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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Memphis Grizzlies

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Two Western Conference contenders, both coming off disappointing road losses, face off in a division game that could have playoff implications.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs @ Memphis Grizzlies

FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee
December 5, 2014, 7 p.m. Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI

If the vastly superior competition within the Western Conference equates to a dog fight, the Southwest Division is more like the raptor cage from Jurassic Park, with the league schedule culling opponents like the unfortunate cow that's hoisted down into the fracas. Its five teams have a collective win percentage of .714, easily tops in the league and higher than the best team in either the Central or Southeast divisions.

At a respectable 13-5, the Spurs are currently in fourth place in the Southwest, ahead of only 8-9 New Orleans, who would still push for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The alpha dogs of the division at the moment are the 15-3 Grizzlies, whose record is good for second-best in the NBA, behind Golden State. It's nothing new for a team that also owns the best regular-season record (49-15) since Mark Gasol's return from injury midway through last year. The longer Memphis continues its good play, the less it seems like a throw-away stat and the more head coach David Joerger's boys look like title contenders.

Key to the Grizzlies' improved play is last year's trade for Courtney Lee. Memphis sent the streaky, offensive-minded Jerryd Bayless, on a cheaper contract, over to Boston in a deal that didn't make too many waves at the time. But Lee has given his new team some solid two-way play at a position that had been lacking dynamism and playmaking for years. He's a great kick-out option for Randolph and Gasol and, unlike the one-sided Allen and over-the-hill Tayshaun Prince, makes his man work on both ends.

Lee and Danny Green will be an intriguing matchup. Both guys have proven themselves to be slightly more than just 3-and-D dudes, and the team that wins this scoring battle will have a nice advantage. Kawhi Leonard has played well against Tony Allen over the years, and will hopefully bounce back from his 4-16 shooting night against Brooklyn.

Memphis has an extended wing rotation beyond its two starters, with guys like Quincy Pondexter and Vince Carter able to step up and provide meaningful minutes while stretching the defense.

Then there's Mike Conley, typically in the conversation with Tony Parker among most underrated playmakers in the league. He's slippery on the pick-and-roll and a great facilitator, and, like TP, has seen an improvement in his three-point shooting this year. The Spurs are familiar enough with Conley by this point, but it won't stop him from being a disruptive presence on D while being the motor driving the Grizzlies offense.

While San Antonio dropped Wednesday's game against Brooklyn through languish play and cold shooting, Memphis lost to an undermanned Houston Rockets team, 105-96. The combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph should've feasted in the paint with the absence of Dwight Howard, but were out-rebounded and out-played by the gruesome twosome of Tarik Black and Donatas Motiejunas.

More worrisome for Memphis than the result is Marc Gasol's knee (update: it's apparently a bone bruise, leaving him questionable for this game), which was wrapped up with ice following the loss. If Gasol misses extended time, it changes the entire outlook for the Grizzlies' season. And if he just misses tonight's game, it gives the Spurs a huge advantage down low, with one of the league's best bigs not altering shots or facilitating the offense.

The Grizzlies are playing great basketball, but the Spurs have had their number for some time. History isn't always a reason to justify the future, but it'll tilt my prediction for tonight in favor of a San Antonio bounce-back win.

Matchup to watch: Zach Randolph vs. Matt Bonner. Timmy will get the assignment against Gasol and, while the Spurs will definitely miss Tiago, Bonner should be able to fill in nicely.

vs.

Memphis Grizzlies (15-3)

San Antonio Spurs (13-5)

December 5, 2014

FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee

7 p.m. CST

TV: FSSW

Radio: WOAI 1200AM

Starters

Mike Conley

PG

Tony Parker

Courtney Lee

SG

Danny Green

Tony Allen

SF

Kawhi Leonard

Zach Randolph

PF

Matt Bonner

Marc Gasol (?)

C

Tim Duncan


Game prediction: Spurs by two.

For the Grizzlies' perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.

As always, Tony must dominate Fisher, and you can get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment: Tel: 210-444-5607 | dfarias@attcenter.com