ATLANTA — At the outset, they were saying all the right things in the post-game interviews. However, once the cameras and microphones were turned off, shouted expletives and sighs of frustration persisted throughout the Grizzlies’ locker room following their 103-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
No word yet from the NBA on when the Most Valuable Player award will be announced, but you can pretty much assume it will be LeBron James (who did not have the ball in his hands for the final shot yesterday at Madison Square Garden, Dwyane Wade did.)
But what about the playoffs?
Who has been the MVP thus far?
In my book, it has been Rajon Rondo despite his bumping of a referee that earned him a one-game suspension for Game 2. Since he has come back, he has looked like the most inspired player in any series (and yes, that includes Carmelo Anthony yesterday), and his first half dominance against the Hawks on Sunday was a sight to behold. Dude even hit a pair of 3-pointers, tying his career high.
So folks in Boston are breathing a lot easier than they were a week ago, even as Knicks fans in New York are barely continuing to breathe.
On a related note, there should be some breath-holding tonight when the Clippers play the Grizzlies in what has thus far been the most compelling series in the Western Conference playoffs.
SheridanHoops.com editor-in-chief Chris Sheridan discussed those topics Monday in this chat with CineSport’s Tara Petrolino.
For the first time in their franchise’s 17-year history, the Memphis Grizzlies have earned homecourt advantage in a playoff series. That said, simply having a deciding game in their building probably won’t get them any closer to victory without taking these factors into consideration:
- THE HEALTH FACTOR: Zach Randolph was the catalyst for the Memphis Grizzlies’ improbable upset of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in last year’s NBA playoffs. After missing 38 games this season, he seems to be rounding into form. Conversely, the Clippers’ Chris Paul is currently battling a groin injury. Paul vows to play, but what he can muster will make all the difference. Paul was unable to play in the Clippers’ season finale against the Knicks this past Wednesday. At halftime, Chris Sheridan asked Paul how he was doing. His response? “I’d be much better if I could go out there and play!” The Clippers may have just been playing it safe with Paul, but the flight from Los Angeles to Memphis is long, and surely, they must have known that their hopes of defeating the Grizzlies were diminished by losing to the Knicks. That game was important, and that Paul was unable to play is a cause for concern. If he’s not close to 100 percent, the Clippers will have no chance.
- THE GASOL FACTOR: Gone are the days when Marc Gasol was just Pau’s chubby younger brother. Fresh off of his first All-Star appearance, Gasol has earned a reputation of being one of the NBA’s best centers and a difference- maker on both ends of the floor. Offensively, his footwork is impressive and he has a good jump shot out to about 15 feet. If he can force the DeAndre Jordan to play him out on the perimeter, Gasol can open up the interior for dribble penetration from the likes of Rudy Gay or create post-up opportunities for Zach Randolph. Neither Blake Griffin nor Kenyon Martin would be able to protect the rim, so if Gasol is able to play at a high level, he can be the difference maker for the Grizzlies.
- THE DEPTH FACTOR: After failing to lure J.R. Smith away from his east coast roots, the Clippers sought to plug their hole at shooting guard when they acquired Nick Young back at the trading deadline. Thus far, Young has mostly disappointed and has been demoted. The starting job now belongs to Randy Foye. Ultimately, this series might come down to which bench unit can provide the biggest spark off of their respective benches. O.J. Mayo and Mo Williams may ultimately play bigger roles than initially imagined in the outcome of this series. The Clippers have the edge in 3-point shooting off the bench.
- THE COACHING FACTOR: On one hand, you have Lionel Hollins… A tough coach whose team plays a gritty game and has firmly bought into his team first, strength in numbers approach. On the other hand, you have Vinny Del Negro, a coach who—just one month ago—was rumored to have lost his team and was on his way to being fired. What we know is that an NBA playoff series is a chess match, and that good coaching and clever adjustments can go a long way in determining who walks away victorious. If you took a poll amongst NBA pundits, Hollins would probably be considered a better, smarter coach. But Vinny Del Negro will have an opportunity to show differently.
- THE BLAKE FACTOR: There’s no question that Blake Griffin is one of the league’s most exciting young stars to watch. Lately, he’s taken an immense amount of punishment from opposing bigs who want to prevent his thunderous dunks. Kobe Bryant recently made headlines when he suggested that Blake retaliate and “smack somebody” the next time he was on the receiving end of a hard foul. If there’s one team out there that will try to intimidate Griffin and prevent his forays into the paint, it’d probably be the Grizzlies. In order for the Clippers to be successful, though, he’ll need to use his athletic advantage of Gasol and Randolph and attack the rim with his normal ferocity. Whether or not his streaky jumper falls or he can hit more than 55 percent of his free throws will go a long way in determining what should be a long, entertaining series.
SHERIDAN: Grizzlies in 5.
HUBBARD: Grizzlies in 6.
HEISLER: Grizzlies in 6.
BERNUCCA: Grizzlies in 7.
HAMILTON: Grizzlies in 7
PERKINS: Clippers in 7.
ZAGORIA: Grizzlies in 6.
PARK: Clippers in 6.
For the complete first-round NBA playoff schedule, click here.
OTHER SERIES PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS