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.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.