Clippers or Grizzlies?

I think we can safely assume the San Antonio Spurs are moving on to the next round without worrying about a jinx. If the Utah Jazz do pull a miracle and come back, I’ll go ahead and take the blame for it, but I’m going to start looking ahead a little bit to the Spurs’ next opponent.

The 4th-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and the 5th-seeded Los Angeles Clippers are currently battling it out in their series and it’s way too early to tell who’s coming out alive. The Clippers managed to steal a game in Memphis on a miracle comeback and after a 2nd one-point victory in Game 3, the momentum might be with L.A., but if the Grizzlies can steal game 4, things will be all knotted up and we’ll have a series again.

Should the Spurs be rooting to avenge (go see the movie if you haven’t already) last year’s playoff upset against the Grizzlies or should they be hoping to face the playoff-inexperienced Clippers?

The Spurs swept the four game season series with the Grizzlies this year. Three of those were double-digit wins, perhaps taking out frustrations for last year’s early exit from the postseason. Granted, the Grizzlies were dealing with injury problems all year, but I don’t think the Spurs have as much to fear if they face them in the second round.

Last year, it was just the perfect storm for an upset. With Manu’s injury, the Grizzlies were able to gain a lot of early momentum and they carried that to a series win against the Spurs. I don’t think the Grizzlies were necessarily the better team, but they played like it in those games.

This year, the Grizzlies are actually a better all-around team. It seems like they’ve really improved at almost every position and come together well. They were “the team no one wanted to play” going into the playoffs, but they’ve faltered a little out of the gate. They’re in a desperation game tonight against the Clippers because of their epic collapse in Game 1. Even if they make it to the second round, they’ll be bruised and beat up from a tough opening series.

The Grizzlies are like the Jazz in that they have a very talented big man core with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They don’t have as much depth as the Jazz at that position though with really only Marreese Speights coming off the bench. Gasol and Randolph log a lot of minutes so if the Spurs are going to make up for what they’re lacking in the post, they’ll need to tire those two out and force the Grizzlies to go to their bench.

The Grizz do have some more talented guards than the Jazz though with Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen. These guys are great skill players and are all improved from last year. Luckily for the Spurs, the guard positions are where they boast their biggest strength as well, so I don’t think they’ll have as much of a problem there.

Like I referenced earlier, the Grizzlies aren’t a very deep team either. They only really play about 8 guys, with their starters putting in a lot of minutes. If the Spurs long bench can be effective in a series with Memphis, then they should have no problem.

The Spurs were 2-1 against the Clippers this season. One of the Spurs wins was the crazy overtime game in L.A. back in February, and the Clippers win was in San Antonio where Chris Paul ran wild for 36 points, but the Spurs were playing without Tony Parker.

This is definitely another beatable matchup for the Spurs, but a lot of it will come down to coaching. There’s definitely a way to stop the Clippers if you slow down Paul and keep Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan below the rim. No doubt Coach Pop will have a solid game plan to accomplish both. Parker’s speed will help him contain the elusive Paul and keep him from running all over the court. The Spurs big men will have to always keep their eyes on Griffin and make sure he’s shooting jump shots and working in the post rather than getting easy dunks.

That’s the big part of the plan, but the Clippers do have a few other strengths. They have some very streaky shooters, guys that are capable of hitting a lot of shots in a short period of time if they get hot. Caron Butler, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Nick Young are all capable filling it up from outside very quickly, and if you don’t play solid defense and always know where your man is, they can kill you. Again, that’s going to come down to coaching and discipline.

The Clippers as a whole are a very streaky team. They thrive a lot on momentum. If you can get them unfocused and frustrated then they’re actually a pretty easy team to beat, but if they get “Lob City” going and they’re throwing down dunks, nailing strings of three pointers and getting their crowd going, they’re almost impossible. Since the Spurs are so well coached, I think they’ll be able to control the pace of each game and the series.

I think the Spurs will be at a great advantage against either team in the second round, especially if they sweep the Jazz and get the rest while the Grizzlies and Clippers beat each other up for a few more games. If I were the Spurs, I’d rather play the Clippers, but I don’t see a problem either way.

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