristaps Porzingis in a trade. Some with the organization would be willing to include future first-round picks and Carmelo Anthony in a deal for Irving, per league sources.

A few thoughts here. At the top of the list, this is the absolutely right and only call for the Knicks, no way KP is available. And on social media, Porzingis liked a fan’s tweet of Irving in a Knicks’ uniform, so we know what he is thinking.

We know Carmelo would want to go to Cleveland, the question is would the Cavaliers want him with Irving gone? If they feel LeBron is leaving next summer, would this help change that dynamic and help get the Cavaliers back to the Finals?

If I were in the Knicks front office, I’d pitch the Anthony idea (heck, I’d pitch a Joakim Noah trade too, just to lighten up the room with a laugh). Then we could talk about doing a trade without Anthony or Porzingis, which would mean picks, Courtney Lee, Willy Hernangomez, Frank Ntilikina, and another player to make the numbers work.

The Cavaliers can afford to be patient, and they aren’t beholden to Irving’s list. See if teams with young assets — Phoenix, Dallas, Denver, etc. — come up with better offers. Wait the market out, don’t rush. If no deal blows you away, move into the season with Irving.

The Knicks are as realistic an option as anything right now. The doors are wide open.

Report: Cavaliers to officially make Koby Altman GM

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“Congratulations, Koby. Here’s your new corner office with a view, meet your new executive assistant, and finally here are the keys to the Cavaliers franchise… oh, and by the way, Kyrie Irving wants to be traded. And LeBron James is a free agent next year. Good luck with all that, we’ll leave you to it.”

Since Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert inexplicably let go of David Griffin as the team’s general manager, assistant GM Kobe Altman has stepped into the lead role for the franchise. Now Gilbert is going to remove the interim tag from Altman’s title, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN was first.

Now that he has the job, all he has to do is find a new home for Irving, who has demanded a trade… or he doesn’t have to. Irving may be traded this summer, but he has two years left on his deal so Altman could just bring him back with LeBron and Kevin Love and make another run at it. Or he could sit back and listen to trade offers from a lot of teams, and if he sees one he likes pounce — Irving (unlike Carmelo Anthony) doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so he can go anywhere. Altman has leverage.

Altman respected around the league, but he took over a team up against the cap and tax, a team that needed to find a way to get more athletic to compete with the Warriors. Instead, the Cavs re-signed Kyle Korver (age 35), signed Jose Calderon (age 36), and re-signed Richard Jefferson (age 37). The Cavs have essentially treaded water this offseason, while Warriors, Celtics, and Rockets all got better. That’s not all on Altman, he was thrown into the job and with the team well into the tax his options were limited. He was handed a near impossible task.

Now Altman gets to own that task. Enjoy.

Report: LeBron James being hands off, letting Cavaliers front office handle Irving trade

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Okay, Koby Altman — the Cavs interim general manager about to have the first part of that title removed — and Dan Gilbert, the ball is in your court.

Kyrie Irving has told the Cleveland Cavaliers he wants to be traded, and he’s given them a list of preferred landing spots. Normally in this kind of situation, the team’s biggest star would not only be informed but consulted and asked his opinion, however this time around LeBron James is going to be hands off, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

LeBron James intends to let the Cleveland Cavaliers front office and owner Dan Gilbert take the lead in dealing with Kyrie Irving’s trade demands, sources told ESPN.

As the Cavs consider their options, sources said James has expressed to the team that he is focused on his offseason workout regimen and is planning to report to training camp with the intention of leading his teammates to a fourth consecutive Finals — no matter who those teammates are.

Despite the perception — and some reality, the team did try to make him happy — LeBron has not wanted to play GM of the Cavaliers in recent years. He has wanted to be more hands off, but has let his feelings be known at times. Part of that was he grew to trust David Griffin to make decisions. With Griffin out of the way, a lot of things feel different in Cleveland.

Consider this part of the crumbling of the foundation in Cleveland. LeBron is acting like an employee, one who shows up to do his job and that’s it — which is what he is, but stars can take on a larger role in the franchise. LeBron has, and does still to a degree, but he has scaled it back after his experiences over the years. Things feel like they are closing in on the Cavaliers, the only question is how fast?

Report: Cavaliers unhappy Kyrie Irving news leaked because it hurts trade value

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The news Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland came as a bolt of lightning to a finally slowed NBA offseason. Speculation about the future of LeBron James had been rampant, but discussions of Kyrie Irving’s future were usually tied to LeBron (if he left the Cavs, Irving would go, too).

Cleveland wanted to keep it under wraps, because it’s easier to do business that way. Now the word is out — including that he prefers to be traded to San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or New York — and the Cavaliers are not happy, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

It means that there will be a lot more leaks — teams that want to look like they are trying to do something but have no real interest/assets will make a call then leak it so it looks like they are trying. It will mean a lot of distracting headlines.

However, unlike Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks, the Cavaliers have leverage here. Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause so the Cavaliers can take the best offer. Irving is an All-Star level point guard, one of the five to eight best in the NBA (depending on how much you knock him for his defensive lapses, and who you classify as a point guard). He also has two seasons left on his contract, so teams that trade for him have a chance to win him over to stay.

That said, leaked info or not, they are not getting equal value back. It doesn’t work that way with stars generally. That said, everyone knowing he wants out doesn’t help the Cavaliers cause here.