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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies

We’ll get to know these guys pretty well, because it’s the first of three contests between the clubs in the next 18 days.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies won’t win a title this season, but they’ll be a thorn in the side for any first-round opponent.

Same as it ever was.

This year’s iteration of the team features the following:

  • Top 10-defense.
  • Marc Gasol doing dope Marc Gasol things.
  • highest-paid-NBA-player-in-the-league Mike Conley being a All-Star caliber point guard.
  • Zach Randolph punking fools off the bench.
  • JaMychal Green becoming a legitimate starting power forward. (He appeared in four games for the Spurs in the 2014-15 season, by the way.)
  • Vince Carter still winning the battle against Father Time at 40 years old.
  • Tony Allen terrorizing opposing players’ lives on the defensive end.

Memphis, the seventh seed in the Western Conference with a 39-30 record, is within one game of the fifth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers and a half-game behind the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. The chances are there for upward mobility, but they do not possess either head-to-head tiebreaker. If the season ended today, they’d draw the Spurs in the first round for the third time in seven seasons.

David Fizdale, an assistant coach for eight seasons with the Miami Heat, was named the head coach in the hopes of moving the Grind City Grizzlies into the 21st century. The tenets of the old Grizzlies offense is still largely in place — Gasol working around the elbows, Randolph bruising bench bigs down low, Conley darting into the paint and opening up angles for sub-standard shooters — except the team is hoisting up 26.2 3-pointers per game, good for 13th-most in the league. San Antonio, by contrast, is 26th in 3-point attempts.

That, alone, explains the Grizzlies improved offensive efficiency this season. Under Joerger, Memphis avoided 3-pointers and bottomed out as the 22nd best offense in the league on a per-possession basis. This season, emboldened by Fizdale’s experience with Erik Spoelstra and the space-and-pace Heat, Memphis is creeping up towards the league average (17th) in offensive efficiency.

Fizdale released the restraints on Gasol’s game, allowing the Spaniard to float out behind the 3-point arc. He’s attempted 244 3-pointers this season — compared to just 77 in his first eight seasons — making them at an above-average clip (38.5 percent). Conley is shooting a near career-best 40.3 percent on a healthy volume of opportunities, too. This franchise is slowly, but surely, embracing the new-age NBA principles. Building a competent offense is nearly impossible without attempting a high volume of 3-pointers or at least shooting them efficiently. Memphis did neither for years and still found a way to win 50+ games a season.

Times have changed though. Winning without the 3-pointer as at least part of the offensive toolbox is damn near impossible. Smart teams will suffocate the life out of a deadlocked offense in the playoffs. It’s happened to Memphis in the past. (Example: last year’s first-round series when San Antonio ousted the injury-depleted Grizzlies in four games.)

Still, Memphis’ defense remains the the foundation and over-arching identity of the team. Winning basketball games typically means the Grizzlies play top-notch defense, avoid turnovers (sixth in turnover rate), create free throws often (fifth in free throw rate) and receive just enough offensive oomph from Conley and Gasol to put them over the top.

It remains a winning formula in 2017. Title or not, Memphis should not be taken lightly.

San Antonio Spurs (52-15) at Memphis Grizzlies (39-30)

March 18, 2017 | 8:00 pm CDT

Watch: FSSW; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Spurs injuries: Dejounte Murray (groin), Tony Parker (back)

Grizzlies injuries: Chandler Parsons (knee)

Still waiting for that win

San Antonio has beaten 27 of 29 NBA teams this season. That includes the Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics etc etc.

But the Spurs haven’t beaten the Grizzlies or Knicks yet.

Granted, the only opportunity was a Kawhi-less game on the front-end of the Rodeo Road Trip. San Antonio lost by 15 points, scored a season-low in points (74) while shooting 36.6 percent from the field.

The Spurs have three opportunities over the next three weeks to beat the Grizzlies, starting tonight.

Vegas line: Spurs by 3.5.

Game prediction: Spurs by 6.

For the Grizzlies fan’s perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

PtR's Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR's Twitter feed.