This is a rematch of last year’s match-up, except that the Clippers hold home court by virtue of winning the regular season series 3-1 after the two teams finished with identical records on the year. The Clippers continued building on their roster from last year by adding a few veteran role players while the Grizzlies decided to move in a different direction by getting rid of Rudy Gay. Is this year’s series going to have a different result?
These two teams play very different games. Memphis is the best defensive team in the NBA in terms of points allowed and also the only team that allows fewer than 90 points a game. They do this by playing a slow pace and relying on their significant post presence to get points. Zach Randolph has continued making weird, falling away, unbalanced baskets from near the rim with remarkable accuracy and Marc Gasol has continued to make a claim for the Most Valuable Gasol award in the NBA this year. Their backcourt is solid with Mike Conley continuing to provide consistent play and Tony Allen being a great defensive stopper. Post-trade, they did away with the low-percentage shots that Rudy Gay threw up to add veteran Tayshaun Prince, who has a very underwhelming but successful style.
On the other side of the coin is a team entirely predicated on point-guard play, forcing turnovers and getting into transition. Chris Paul continues to be the best playmaking point guard in the NBA and has made a motley crue of role players look like all-stars. Blake Griffin has polished up his very rough back-to-the-basket game somewhat, but it is still cringeworthy to watch. Caron Butler has been great this year when he’s been playing and even Chauncey Billups has worked his way back to health and he’s always looking for big shots to hit during the playoffs. Matt Barnes has been a spark-plug off the bench and his solid defense and ability to stretch the floor from three-point range will have the Grizzlies bench in a tiff.
In the end, though, I think the Grizzlies will take care of this match-up because of Z-Bo. DeAndre Jordan may be able to limit Gasol’s impact, but I don’t think Griffin will be able to hang with Randolph. I also expect the zebras to play a part in this series, especially if the Lakers get knocked out early against the Spurs. I’m going to call the Grizzlies in 7.
PREDICTION: Memphis win in 7 (4-3)
I’m sorry, but I’m still not convinced by the Nets. Which is weird, considering they have a pretty solid core with good inside-outside play but I guess they’ve just been flying under the radar. Brook Lopez has made some noise for a first-team all NBA selection with typically consistent play. Deron Williams has been solid without being spectacular. Joe Johnson continues to make the Atlanta Hawks front office look like idiots with the contract they gave him. Gerald Wallace has been decent offensively but his big value is really as a defensive stopper. Well, at least the Nets are back in the playoffs, but I don’t see them having too long a stay over here.
The Bulls, in contrast, have been extracting every ounce of over-achievement from their severely depleted roster. Not only are they missing Derrick Rose (whose participation has been the object of media speculation over the last week) but they’ve also had Joakim Noah battling injury towards the end of the regular season. In Rose’s absence, Nate Robinson has stepped up wonderfully, particularly in the last few weeks of the regular season in big match-ups. It seems like Robinson is a big-game player but with Robinson, you’re going to get a guy who can just as easily shoot you out of the game as shooting you into a game.
The Bulls have really been about defense and I think they’ll match up with the Nets pretty well. The Nets do have Reggie Evans swallowing up boards at an alarming pace, but I just don’t see the x-factor from them. Luol Deng has stepped up well as primary scorer for the Bulls team and Carlos Boozer has been consistent as ever. I think this series will really come down to whether Noah can come back healthy, since he will do a big part in limiting Lopez’s effectiveness. I think the Bulls defense will be able to handle the Nets from the perimeter.
I’m going to risk Noah being healthy and call an upset in this 4-5 matchup as well.
PREDICTION: Chicago in 6 (4-2)