It is hard to believe that the once lowly Los Angeles Clippers are despised villains in any NBA city, but that is what they have become in Memphis. Another loss to them in the NBA playoffs might make some Grizzlies fans consider Grizzicide (the act of switching allegiance from the hometown Grizzlies to another playoff team, basically a bandwagoner).
The teams are basically the same this year as they were last year. Sure the Grizzlies are without Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo and Marreese Speights, but the Clippers are without Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans (perhaps the most despised Clipper from last year’s series).
With the teams compiled of most of the same players from last year’s playoffs why should anyone expect a different result in this year’s series? Here are five reasons to believe there will be a different result for Memphis in this year’s playoff matchup with the Clippers.
1. No Rudy Gay
Now to pin the entire fact that Memphis lost last season’s first round matchup to the Clipper’s entirely on Gay would be unfair to him, and too easy. After all, OJ Mayo also struggled (averaged nine points in the playoffs, which was well less than his 12.6 points per game during the regular season), Zach Randolph was less than 100 percent, and the bench was outperformed for most of the series. However, shooting 21 percent from three and taking ill-advised shot after ill-advised shot during the series only adds fuel to the arguments of the Gay detractors. While Gay is an adequate offensive option, Coach Hollins relied on him too often to bail the team out as the shot clock expired, and ran too many isolation plays for him during last year’s playoffs. As the focal point of the offense during last year’s series Gay led the team in scoring four times. The Grizzlies record with Gay as the leading scorer was 1-3. Now that there is no Gay the offense will have to flow thru the two bigs for the Grizzlies, which is the best option for them this year, and was the best option last year. In the three Memphis wins last year Gasol and Randolph averaged 35 points per game, while in the four losses they averaged just 24 points.
2. Improved defense
It might be hard to believe, but the Grizzlies defense has improved on their 93 points allowed per game from last season. This year’s squad is allowing a league best 89.3 points per game, and is as tenacious a defense as you will find in the NBA. They are in the top three of the NBA in opponent’s field goal and three point percentage, and fourth in the association in steals. The acquisition of Tayshaun Prince gives Memphis a nice boost on the defensive end as well. Points are already hard to come by in a playoff series, and when you add to this the fact Memphis has one of the stingiest defenses in the NBA, L.A. may find themselves struggling to get points more in this year’s playoff matchup than they did last year.
3. More playoff experience
With this being the Grizzlies third consecutive year in the playoffs, the newness of it all should be gone. Sure Mayo, Gay, and Hamed Haddadi (which random unathletic big will Hollins put in with the game on the line now?) are no longer on the team, but five players who contribute significant minutes are back from last year’s brief run, and four of them (Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Randolph, and Gasol) were also on the team during the Grizzlies epic run two years ago. Adding to the playoff experience is Prince, who was an integral piece to the puzzle during the Detroit Pistons run of the early 2000’s. With all of this experience Memphis should remain poised during the highs and lows of the series. They have experienced enough during their playoff tenures that they should know what to do whether they are up 27 points (as was the case during game one against the Clippers last year) or down 27 (like they were against Oklahoma City during game five two years ago).
4. Healthy Zach Randolph
It is no secret that Z-Bo was significantly less than 100 percent during last year’s playoffs. His knee injury seriously limited his effectiveness which was evident by his 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game during last season’s playoffs. While he almost averaged a double-double last year in the playoffs, his numbers pale in comparison to his 2011 playoff run, which saw Mr. Don’t Bluff average 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds. This year Randolph is not only at 100 percent, but he looks like he is in the best shape of his career and ready to do some serious damage in the playoffs. He averaged 14.8 points and 12 rebounds in four regular season games against the Clippers this year, but you can expect him to turn it up a notch and resemble 2011 Z-Bo during this playoff series.
5. Possible home game six on Music Fest Friday
Some of you may be wondering why this matters, and honestly when I found out about it I wondered the same thing. For those of you who are thinking it is just another game in the series, you could not be more wrong. This year’s possible game six will be on the same day, at the same place as game six in 2011, which saw Memphis close out the Spurs and win the franchise’s first ever playoff series. Fate could be on the Grizzlies side this season. Let’s hope so, because Chris Paul and the Clippers will not be.
CJ Hurt covers NBA basketball for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.