Playoffs Day 9: Previews of Spurs-Jazz and Grizzlies-Clippers

One team, the Dallas Mavericks, has already been knocked out of the playoffs. If you want to bash Mark Cuban for it, you should read this first.

The Utah Jazz will look to avoid the same fate in Game 4 against the mighty San Antonio Spurs, who seem to have forgotten how to lose – winning their last 13 contests.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers hope to put themselves in a dominant position to take the series from the Memphis Grizzlies, who seem to be suffering from an identity crisis at an inopportune time.

Those latter four teams will be on display tonight, both games on TNT.

San Antonio (3-0) at Utah (0-3):

jazz small logoAs they had done in so many games throughout the season, the Spurs are making quick work of the Jazz thus far in the first round of the playoffs.

Having lost the first three games by an average of 19.3 points, Al Jefferson seems to have given up all hope.

“I just think we’re playing against a team that is at its peak,” Jefferson said. “I don’t see nobody beating them.”

His sentiment is somewhat controversial given the fact that the series is still ongoing, but understandable given the fact that no team has ever come back after losing the first three games in the postseason. (Sheridan and myself, still married to our Knicks in 7 picks, are counting on it happening for the first time.)

Desperately looking to avoid a series sweep in Game 4, Tyrone Corbin will shake up his lineup and go big, sending an ineffective Josh Howard to the bench and starting Derrick Favors.

From Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: “Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said he plans to start a big lineup featuring Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson during Game 4 against San Antonio. Devin Harris and Gordon Hayward will round out the Jazz’s first five. Corbin’s moving to the big lineup because he’s looking for a significant change as Utah plays a possible elimination game. The Jazz have been outscored 170-108 in the paint during Games 1-3 and Utah has only won one quarter, while Spurs point guard Tony Parker has controlled the series. “We’re going to still run our offense and see if we can get the ball inside a little bit more and get points in the paint more,” Corbin said. “They’ve taken advantage of us there.” Corbin had been reluctant all series to use the big lineup for an extended period because of San Antonio’s pinpoint 3-point shooting — the Spurs are hitting 39 percent of their attempts beyond the arc. But with Utah down 3-0 and having been outscored by a combined 58 points, Corbin is looking for something to spur his unproven team.”

spurs small logoShould a bigger lineup present matchup issues for the Spurs, they will have a big man of their own in Tiago Splitter who figures to see an increased role moving forward.

From Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express-News: “Up 3-0, the top-seeded Spurs will dispatch the Jazz soon enough, possibly as soon as tonight’s Game 4 at EnergySolutions Arena. After that, Splitter’s place in coach Gregg Popovich’s arsenal becomes amplified. No matter their second-round draw — either Zach Randolph’s Memphis Grizzlies or Blake Griffin’s Los Angeles Clippers — the Spurs are going to need big bodies to match big bodies. And outside of Tim Duncan, the 6-foot-11 Splitter is as big as it gets for the Spurs. “Splitter’s smart,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He’s big. He knows who he is. He’s a big body in there for them.” In the Spurs’ 102-90 victory in Game 3, which moved them to the brink of sweeping their first playoff series since the 2007 NBA Finals, the blue-collar Splitter provided a preview of how he can contribute. Returning to the series after skipping Game 2 with the wrist injury, Splitter scored 10 points in a little more than 18 minutes, many of them on crafty finishes of crafty Manu Ginobili passes. More importantly, Splitter grabbed a team-best eight rebounds, and — in a jumbo look rarely used by the Spurs this season — teamed with Duncan down the stretch to help keep Utah’s beefy big men off the glass. Popovich described the big Brazilian’s Game 3 contributions with this adjective: “Huge.”

Containing Parker remains a mystery for the Jazz, as he lit up anyone in his path through the first three games. Gordon Hayward had the assignment of guarding him for stretches in Game 3, but Parker still ended up with 27 points, though he did commit five turnovers – two more than he had in the first two games combined.

Memphis (1-2) at Los Angeles Clippers (2-1):

Coming into the series, the Clippers knew free-throw shooting would play a key role.

During the regular season, the team shot 68% and ranked 29th in free-throw shooting percentage.

Even they couldn’t have imagined, however, that they would end up missing 17-of-30 free throws – the worst mark in the history of the NBA playoffs – in Game 3.

The most encouraging sign was that they still managed to win the game, 87-86.

From Baxter Holmes of Los Angeles Times: “So, did the Clippers spend Sunday’s practice working on free throws? “That’s funny,” said a smiling Coach Vinny Del Negro. “Is that the big joke?” That’s one way to refer to the Clippers’ inability to make an unguarded 15-foot shot… “We were able to overcome it,” Del Negro said, “but you’ve got to be good in a lot of other areas if you miss that many free throws.” Having Chris Paul helps. He was clutch in Game 3, leading the Clippers to a win and a 2-1 series lead in their Western Conference first-round playoff. Game 4 is set for Monday at Staples Center… “We had everybody in here shooting free throws” Sunday, guard Nick Young said. Young had an idea as to why they missed 17 in Game 3. “Some players haven’t been in that situation, especially with us being in the playoff atmosphere,” Young said. “You’ve really got the game in your hands when you’re at the free-throw line. That can be a lot of pressure, with everybody telling you, ‘We need this shot, we need you to make these free throws.’ ” Del Negro has talked ad nauseam about free-throw struggles all season. He repeated his motto on the subject Sunday: “The bottom line is you’ve got to make the free throws.”

The story of the series has been the play of Chris Paul, who is averaging 22.3 points, 9.3 assists and 3.3 steals through the first three games, but every team needs a third scoring option, and Randy Foye provided the spark in Game 3.

More from Holmes: “In the Clippers’ 87-86 win over Memphis on Saturday, guard Randy Foye provided the additional offense his team needed (16 points) precisely when it needed it most (late). With 3 minutes 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Clippers down by three, Foye hit a three-point shot that caused the raucous, sea-of-red, sell-out crowd at Staples Center, where the Clippers will return for Game 4 on Monday, to erupt. Up to that point, the Clippers had trailed for most of the second half. After it, they never trailed again. And they left the building with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series in the Western Conference first-round playoff. “That’s not the first shot Randy has hit all season that’s been big,” guard Eric Bledsoe said. “Randy has ice in his veins.” Aside from Paul, who scored 24, and Griffin, who had 17, Foye was the only other Clippers player in double figures. “We’ve got so many people that can make shots,” Foye said. “Blake and CP are obviously the one-two punch, but then you just play your role.” Foye said he hasn’t had many good looks in the first two games against Memphis. “But [Saturday], I got some open ones,” he said.”

Caron Butler started for the team despite having a fractured hand which was diagnosed to heal in 4-6 weeks, and will play through the pain again in Game 4.

grizzlies small logoThough Rudy Gay hit two huge 3-pointers in the final seconds of Game 3 to bring his team within one point, he ultimately missed the game-winning shot attempt.

The Grizzlies – in danger of going down 3-1 in the series – seem to lack a sense of certainty in what style they want to play and who they want to lean on, a problem they did not have in last season’s playoffs.

From Ronald Tillery of Memphis Commercial Appeal: “If the Griz learned anything during their historic postseason run last season, it’s that the playoffs are a test of wills. They imposed their will on San Antonio. The Griz did so again in the first half of their series against Oklahoma City until the Thunder turned the tide and won a Game 7. Most of the Griz power was made possible by Zach Randolph’s prowess in the paint. This year, the Griz are searching for a consistent and steady driving force that can carry them beyond the statistics. The Clippers have that in point guard Chris Paul, who is filling up the stat sheet, but also willing his team with intangibles and physical toughness. Paul has dictated everything so far — from getting anywhere he wants on the floor, to making shots, to setting up teammates and directing them to succeed, to forcing Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro to not concede Game 1 when they trailed by 24 points in the fourth quarter. The result? Two wins for the Clippers that the Grizzlies and most pundits believe the Grizzlies should have won. But the Griz have faltered down the stretch, partly due to poor decision-making that leads to bad shots, turnovers and defensive lapses.”

Lionel Hollins may have to reconsider some of his plans and rotations.

Tony Allen, the motor of the team’s defense, has seldom seen playing time in the fourth quarter.

From Nikki Boertman of Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Pondexter is the key, honestly. He’s getting the minutes that Allen would otherwise get. Pondexter played 4:52 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, 6:43 in Game 2 and 6:30 in Game 3. Why? “Because they’re not guarding Tony,” said Hollins “Quincy has played well.” Indeed, Pondexter’s length and defense was widely praised as a key to the victory in Game 2. Hollins plainly trusts Pondexter more than Allen. It’s easy to understand why. Allen regularly commits plays that make you want to scream. Pondexter almost never does. Having said all that, isn’t it odd that the very personification of grit and grind is on the bench at grit and grind time? The Grizzlies were outfought for offensive rebounds down the stretch in Game 3. Their best fighter was on the bench. Pondexter is a better shooter and a more disciplined player than Allen. But in the three games, Allen has played 17, 21 and 28 minutes. Guess which of those three the Grizzlies won? That’s right. The one in which he played 28.”

Marc Gasol, one of the most skilled big men in the league, has been underutilized thus far, to say the least.

More from Boertman: “In a Game 1 defeat, Gasol had just one shot in the second half and no field goal attempts in the last period. Not only are the Clippers getting away with using forwards Reggie Evans and Blake Griffin to defend the post late in games, but that decision has been effective in part because the Griz are losing track of their All Star center. “Of course when you’re 7-1 you feel like you have an advantage but that doesn’t mean you have to take the shot,” Gasol said with a bit of diplomacy. “You can create for somebody else. At the end of the day, when we run plays, we always feel like we have an advantage. We feel like Zach (Randolph) has an advantage with pretty much anybody in the league. We feel like Rudy (Gay) has an advantage with pretty much anybody in the league. So it doesn’t matter who has the ball.” The most egregious disregard for Gasol happened when the game was knotted at 80 and 2:34 remained. Gasol had just drawn Griffin into an offensive foul. It was Griffin’s fifth foul. But on the Grizzlies’ next offensive possession, point guard Mike Conley took and missed an 18-foot shot instead of feeding Gasol in the post. The moment presented an opportunity for Gasol to give the Griz a lead and possibly draw a sixth and disqualifying foul on Griffin. The Griz never attacked Griffin, whose dunk with 1:23 left put the Griz in an 84-80 hole. “We’ve got to get big fella the ball and just play,” Randolph said. “We’ve got to get him the ball.”

James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on twitter @nbatupark.

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