There will be no Lakers or Thunder in this year's Western Conference Finals matchup as predicted by the majority of sports analysts at the beginning of the year.
Instead, on May 19, the #2 seed San Antonio Spurs look to seek revenge from their most embarassing exit in previous playoff history as they host the #5 seed Memphis Grizzlies.
For Spurs fans, 2011 was a year to forget. They were the second #1 seed in NBA history to lose in the first round to the #8 seed. Not only was this series a major setback for the Spurs, but it also was the major confidence boost the Grizzlies needed to become one of the elite NBA teams.
Now, here we are with the Grizzlies reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time in their franchise history.
And believe me, San Antonio fans hold grudges.
"Remember the Alamo" ring a bell?
Spurs X-factor: Kawhi Leonard
You might not think the Spurs have changed much between 2011 and now, but I'd argue you would be wrong.
Yes, the Spurs still have the Big Three. However, Manu Ginobili is playing and healthy (unlike 2011), Duncan has somehow improved as he has gotten older, and Parker is having another MVP candidate type season.
The major addition however is the the 15th overall pick in 2011, Kawhi Leonard.
In only his second year, Leonard has become the best perimeter defender on the Spurs team. In addition, he has developed a potent offensive game as well, averaging just under 14 points per game and 9 rebounds a game during the playoffs this year. He is a consistent double double threat each and every game.
Tim Duncan vs Marc Gasol
The Grizzlies are a selfless team, arguably without a pure superstar. Marc Gasol is their sole all-star player, however he is both a major defensive and offensive force to reckon with.
Out of all current playoff players, Gasol is 4th in blocks at 2.2 per game.
What does this mean for Duncan? He will likely not being drawing any double teams this series and will need to be aggressive with his offensive moves.
On the flip side, the Spurs will need to commit to team defense when guarding Gasol or Zach Randolph. Duncan might not guard Gasol until the end of the game to allow Duncan to stay out of foul trouble.
Prediction: Spurs in Seven
Since 1999, the Spurs and Lakers have combined to have won 10 out of the last 13 Western Conference Finals.
The major difference makers of this series include the following.
1)Spurs have homecourt
2)Spurs have Kawhi Leonard
3)Manu Ginobili is healthier
4)Grizzlies are without Rudy Gay
In the end, I believe the Spurs have adjusted enough from 2011 to have the firepower to get through the Grizzlies to the NBA Finals for the 5th time in 14 years.