OK kids, so this here is the part of the Venn diagram where the big red LWM circle overlaps the little green RRT circle, forming a brownish, non-symmetric lens of maximum difficulty. Now, while circle RRT is of a fixed and known size, the exact circumference of circle LWM is somewhat hypothetical. Conceivably, the overlap could transform into a full circle as RRT becomes entirely engulfed by LWM. Pity the thought, because the Spurs have certainly struggled away from home this season, and this month's road odyssey is by no means a cakewalk. Of the nine games, six are against very tough opponents. If there were ever a point in the season that it would be ideal for Manu Ginobili to return, this would probably be it. Are the Spurs ready to do this thing without him?
Well, ask Tony Parker if he is ready. Ask Tim Duncan. Ask Kawhi Leonard. Yeah, these guys are ready to give it their best shot, no holds barred. That light at the end of the tunnel, however long the tunnel may be, is a locomotive called Manu, but his teammates aren't waiting idly for his arrival. Parker and Duncan have been sharing the Atlas duties lately and their deep but green cadre of teammates have started to get the hang of things and are playing with a lot of fire and improving execution. As fun as last season was, this season is shaping up into something even more interesting. After a crazy December and January, the always difficult Rodeo Road Trip ironically begins a period of relative normalcy, and it begins tonight in Memphis.
The Grizzlies have had the injury bug this season and are sitting at .500, bearing little resemblance to the team that finished last season with such promise. We hosted these guys only a week ago, and are quite familiar with the Grizz. Hulk tossed him a few bears in that one, but we know the Grizzlies are tougher at home and, well, just tough in general. Memphis only broke the 20 point mark in one quarter in that game. They again had trouble scoring in Boston yesterday. But I expect them to be better at home where they are 7-3, and the Spurs are going to have to continue their improved recent play to get a win.
At one point not long ago Memphis had a seven game winning streak going, but they have now dropped six of their last eight and are struggling. Already thin with the injuries to Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur, Memphis was also without the rough and tumble services of Tony Allen yesterday due to leg problems that may keep him out of tonight's game, forcing coach Lionel Hollins to use the same makeshift starting lineup you see below. They are playing the second game of a back-to-back, which may further test their depth issues. Rudy Gay is the team's leading scorer with 18.3 per game this season, but Gasol, Allen, Mayo and Conley are all averaging in the double figures and will need to be contained. Currently Memphis is near the bottom third of the league in scoring with just under 94 per contest, and their point differential is +1.7. Memphis is shooting poorly from the three point line, and they are mediocre at defending same, so this is one facet of the game I would keep an eye on. Memphis is a good defensive squad, holding opponents to just 92 points and 43.5% shooting per game. They lead the league in causing opponents to turn the ball over at 18 per game, and this is one area in which the Spurs are going to have to remain solid; with their set offense struggling, the Grizzlies would like nothing more than to convert some easy baskets off of turnovers.
Have the Spurs gotten over last year's unceremonious dismissal at the claws of these Grizzlies? I wouldn't bet on it. Parker, Duncan and company are playing focused, inspired ball lately, and I expect more of the same tonight. And if Tony Parker has a little chip on his wee French shoulders, Mike Conley just may be in for a little payback tonight. He outplayed Parker in the playoffs last season, but not many are outplaying Tony right now. Then again, the Grizzlies are at home, are hungry for a win, and would love to get a new winning streak started. This should be a good one to watch.
Game Predictions: Kawhi Leonard will frustrate Rudy Gay into an inefficient and forgettable performance; Tony Parker will continue his exuberance in the lane, creating lots of open looks for his teammates; Tim Duncan will school the Big Gasolski; Mayo and Conley will keep it close; Spurs win 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.