Western Conference Playoff Predictions: Spurs vs. Grizzlies

It all comes down to the youth.

This is possibly one of the most blue-collar series of this season’s NBA Playoffs as both lack the star power of other teams heading into the postseason.

1. San Anonio Spurs vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis didn’t exactly start the season out on the right foot.  It was marred by lengthy losing streaks matched by minimal winning streaks that never extended further than four games.  In fact, their longest winning steak of the season was only five games right before the All-Star break.  However, they haven’t lost three straight since December and were able to rack up enough wins to hold that eighth and final spot in the West.

The Spurs have been just as confusing.  This formerly defensively minded, full-court team was actually set to turn into an offensive machine.  With a Frenchman and Argentinean both leading the way, a transformation was due.  We never saw it happening this quickly nor with the same result as San Antonio essentially coasted to the No. 1 seed in the West.  Kudos to Greg Popavich.

Key Matchups:

When the Griz’s lead scorer, Rudy Gay, went down for the season with an injured shoulder back in February, we all thought it was over for Memphis.  However, they didn’t need to look any further than Zach Randolph for an option to fill in for scoring.  In fact, Memphis has gotten better since losing gay.  In the 54 games in which he played, they outscored opponents by two points per 100 possessions.  In the 28 games without Gay including the last two games that they didn’t need to win, they outscored opponents by 3.6 points per possession.  They haven’t fallen in any other category without highest paid player either.

The veteran Randolph will be key in keeping the Griz’s head above water.  The Spurs love to score and it will be up to him to lead the offense that already doesn’t score a ton with only 99 points a game (12th in the league).  Z Bo has only been to the playoffs three times in his entire career and only amassed a dismal six wins without a trip to the second round yet.  It may be a lot to ask for this 29-year-old veteran who was essentially thrust into his first leading role ever in his career.

Tim Duncan has been playing less minutes than ever before in his career and his numbers have declined too.  With such a green team going into the playoffs, it’s really going to come down to Manu Ginobili to spark the offense in San Antonio.  The guy really flourishes when asked to step up and he works well in this new offense that has developed there.  However, he was injured in the Spurs’ last game of the season against the Suns last night.  He hyperextended his right elbow when Phoenix’s Grant Hill fell on it.  X-rays were negative for a more serious injury but it has yet to be determined if he will be missing any games.

If the injury turns out to be something worse, it will come down to Tony Parker utilizing some of the younger players in San Antonio.  George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner will all have to step up.  Richard Jefferson found his way this season in his second year as a spur and he will have to step up well.  However, none of them perform on the same level as Ginobili does in the post season.

X Factors:

For the Spurs, it comes down to the young guys.  Hill, Blair, Neal and Bonner have proven that they can compete all season but the playoffs are a different story.  Memphis’s Lionel Hollins will have at least four games to adjust his defense appropriately.  Additionally, Tony Allen made a name for himself as a defender on the Boston Celtics and is the only player on Memphis with a ring.  He will shut down one of the players listen above and it will be up to the rest to step up and adjust around him.

The same applies to the Griz who have a ton of younger guys who have never seen the playoffs.  Overall, Memphis has never won a playoff series but if the greener players step up around the vets, that could change.  Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Darrell Arthur and O.J. Mayo will get their first taste of the playoffs and how it works.  Sadly, they are doing this against a team that has been there and done that with rings to show for it.  Veterans such as Shane Battier and even Leon Powe need prepare these guys for a rough series.

Predictions:

San Antonio will win in five games.  Memphis will shake its post season losing streak but will end this series with a 1-16 playoff record as a franchise.  Even though they did beat the Spurs three times this season, they just aren’t ready for the playoffs.  They have plenty of good veterans but they don’t know how to lead a team.  San Antonio will roll and other than one loss in Memphis, this series will be theirs.  Expect some good games but the Griz just got their head stuck in the wrong honey pot.

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