When: Tuesday, January 7th, 6:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
I’ll say the same thing I said last week: THANK GOD THEY BEAT THE NUGGETS! Seriously, that was huge, especially with the Suns winning again, preventing the Grizzlies from gaining any ground.After slipping up in the second quarter, the Grizzlies recovered, and managed to finish off a decidedly listless Nuggets team just going through the motions at this point. Now, the Grizzlies face the Herculean task of taking down the Spurs – who just saw their winning streak end, and are likely looking slaughter their next opponent just for the fun of it. So yeah, the Grizzlies better be prepared for this one. Frankly, even if they do make the playoffs, if they can’t take down the Spurs down on their own court at least once, they won’t be hanging around for long anyway. So, in addition to being crucial to the Grizzlies payoff hopes, this game should be a decent measurement of how excited Grizz fans should be for a potential playoff appearance to begin with.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Tony Parker
Parker is playing well this year, but you probably aren’t hearing about it much, partly because he was a bit better last year, and partly because everyone knows how good Tony Parker is now, and it’s not as fun to talk about as it was two years ago. Still, he’s one of the scariest point guards in the league, and Conley will have his hands full tonight (which I’m sure he’s sued to). Parker is great at both getting the shot he wants, and finding ways to score even when he can’t get that shot (see his ridiculous buzzer-beater in Game 1 of the Finals). Even in his 13th year in the league, Parker hasn’t lost anything, and it will take a massive effort by Conley to render him ineffective. – I’ll be honest, everything you just read is from a preview I wrote of a Spurs-Grizzlies game in January. I just didn’t feel the need to write a new paragraph, because the situation has not changed here. Parker has been underwhelming this season, but no one doubts that he’s still a really scary player. Conley is trying to get on his level in terms of respect and credibility, and he’s actually not that far away.
Advantage: San Antonio
Courtney Lee vs Danny Green
After having his share of difficulties back in the year, Green is back in the starting lineup, and once again, he’s one of the more frightening 3-and-D guys in the league. The Spurs have so many shooters on the court that it’s hard for defenders to keep tabs on all of them, which allows Green to thrive. Let’s remember, a big part of why the Heat won the championship is because going into Game 6, they finally realized they had to cover Green at all times, or he would destroy them. For an alleged “role player,” Green had an enormous effect on the Finals, and could very well do similar damage in the playoffs this year. Lee was once again hesitant against Denver, and as he continues t avoid shots, one has to wonder how long it will be until Joerger considers re-inserting T.A. into the lineup, especially with the recent Prince injury inadvertently eliminating the Prince and Allen spacing concerns. Which reminds me….
Advantage: San Antonio
James Johnson vs Kawhi Leonard
Here’s where the Tayshaun Prince debate really gets tested. One of the biggest arguments going on in Grizzlies Fandom this year has been just how valuable Prince is to the team. Some – like me – point to his weak raw numbers, and limited range as evidence that he’s a liability, while others look at the success the team has with Prince on the curt as evidence of his value. Well, Prince is gone for the time being, and now we’ll have to see how much the Grizzlies end up missing him. Miller could potentially get the start here, but I went with Johnson because he’s more athletic, has a deeper game, and really, Miller’s presence as the 6th man is a huge part of the team’s current identity, and I’m not sure the Grizzlies want to mess that up. Starting Miller could help the Grizzlies with spacing concerns however, so they might go in that direction. As for Leonard, he’s brilliant on both sides of the ball, and while the seniority of the Big 3 prevents him from taking more shots, he’s probably the best player on the Spurs right now.
Advantage: San Antonio
Zach Randolph vs Tiago Splitter
Friday’s game against Denver is a perfect example of why having a guy like Z-Bo on your team is so wonderful. It was not his best shooting night by any stretch, as he went 7-22 after a dreadful second quarter, but he made himself extremely useful anyway. When the shots weren’t falling, he was still a beast on the boards, and in the 4th quarter he got his groove back, played an enormous role in the Grizzlies sealing the deal, and wound up with an impressive 20 points and 15 rebounds. That’s Z-Bo for ya. As for Splitter, he’s never going to put up super-gaudy stats, but he’s established himself as one of the more efficient big men in the league, and a great partner t have alongside Duncan. He knows his role, plays it well, and can occasionally have a big game.
Marc Gasol vs Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan: still good, still boring. I mean, do i really have to say that much more about him? After a rough start to the season where we briefly had the “is Duncan starting to lose it” conversation, he’s picked his game back up, and currently leads the Spurs in PER and Win Shares. Honestly, Duncan will probably retire in a few years, but really, I see know reason why he couldn’t go into his mid 40s. As for Marc, he was huge against the Nuggets, playing great in the first half, and keeping the team afoat when Z-Bo and Conley were bricking everything in sight. Last year, these were the two best centers in the league, and while the All-NBA ballots might look different for circumstantial reasons, not much has really changed since then. This will be an all-out war, and frankly, it’s too close to pick a definitive favorite.
As deep as the Grizzlies bench is (and the Prince injury just made it a little less deep), the Spurs are winning this one because Manu Ginobili. He’s the bench player in the league, and he’s probably taking the 6th man of the year of award , if only because D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson kind of cancel each other out in Chicago. And of course, there’s Marco Belinelli, who is deadly from beyond the arc, and appears to have found the team he was born to play for. I’d like to see the Grizzlies keep Miller off the bench for the energy he provides, as well as his ability to come and drain threes against a weaker set of reserves, but it’s possible they’ll start him, and bring Johnson off the bench. This is not an unattractive position, as Johnson is an athletic, energetic player, who can also do serious work against other subs. Anyway, the Grizzlies depth and small forward which had previously lead to a minutes problem, should save them from being aversely effected without #21 around.
Advantage: San Antonio