San Antonio Spurs @ Memphis Grizzlies
FedExForum, Memphis, TN
January 7, 2014, 7:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
At 15-18, one could be excused for questioning whether or not it was time for the Grizzlies to start looking beyond the 2013-14 season. They're currently in 12th place in a stacked Western Conference, last in the Southwest Division, and have been without star center Marc Gasol since November 22 (Since I don't pay for ESPN Insider I'm not all too sure what a John Hollinger is, but I've read that he now works for the Grizzlies, and even in his playoff odds Memphis' chances at a postseason berth seem slim).
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Those doubts seem to have been temporarily quelled with the team's recent acquisition of Courtney Lee, a backcourt upgrade (albeit an expensive one) over the streaky Jerryd Bayless who's now headed to Boston. In Lee the Grizzlies get a solid two-way shooting guard who has, unfortunately, failed to live up to the promise shown in his early years with the Magic. Still the move, paired with the impending return of Marc Gasol from injury, could be just the kick in the pants this Memphis team needs to live up to its preseason expectations.
Lee's first action in a Memphis uniform could come Tuesday night as the Grizzlies host San Antonio. For the Spurs, it's a FIGABABA, to be followed by a Wednesday-night home game versus Dallas; for Memphis, it's the first of a four-game home stretch.
The two teams have played twice so far this season, once in SA and once in Memphis, with the Spurs winning both contests. It was in the second game that Gasol went down with an MCL sprain and the Grizzlies, who were 7-6 at the time, have struggled ever since.
With Gasol out, the Grizzlies are Mike Conley's team. The young point guard has shown continuous improvement year after year, and played well against San Antonio in both games this season. He's a crafty point guard who is best when he gets in the lane, and would probably have more respectable numbers if he had a true wing scoring threat to work with.
While Conley has performed well against the Silver and Black, power forward Zach Randolph has struggled. At 32, Z-Bo's in the downswing of his career, but he still manages to give certain elite teams fits. That's simply not the case with San Antonio, who has frustrated him to 6-21 shooting in the two games this season.
Outside of Conley and Randolph, it's hard for the Grizzlies to count on anyone else for consistent offense these days. Tony Allen (iffy for Tuesday's game with a hand contusion) is averaging double-digit points for the first time in his career, but is first and foremost a defender (though less so as the years go on); Tayshaun Prince's best days are behind him, and NBA journeyman James Johnson has never been more than a hustle guy. One recent revelation, however, is third-year player Jon Leuer who went off for 23 points in Memphis' 112-84 thrashing of the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.
Gasol is expected to return at some point soon, but it doesn't look like it'll be tonight. That'll leave Memphis relying once again on the talents of Ed Davis, Leuer and Kosta Kuofos. Leuer is the most talented offensively out of the three, while Davis and Kuofos provide better rebounding and defense.
San Antonio is playing without their own starting center, after Tiago Splitter went down with a shoulder injury in the game against the Clippers. Stampler and J. Gomez have both speculated what that could mean for the lineup, and while I'd love to see some experimentation moving forward, I'd agree that Jeff Ayres would be a good fit to start tonight. Memphis is the perfect team to let Ayres pinball against the opposing bigs and see if he can make the odd play on the offensive end.
The Spurs' recipe for success against Memphis has involved forcing their opponent to hit shots from the outside. The Grizzlies picked up Courtney Lee partially to address their outside-shooting woes, but even if he plays I wouldn't expect that strategy to change. Beyond Lee, stretch-four Jon Leuer and the ghost of Mike Miller are their only real threats from deep.
Without their rock in the middle, the Grizzlies will be susceptible to San Antonio's dribble-drive attack all night long. That should mean solid games for Tony and Manu, and it could also mean a good showing from Kawhi, who's had two of his best games of the season against Memphis.
Leonard's not having a bad year by any means -- most of his numbers across the board are career-highs -- but it'd be nice to see him find some sort of offensive groove in the next few months. His three-point shooting percentage (29%, down from 37% last year) is slightly worrying, and I wonder if getting to the line more (his 1.9 FT attempts per game are a career low, despite taking two more FG attempts per game) could do something to improve that.
After getting bounced by Memphis in the 2011 playoffs, the Spurs have had the Grizzlies' number the past few years. The Good Guys have won the last six matchups between the two teams and, if San Antonio can once again contain Randolph down low, Tuesday night should make it seven.
Grizzlies perspective available at Grizzly Bear Blues.
Game prediction: Spurs by six
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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