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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

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After winning their first game in the bubble, the Spurs have the chance to get even closer to the playoffs by beating the incumbent eighth seed.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs had a fantastic return to the season with a win against the Kings in their first game in the Orlando bubble. Behind impressive individual performances by Derrick White and DeMar DeRozan and a great all-around team effort, San Antonio managed to pull off a minor upset that gives the team hope for the playoffs.

The Grizzlies, on the other hand, fell short against a Trail Blazers team that is now at full force in a close overtime game and have now seen their grasp of the final playoff spot weakened. They need a win against the Spurs or the pressure will be significant for a young team that might not be able to handle it.

Every game feels important in this condensed mini-season, but this one has more weight than most. Whoever wins will be energized for the final stretch, and whoever loses will feel deflated at the worst possible time. Let’s hope the Silver and Black come out on top.

San Antonio Spurs (28-36) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (32-34)

August 2, 2020 | 3:00 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Shoulder - Out), Trey Lyles (Appendix - Out), Bryn Forbes (Quad - Out), Marco Belinelli (Foot - Questionable)

Grizzlies Injuries: Tyus Jones (Knee - Out), Justise Winslow (Hip - Out)

A true battle of big vs. small

The Spurs’ commitment to playing four perimeter players around a single big man for long stretches will be tested by a Grizzlies team that boasts a truly gigantic frontcourt. Kyle Anderson (6’9), Jaren Jackson Jr. (6’11) and Jonas Valanciunas (6’11) will have a huge size advantage going against San Antonio starters while Brandon Clarke and some other lengthy forwards await in the bench to keep Memphis bigger even when the subs check in.

Length alone typically doesn’t mean much, but the Grizzlies starting bigs are also accomplished offensive players. The Spurs often try to hide DeMar DeRozan on the opposing team’s perimeter big, but that might not be an option here if Jackson Jr., fresh off a 33-point performance against the Blazers, decides to use his otherworldly athleticism to hurt the Spurs inside instead of staying behind the arc. Jackson Jr. is not the most refined post player, but he likely won’t need nifty footwork to score on the 6’7 DeRozan.

As big of a concern as the battle at power forward is, it might not be as important as the battle at center. If Valanciunas can get Jakob Poeltl in foul trouble, the Spurs’ interior defense could collapse. If Poeltl wins the matchup, he might force the Grizzlies to go small, which could allow San Antonio to get away with some Rudy Gay at center minutes. Memphis could still try to stay big with the Clarke and Jackson Jr. tandem if Valanciunas struggles, which is terrifying from an athleticism standpoint but at least features no post threats.

Poeltl will have his hands full all night and how he performs might determine the outcome of the game.

Don’t let Ja pull a De’Aaron Fox

One of the biggest issues the Spurs had in their game against the Kings was their complete inability to contain De’Aaron Fox. The speedy point guard finished with 39 points despite going 1-for-7 from beyond the arc, mostly because he managed to get to the rim at will. San Antonio can’t allow that to happen against Ja Morant and the Grizzlies.

Morant might not be as quick as Fox — arguably no one is — but he’s insanely explosive and loves putting pressure on the defense. In his outstanding rookie season he ranks fifth in the league in drives per game (one slot above Fox) and not only can he score getting to the rim but also set up others. Keeping him in check will be key to keeping the Grizzlies’ offense stagnated, since besides him they don’t have a lot of shot creators.

The Spurs have, on paper, the personnel to contain Ja. In three prior matchups, Morant scored and assisted at around his season averages. San Antonio can deploy either Derrick White or Dejounte Murray on him and has a good back line defender in Jakob Poeltl waiting for Ja at the rim. Those three couldn’t fully neutralize Fox on Friday, but hopefully will be ready for a new challenge on Sunday.

The Spurs bench gives them an edge

While the Grizzlies have some very good starters, they don’t have the deepest roster. Only two of their subs, De’Anthony Melton and Clarke, are reliable. With Tyus Jones out, there’s not much else to their bench. Anthony Tolliver is a very limited vet, Josh Jackson is talented but inconsistent, and Grayson Allen has not emerged as the quality rotation piece many hoped he could be.

The Spurs, on the other hand, have counted their bench as a strength for a while now. Even in their severely undermanned state, they have some valuable contributors in the second unit, as demonstrated by the 42 points they got from their subs against the Kings. Rudy Gay leads the charge, but the rookies have showed their ability to give the team some quality minutes too, with Keldon Johnson looking ready for extended playing time and even Quinndary Weatherspoon showing he can play if needed.

It will be interesting to see if Patty Mills gets minutes against the Grizzlies. He’s healthy, but Gregg Popovich has decided not to play him so far in Orlando. With Bryn Forbes out and possibly Marco Belinelli sitting as well, San Antonio could definitely use Mills’ shot-making and leadership off the bench. If Patty plays, the Spurs will actually have a substantial edge that could truly be an important factor on the outcome of the game.


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

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.