Here’s my look at the first round of the Western Conference playoffs:
I have to say I’m perplexed that the Clippers beat the Grizzlies near the end of the season in Memphis, in a game that decided the season series 3-1 in favor of the Clippers, and the home court advantage. I missed the game, but I would have ventured to say that the outcome was decided by the out of date, stick in the mud offense that Lionel Hollins runs, that doesn’t adequately deploy the weapon of Tayshaun Prince’s three point shooting. But then I see that Prince got four three point attempts in the game, making three (he’s usually limited by Hollins to one). Perhaps Hollins has turned a corner there, one which I think is vital to the Grizzlies’ spacing.
I see DeAndre Jordan’s big game, getting 16 and 12. That shouldn’t happen against Gasol and Randolph. Particularly the way the Grizzlies superb perimeter defenders locked up the Clippers shooters.
But it really looks from the boxscore like the difference in the game was the benches. Bledsoe, Odom, Crawford and Hill outclassed Bayless, Pondexter, Arthur and Daye. And Ed Davis barely saw the floor.
The game was clearly played at the Clipper’s pace. They want to push the tempo, the Grizzlies want to slow it down to a half-court grind. That might change. I suspect the Grizzlies will do a better job controlling the tempo once the playoffs start. If it’s at all like last year, this series will devolve into a brutal, physical war, with a lot of chippiness on both sides.
Keep an eye on the officiating. There’s no doubt in my mind that the NBA has a strong rooting interest in the Clippers’ advancement, and in the micro-market Grizzlies’ early demise. The way to help that along would be to encourage the refereeing crews to “let the players play” and “let the players decide the outcome.” Translation: Don’t call any fouls in the paint. That really favors the Clippers, who have a far inferior low post game.
I saw a lot of that last year. Randolph and Gasol couldn’t buy a call.
The smart bet in this series is probably the Clippers, for the above reasons. But I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger, because I suspect a really good coach could beat them with this Grizzlies squad.
And because I hate Blake Griffin with a passion.
This is easily the saddest playoff matchup I’ve ever seen. The two teams who formerly represented the class of the Western Conference limping into the playoffs, all hopes for one last run at the brass ring completely crushed before the race is even run.
The Lakers, of course, have lost Kobe. Nash will play, but he’s probably no better than 50%. Metta’s playing on a recently scoped knee. Like real recent. Pau’s playing on what Ty Lawson is playing on. And then there’s Dwight Howard’s back, that had surgery. And his shoulder, that needs surgery.
Do the Spurs have it any better? Manu Ginobili will play, but he was a mere shadow of himself this year, even before his latest hamstring. Pulling both hamstrings in one year? One has to suspect he’s near the end.
Stephen Jackson is no longer on the team, the victim of a brain injury.
Kawhi Leonard has been battling severe knee tendinitis all season long.
That’s all three of their great wing defenders, right? Oh wait, they had four, and Danny Green is still healthy.
But one really has to be worried about Tony Parker. He tried to come back from his ankle sprain recently, only to be shelved again. Sprains this bad don’t really get better until the offseason. Is Tony Parker with a bad wheel still Tony Parker?
I thought there was a chance that the Spurs might come out of the West before Parker got injured and Stephen Jackson went Stephen Jackson. Now I think that chance is slim to none. So slim that they just added Tracy McGrady to their roster. Does that sound like a move Popovich was happy to make?
What about their chances of beating the Lakers? Are they really 8 to 1 favorites? You’d have to think so, barring further disaster. But there’s an element of intrigue here: What happens if Parker’s ankle is a no-go? If Ginobili can’t go? And what if Dwight Howard summons the reserve he’s kept under wraps all year, and becomes the monster of yore?
It almost tempts me to try to turn a six-pack of Fat Tire into two cases. Almost.
I would have loved to have watched this series before Harden got injured, and Daryl Morey gutted his Rockets team by trading away their versatile spread-fours, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris. Ibaka is going to feast in this series.
As it stands, I think we’re in for the old sweeperooni.
Keep an eye on how the Rockets attack Kevin Martin. I think his defense, or lack thereof, is the Thunder’s Achilles heel, and will become a major theme in later series.
See my previously posted Warriors v. Nuggets Preview.