Los Angeles Clippers @ Memphis Grizzlies -5.5 (Total: 184.5)
The highs and the lows of the NBA Playoffs… The league giveth and the league taketh away yesterday; from the gut-punching buzzer beater from Kevin Durant to steal a game the defending champs firmly had in their grasp, to the devastating season-ending ACL injury suffered by Derrick Rose in the closing minute of the Bulls win over the 76’ers, yesterday was a day of steep highs and despairing lows.
The injury to Rose completely changes the landscape of the NBA Playoffs, though in fairness to the Miami Heat, it might not have mattered anyhow. I sometimes feel like I am the only one who remembers the way the Heat completely dominated Chicago last season in the playoffs; putting the clamps on Derrick Rose and overwhelming them with their explosiveness and diversity of scoring options. The Knicks got a first-hand look at the explosiveness and power of the Heat yesterday, suffering their third-worst loss in franchise playoff history as the Heat rolled ‘em up, 100-67.
Today is another full slate of four games, but the most intriguing matchup is saved for last. The Memphis Grizzlies have been the trendy sleeper pick in the West, a possibility made even more attractive considering the potential second-round matchup with the Spurs who they eliminated as the #8 seed in last year’s opening round. However, before Memphis can worry about San Antonio they need to get past a dangerous and talented Clipper squad.
The Clippers have won four of five against the Grizz, but did drop their last matchup in April 94-85. They also stumbled in the last week of the season, which is the main reason why tonight’s game is in Memphis instead of the Staples Center. The Clippers lost three of four, including the final two of the season to middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference foes New York and Atlanta. Granted, those games were on the road, but that isn’t exactly the sign you are looking for heading into the second season.
The key to this series will be Memphis’s ability to control the defensive tempo and limit the Clippers pick and roll. The Clippers are known for their devastating ability to throw the lob pass, particularly the Paul to Griffin connection. However Memphis is good at defending the rim, and is in the top five in both steals and blocks in the NBA. Conley will have his hands full with Chris Paul, but is an excellent defensive point guard and is very strong fighting through picks and staying on top of them (think a young Derek Fisher).
I like Memphis in this series, though I, like most fans enjoy watching the Clippers play. The fact is Memphis has more offensive weapons and is a better defensive team with more overall depth. I like them to win this series in five or six, and to cover tonight.
Free Pick: Memphis Grizzlies -5.5