MVP candidate Chris Paul hopes to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to the second round of the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history as they prep to face the stout defense of the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday at Staples Center in Game 1 of their seven-game series.
Memphis center Marc Gasol has become one of the best defenders in the game, guiding the Grizzlies to the best defense in the league. Memphis holds opponents to 89.3 points and .435 percent shooting.
Paul and the Clippers will counter with one of the more efficient offense in the game. L.A. was ninth in points scored and fourth in assists, but also fourth in overall defense during the regular season.
In line for first-team All-NBA honors for the third time in his career, Paul averaged 16.9 points and 9.7 assists, and led the league in steals with 2.4 a game. Back-up guard Eric Bledsoe gives L.A. some punch off the bench. In his third year, Bledsoe averaged 8.4 points and 44.5 percent from three, and was tied to trade rumors for most of the season.
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Forward Blake Griffin’s scoring dipped some from his previous two seasons, but head coach Vinny DelNegro limited his minutes thanks to the improvement of center DeAndre Jordan. Griffin still leads the Clippers with 18 points a game, and Jordan topped the league in field goal percentage at 64.3 percent.
The Grizzlies can avenge their first round exit at the hands of L.A last year. That series went seven games, but Memphis forward Zach Randolph was limited to 13 points a game while recovering from a knee injury.
Randolph may not have fully recovered from surgery this season; his 15.4 points a game are a low since his second year in Portland, but his presence in the paint causes matchup problems for L.A.
After trading Rudy Gay before the deadline, Memphis continued to play strong defense behind Gasol and point guard Mike Conley Jr.’s 2.2 steals a game.
Betting Odds: Los Angeles is favored by 5 points
Over/Under: 179 points
Prediction: There was an epic series last year and could be better with the Clippers at another level and Randolph healthier. Gasol should disrupt Paul or Jamal Crawford’s penetration, but the home crowd should give the Clippers the edge in Game 1. The trip to Memphis will be L.A.’s real early test.
Predicted Score: Los Angeles 95, Memphis 90