ROUND ONE SCOUTING REPORT
Eric Patten (@ericpatten) | 4/26/12

The Clippers and Grizzlies. It’s maybe the best first round playoff matchup in recent NBA lore, a pair of rugged, athletic teams that pose matchup problems for almost anyone.

The Grizzlies (41-25) closed the season with 14 wins in their final 17 games, including six in a row, while the Clippers (40-26) were 14-5 in their last 19. 

The back end of their April schedule turned out favorable for Memphis as they played home games against Cleveland and the severely undermanned Hornets and Magic. As well as taking on New Orleans (loss), Charlotte, and Minnesota on the road. Aside from Thursday’s matchup with Orlando, who was without Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Glen Davis among others, the Grizzlies have not played a team with a winning record since April 14.

Clippers.com talked about the matchup with a Western Conference front office executive as well as an advance scout for an opposing team. Here’s a look at how they break down the Grizzlies and the series, which, not surprisingly, is expected to last at least six games.

MEMPHIS STARTERS


Conley

Mike Conley, PG (6-1, 185). ”Mike Conley is a completely underrated defender,” the Western Conference executive said. “He’s one of the best point-guard defenders in the league. He baits bigs into not seeing him coming and digs down on them [for steals].” … “Conley is great at getting in passing lanes,” said the opposing team’s advance scout. “And he’s a terrific weak-side defender.” … “It’s more freelancing almost,” the West executive continued. “He has a terrific nose for the ball.”… According to the opposing scout, Conley’s a better shooter than people think. He’s made 60 3-pointers in 159 attempts (37.7%) and has shot a career-best 86.1% from the free throw line this season.


Allen

Tony Allen, SG (6-4, 213). ”The face of the defense is Tony Allen,” the executive said. … He’s back to full strength after missing five games with a facial laceration, returning to the lineup on April 14 and recording a career-high eight steals nine days later against Cleveland… “He can impact games on the defensive end of the floor [the way most players do offensively],” the executive said. … He added that Allen “isn’t a shooter you necessarily have to guard. If he makes a couple you’re not going to run out and guard him.”… “Tony Allen’s the heart and soul of the whole team,” the scout said.


Gay

Rudy Gay, SF (6-8, 230). ”Gay definitely has an advantage over Caron Butler [in terms of the starting lineup],” the scout said. ... “Gay’s one of their best athletes “the scout added. “He can post up and [isolate] you.” … “At the end of the game, they have two monsters [Randolph and Gay],” the executive said. “Gay can post, go iso, and make his free throws.” … On the other end, the executive implored you have to make Rudy Gay play defense. … Gay’s been on par with previous years scoring-wise (18.9 points per game), but he’s shooting a career-worst 31.4% from 3-point range.


Speights

Marreese Speights, PF (6-10, 255).You have to make Zach Randolph and Marresse Speights guard Blake [Griffin],” the executive said. … On offense, Speights is “one of three bigs who is capable of making shots from the perimeter (Randolph and Gasol),” the scout said. … He’s played 20-25 minutes per game since Randolph returned from surgery to repair a partially torn MCL in his knee. … His scoring and rebounding numbers are consistent at home and on the road… Speights averages 13.4 rebounds per 48 minutes (26th in league). … Prior to this season, his first with Memphis, Speights played 50 minutes combined in five career postseason games with Philadelphia (2008-09 and 2010-11).


Gasol

Marc Gasol, C (7-1, 265). The executive raved about Gasol. “He has a phenomenal skill set for a guy his size.” … The scout added that Gasol can pass, shoot from range, and “it’s not like he’s plodding up and down the court in transition.” And he said that Gasol is playing the best defense of his career. ... “They run a lot of screen roll to get the ball in the post, which is kind of unusual,” the executive said about the Grizzlies’ half-court offense. “Gasol and Randolph find each other in the low post. They are the best high-low team in the league.”

KEY RESERVES

O.J. Mayo, G (6-4, 210). “Mayo gets in that scrappy group off the bench,” the executive said. “The problem for an opponent with that group is all of a sudden they have a shooter when Mayo comes in.” … But he said Mayo has tendency to be streaky. “You just have to hope that he doesn’t have it going too much.”


Randolph

Zach Randolph, F (6-9, 260). “Z-Bo has always been a terrific one-on-one, low post scorer,” the scout said. “Coming off the bench, he gives you a guy who can get you 20-10 [points and rebounds.” … As mentioned earlier by the executive, Randolph along with Gay is a monster at the end of games. … The scout agreed saying, “We saw that Z-Bo can knock down clutch free throws in the playoffs last year.” … “Both bigs [Gasol and Randolph] can go out to 15-17 feet and Randolph can go out to 3-point line once in a while,” the executive said. … Traditionally, Randolph is one of the league’s better rebounders, averaging better than 10 per game in seven of his 11 NBA seasons. … The scout said, Randolph “looks to be rounding into form” after returning from a slight medial collateral ligament tear in his right knee.

OTHER ROTATION PLAYERS

Dante Cunningham, F (6-8, 230); Gilbert Arenas, G (6-4, 215); Quincy Pondexter, F (6-6, 225). Both the scout and executive praised Memphis’ bench. The executive said, “Even when they go to a smaller, scrappier group with Dante Cunningham at the four, they’re still long, athletic and can run.” … Arenas is suffering from a torn ligament in a finger on his right hand. Rookie Josh Selby could spell Arenas if he’s unable to play. … Pondexter is nursing a sprained knee, but is expected to be ready for the playoffs. … While six of the top seven rotation players for Memphis were part of last season’s playoff run, Cunningham, Arenas, and Pondexter were not. All three were acquired during the regular season.

NOTES ON MEMPHIS

Defensively: “They’re so athletic,” the executive said. “They just scrap. They have multiple guys on the wings that can defend, but their identity comes from Tony Allen, who sets the tone for what they do.” The scout pointed to Allen as well, saying, the Defensive Player of the Year candidate “epitomizes the defense.” He added that the Grizzlies’ strength is to force turnovers and push the ball and score points off those turnovers, including the makeup of the group and its energy being what gets them going.

Offensively: “The thing about this team is they have multiple personalities,” the executive said. “They can get out in transition because of their defense and are effective in the half court.” They’re a high-low team and can pick you apart with their bigs passing, which, according to the executive, is rare. “They’re not just deer running up and down the court,” the scout added. “They get into the half court and post you up.” Both consultants agreed, the depth and quality of their front court with Speights, Gay, Randolph, and Gasol make them tough. “They play really well together,” the executive said of the Grizzlies’ offense.

MATCHUP WITH CLIPPERS

“Between the Clippers and Grizzlies, they’re two of the deepest teams in the West,” the scout said. “Memphis might have a slight edge in terms of the starters, but Randy Foye’s been playing great.” He said the way the Clippers have been shooting the ball over the last few weeks might give them an advantage. “A guy like Foye, you have to guard from the opening minute because he’s liable to hit seven or eight threes,” the scout said. “It will be important for L.A. to make 3-pointers all series and force the Grizzlies to stay on the shooters. You can’t let them roam around.”

Chris Paul, who is expected to be at full strength after sitting out Wednesday for precautionary reasons with a mild left groin strain, is “the key to the whole series”, according to the scout. “He has to handle the ball without making mistakes and that’s what he does.” The Clippers finished the season averaging the second fewest turnovers in the league at 13.3 per game. The scout felt that because of the level Paul tends to play at in big games, he will be able to penetrate even with Allen or Conley on him. He added, “If Foye, Butler, [Nick] Young, and Mo [Williams] can make shots it will really open things up.”

That being said, the executive reiterated that you still “have to bait the Grizzlies into things, make them take gambles.” He said there are often opportunities by taking advantage of Memphis’ aggressiveness. “If they’re going to trap, you have to try to get them engaged a little longer,” he said. “If you do that, you can attack gaps and get open shots on the weak side.” And, of course, both consultants were adamant that you can’t turn the ball over against the Grizzlies. “The first line of defense is a good offense,” the executive said. “It allows you to be able to set up your defense much better.” The scout said beating Memphis is about attacking when you have opportunities and keeping the ball out of the Grizzlies’ fast break.

A major part of the Clippers’ attack may be freeing up Griffin, who the scout says, along with Paul “has a lot to prove because of how competitive they are.” And even with a lack of experience in the playoffs, the scout said, “Blake will be Blake. He’s been getting better from the perimeter.” Griffin’s improvement from outside of the paint was evidenced by the last two nights. Against the Hawks, he shot 7-of-11 from 16-23 feet and the following game in New York he was a perfect 11-for-11 inside of 15 feet. “The key will be if Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can make a few more free throws,” the scout said. “Just getting to the line will be hugely important, but Jordan and Griffin have to shoot a better percentage.”

Overall, the scout thought the Grizzlies might have a slim edge because of their previous playoff experience, getting a game away from the West Finals last year, and owning home court advantage. Memphis has not lost at FedEx Forum since a 114-110 overtime loss to Toronto on March 16. Still, that’s no reason to believe the Clippers can’t win the series. “Both teams are hungry,” the scout said. “And the Clippers may have a big chip on their shoulder because all [of the pundits] seem to be picking Memphis.”

SEASON SERIES RECAP

GRIZZLIES 94, CLIPPERS 85, April 9, 2012: FULL RECAP

The Clippers played one of the poorest first halves of April in Memphis, but were down just 11 at the start of the third quarter. A fourth-quarter flurry pulled the Clippers to within three with less than a minute to go, but a dunk by Gay with the 24-second clock winding down and a turnover by Paul on the ensuing possession ultimately sealed the win for the Grizzlies. Paul finished with 21 points and six assists and Griffin had 14 points and 14 rebounds (10 offensive). The loss was indicative of how easy things can get away when shots are not falling from the perimeter against Memphis’ defense. They went 4-of-18 from 3-point range and were particularly poor in the first 36 minutes when Memphis led by as many as 17 points. Mo Williams (toe) and Allen (facial laceration) did not play.

CLIPPERS 101, GRIZZLIES 85, March 24, 2012: FULL RECAP

To a large extent, this was considered the turnaround in the Clippers season. The trouble in L.A. was well-documented with the team mired in its only three-game losing streak of the year, but they hammered the well-rested Grizzlies by closing the first quarter on a 12-0 run. The Clippers made shots, played defense, and protected the ball. Foye scored 18 points (nine in the third quarter), Butler had 12 (6-of-11 shooting), and Young dropped in 16 off the bench. It all complimented double-doubles by Griffin and Paul and proved Memphis’ vulnerability when an opposing offense limits their turnovers and hits from the perimeter. 

CLIPPERS 98, GRIZZLIES 91, January 26, 2012: FULL RECAP

It was the first of six ABA Hardwood Classic games for the Clippers, who donned powder blue L.A. Stars uniforms to counter the mismatched green and gold Memphis Tams. To some extent, this game has little bearing on where the teams are now. The Grizzlies were without Randolph (knee surgery) and the Clippers had Chauncey Billups starting alongside Paul. Additionally, key rotation players for the Clippers like Young, Kenyon Martin, and Eric Bledsoe (knee) were not in the mix yet.

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