Early look at Memphis Grizzlies’ potential playoff opponents: Clippers and Rockets

The Memphis Grizzlies continued their impressive streak on Wednesday night by beating the Utah Jazz, bringing the team to a record of 14-5 since the All-Star break. If the Grizzlies can keep this level of play up, they are very likely not only to make the playoffs, but to reach 50 wins as well, which would help legitimize the possibility of the team making a strong run for the NBA championship. Of course, the Grizzlies still need to stay hot in order to make the playoffs, as none of the last four playoff spots in the Western Conference are set in stone. But it seems that out of the five teams currently fighting for the last four spots in the playoffs, the Grizzlies are the least likely to lose momentum and not make the playoffs.

However, despite their strong play as of late, the Grizzlies are probably going to be stuck with a lower seed, as this run comes a little too late for the Grizzlies to challenge the top teams in the Western Conference for their current spots in the playoffs. With each of the three division leaders, the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Los Angeles Clippers, having at least a six game lead in their respective divisions, they will each probably keep that lead going into the end of the season. Likewise, with a five game leader over the Grizzlies, it is very unlikely that the Houston Rockets give up their 4th seed to the Memphis Grizzlies or any other team for that matter.

The Grizzlies have made a name for themselves in the past few years for making surprisingly strong postseason runs. And while there is no denying that each of the top four seeds in the Western Conference would be a challenge for the Grizzlies, the team is starting to prove that they will be able to give each of them a run for their money.

The next couple of articles will take a look at the Grizzlies in respect to their this piece will focus on the Clippers and Rockets, the current 3rd and 4th seeded teams respectively, as well as their recent history against the Grizzlies and what are going to be key factors in a best of seven series. The other two possible opponents, the Spurs and the Thunder, will be talked about separately within the next few days, as these opponents would be more difficult for the Grizzlies and are more complex to break down.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers and Grizzlies have some experience facing each other in the playoffs. In the first round of the 2012 Playoffs, the Clippers were able to oust the Grizzlies in seven games. However, the Grizzlies were able to beat the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs in six games last year.

Memphis Grizzlies

Marc Gasol, center for the Memphis Grizzlies, being defended by Blake Griffin, power forward for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite obtaining Doc Rivers as a head coach through a trade with the Celtics during the offseason, who is known to be one of the best coaches in the league and a mastermind at defense, the Clippers have yet to reach the level of defensive play that is required for a team to be a serious contender. The Clippers are well known for playing strong offensively to

make up for their average defense. Because of this, the Grizzlies should only need to shut down the Clippers’ offense in order to win, as their own offense should be enough to score on the Clippers’ porous defense. There is also recent precedent to show that this could be the case.  In their most recent matchup, the Grizzlies were able to hold the Clippers to just 38.8% from the field. The Grizzlies were also able to score 60 points in the paint against the poor Clippers defense, which helped lead the team to a 102-96 victory.

A series against the Clippers would likely be determined by the Grizzlies’ ability to contain Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Jamal Crawford. If the Grizzlies can make sure none of these players go wild on their defense, then they should be able to handle the defense of the Clippers and make sure that the Clippers once again fail to obtain their first NBA title.

Houston Rockets

The current iteration of the Rockets don’t have as much experience together as other playoff teams, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken seriously. The Rockets are currently ranked 2nd in points per game and 7th  in rebounds per game. The offensive output that Chandler Parsons and James Harden provide is enough to run wild on many defenses in the NBA. Dwight Howard has also helped the team a lot, as his defensive ability as well as his rebounding skills has helped the Rockets go from being a strong team to a serious contender.

While the Rockets were able to win two out of the four games they played this year against the Grizzlies, one could attribute these victories to the fact that Marc Gasol was out of action with a leg injury. When the Rockets faced the Grizzlies when Gasol was healthy, however, the Rockets could not score as well as they were able to beforehand, and the Grizzlies won both of those games.

The difference that having Gasol makes for the Grizzlies’ defense is a huge one. When Gasol was out of action, the Rockets were able to shoot 46.4% from the field, but when he was healthy, their shooting percentage was held to only 38.8%. The Rockets were also only to average 31 points in the paint when Gasol was playing, way less than the 54 points on average without him. Needless to say, as long as Gasol doesn’t get injured again, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see the Grizzlies defeat the Rockets.