San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis GrizzliesAT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
October 30, 2013, 7:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: KENS - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
The San Antonio Spurs start the season at home against the Memphis Grizzlies, the final Western Conference team they faced last season. Memphis is the 1995 Honda Accord of NBA basketball. Not many onlookers are impressed as it drives past, but it always does what's necessary and gets great mileage. Spurs fans will recognize much of the Grizzlies team, as Memphis will likely start the same five players this season - Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The last time these teams met, San Antonio was sweeping its way towards the NBA Finals, and the reason the Spurs were able to handle Memphis so well in the playoffs should be the same way it handles the Grizzlies in the regular season: load up against Randolph and Gasol and make the rest of the Grizzlies knock down perimeter jumpers. Memphis couldn't do it consistently in last year's playoffs and this team won't be able to do it any better this season. Why? Because Memphis was unable to address its most glaring need over the offseason.
Instead of dealing for some outside shooters, Memphis traded for Denver's Kosta Koufos to shore up their already loaded frontcourt. The Grizzlies did add Mike Miller to the lineup to come off the bench with Jared Bayliss, Ed Davis and Quincy Pondexter, but Miller was pretty limited physically by the end of the postseason. It's unlikely that he'll be able to give Memphis a full year if they ride him all season. He'll be used sparingly, in hopes of keeping him healthy down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The good news for fans of the Grizzlies is that they are still a force to reckoned with in the playoffs, but probably not a contender to reach the NBA Finals anymore. Last year was likely Memphis' best chance, and San Antonio slammed that door harder than my high school prom date. Everything fell into place for the Grizzlies in last year's playoffs and their ceiling was still the Western Conference Finals. Memphis had the benefit of dealing with a Western Conference without Kobe Bryant, a Thunder team sans the injured Russell Westbrook, an up-and-coming Golden State team on the other side of the bracket and a Clippers team that played half-court basketball so poorly that I questioned whether anyone on the team could spell it.
Not much of that will matter come Wednesday when San Antonio kicks off of the season. The current Grizzlies roster is built for regular season success, a team full of grinders that won 56 regular season games last year. Memphis was 29th in pace last year, so San Antonio won't have to worry about much in transition. In fact, the discrepancy in transition was one of the main reasons the Spurs ran away with last year's playoff battle. For as much as the Spurs are talked about as the old, slow team, the Memphis Grizzlies make the Spurs look like the Showtime Lakers.
Defending Memphis is simple in concept, difficult in prectice. That said, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs executed the game plan to perfection last summer and it should be the same recipe for success in the season-opener. The Spurs double-teamed Randolph in the post, forcing him to go right or kick the ball back out to the perimeter. Marc Gasol is harder to defend because of the complexity and diversity in his game, but neither big man is an above-the-rim player and San Antonio exploited that by clogging the paint and forcing the talented Memphis frontcourt to take contested shots around the rim, move a foot or two further back for their jump shots or kick it out to the perimeter. Once the ball was on the outside, San Antonio dared guys like Prince, Tony Allen, Jared Bayliss and Mike Conley to take, and make, outside jump shots. Memphis never passed that test, and I'm sure Popovich will give out the same set of questions on the season-opening quiz.
While Memphis may not be a strategic challenge on offense, this team is truly excellent defensively. The Grizzlies are tough, long on the perimeter and hard to bully around the basket. Gasol may be the most complete post player in the game today and Randolph uses his big body well to disrupt post threats. Memphis can take chances on the perimeter because of its backline of defense, and wing-defenders like Allen and Prince. Memphis has the ability to make any contest a war of attrition, and that serves them well. Memphis forces teams to earn points in the half court, and that can be a challenge early in the season when teams are still working out the kinks. Defense trumps offense at this time of year and that may allow Memphis to get off to a fast start this season.
This will be a battle of two seasoned, veteran teams that understand the 82 game grind as well as any squad in the league. They actually share a lot of the same qualities, San Antonio just does what Memphis does better. That proved true in the four games of the Western Conference and it will prove true on opening night barring a bevy of San Antonio turnovers. The way to beat the Spurs is to knock down perimeter three-pointers and Memphis just can't do that on a consistent enough basis to beat San Antonio when the Spurs are focused and efficient on the offensive side of the floor.
Matchup to watch: People will talk about the front court matchup between the duos of Gasol/Randolph and Splitter/Duncan, or even the point guard matchup between Tony Parker and Mike Conley, but I'll be watching Kawhi Leonard go against the perimeter defense of Prince. Leonard is a budding superstar and a guy Pop wants to take some offensive responsibility away from the "Big 3" this season. The Memphis defense will be a strong early test to see how capable Leonard is of carrying this offense during spots in this game.
The Memphis perspective can be found here: Grizzly Bear Blues
Game Prediction: Spurs by 7
As always, Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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