With San Antonio’s overpowering of Golden State last night, the Western Conference Finals are set to begin on Sunday with a Southwest Division showdown between two teams who are pretty evenly matched.
The Spurs come in on the heels of a difficult series against Golden State that certainly tested their ability to deal with a younger, more athletic team, but facing Memphis will test how well they can cope with a team that is a lot like they used to be.
Back when the Spurs were Tim Duncan’s team, they thrived on the defensive end of the floor and could rely on their big man for a big bucket when they needed one. Memphis has somewhat copied that model using Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph for clutch shooting and relying heavily on their defense which is the best in the league.
San Antonio is Tony Parker’s team rather than Duncan’s these days and in order to make that shift, Greg Popavich transformed his team’s game plan from defensive minded to offensive minded. The Spurs have transformed themselves over the years into one of the best scoring teams in the NBA, finishing this season as the fourth ranked offense in the league.
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The season series between these two this year finished 2-2 with each team winning its home games. If home court were the deciding factor in the series, then San Antonio has the edge, but given that three of the four games were settled by four points or less, I think it’s a safe bet that we’re in for a closely contested series.
The teams aren’t far apart in terms of how they rank in points in the paint or fast break points, but the Spurs hold a major advantage in shooting percentage. This is the key stat in the series, because the more Memphis can disrupt San Antonio’s shooting rhythm the more they can take advantage of a key statistic that swings in their favor; rebounding.
The Grizzlies are a far superior team on the boards and will easily win the battle of second chance points. The question is how many opportunities to grab those points will be available and this is where Memphis’ defense comes in. The team just shut down one of basketball’s best scorers in Kevin Durant and was able to seal up the Clippers in round one, but they face a much more balanced team in the Spurs when it comes to scoring the basketball.
Prediction: This one is going to be close. The Spurs have the experience, but the Grizzlies have a ton of momentum coming in and a group of players and fans that are equally as excited about the first Western Conference Finals in team history. The Spurs will stay composed no matter what, but Memphis is perhaps now the favorite to head to the finals.
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There is no chance this series will end in five games and the long haul favors Memphis and their well rested more youthful legs. While everyone will be focused on San Antonio’s experience, the Grizzlies have a bit of their own after three straight trips to the postseason and acquiring a player with multiple championship runs under his belt in Tayshaun Prince. The Grizzlies have their ducks in a row so to speak and believe there time is now. While the Spurs are an institution, this advantage in this one tips toward Memphis.
Grizzlies win series 4-3.