Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) elevates to the basket against the… (Mike Brown / EPA )
How they match up
The Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies face each other in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Though their styles are different, the teams are evenly matched. Both finished the regular season with 56-26 records. Both were 32-9 at home and 24-17 on the road.
While the Clippers like to get out and run, the Grizzlies prefer to grind out possessions at a slower pace.
"No question, I expect it to be physical," Chris Paul said. "We've just got to play our game. We've got to pick up the tempo and keep those 'bigs' in ball screens and try to stay out of foul trouble."
Here is a breakdown on the best-of-seven series that starts Saturday night with Game 1 at Staples Center.
Guards: Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups start for the Clippers, Mike Conley and Tony Allen for Memphis. Paul is considered one of the best point guards in the NBA and Conley has improved enough to rank right below Paul. Billups, who missed the playoffs last season because of a ruptured left Achilles' tendon, has won an NBA championship and was named Finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons. Allen may lack offensive punch, but he is a lock-down defender.
Forwards: Blake Griffin and Caron Butler for the Clippers vs. Zach Randolph and Tayshaun Prince. Griffin-Randolph promises to be a punishing matchup between these two physical power forwards. Randolph will challenge Griffin to see how tough he is; Griffin can't back down. Butler demonstrated his toughness last year when he played in the playoffs with a broken left hand. Prince is simply solid on both sides of the ball.
Centers: DeAndre Jordan will have his hands full with Marc Gasol. Jordan has to stay active, run the court, play solid defense and rebound. He must find a way to make free throws — Jordan made just 38.6% during the regular season — if he wants to play in the fourth quarter. Gasol has the skills to score down low, make outside shots and pass the ball, and he's a good defender.
Benches: Jamal Crawford, a top candidate for the NBA's sixth-man-of-the-year award, Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins gave the Clippers one of the top benches in the league. The Clippers' reserves averaged 40.1 points per game, fourth-best in the NBA; a league-best 17.7 rebounds and 4.1 steals; and 8.5 assists, fourth in the league. Memphis' bench of Darrell Arthur, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and Ed Davis is very solid.
Offenses: This is could be a telltale factor in the series. The Clippers can score. They averaged 101.1 points per game, tied for the eighth in the NBA this season. The methodical Grizzlies have difficulties scoring. They averaged 93.4 points per game this season, tied for the fifth-lowest output.
Defense/rebounding: The Clippers were up and down on defense but ended the season allowing 94.6 points per game, fourth-best in the league. The Grizzlies are a tough defensive team, allowing an NBA-low 89.3 points. Both the Clippers (41.6) and Grizzlies (42.7) ranked in the middle of the pack in rebounds. But the Grizzlies' average of 12.9 offensive rebounds tied for the third in the league.
Coaches: The Clippers' Vinny Del Negro and Memphis' Lionel Hollins led their teams to the most wins in franchise history, but both are still working on the last year of their contracts and don't know what the future holds.
Intangibles: The Clippers, with their "Lob City" showmanship, are viewed around the NBA as soft. But Paul is nasty on the court, Butler is tough, and Billups doesn't back down from anybody. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies' Randolph and Gasol are tough, physical players and Memphis likes to pound opponents. That means the Clippers' Griffin and Jordan have to stand their ground against their counterparts at power forward and center.
Edge: Grizzlies, but barely.
And the winner is . . .
The Clippers in seven games because home court may make the difference.