LOCATION:AT&T Center, San Antonio, Tx
San Antonio(48-10) has been dominant again this season, and some people are actually surprised by that. Why, I’m not sure. As long as they have the big 3 and Coach Pop, dominant is definitely in the lexicon. Jefferson looks a bit less lost (ok a lot less lost), George Hill continues to impress, and Mr. No ACL’s has proven to be the beast inside that many thought he’d be. For all the talk about how the Spurs have abandoned that famous D for more O, they’re still easily in the top half of the league in points allowed and rebound differential, while having the NBA’s second-best point differential. Sounds pretty balanced and excellent to me. Health is always a concern, but being able to rely on a solid bench helps keep the principals’ minutes to a dull roar. Just a great team.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This matchup ain’t close, although these guys are not that stylistically different. Statistically, however, well, that’s another matter entirely. Both super fast with the ball, and both rely on quick hands in passing lanes to make up for their other defensive deficiencies. Conley has actually become a better 3pt shooter than Parker (no, that ain’t saying much), and has hit some key second-half threes in several recent games. His late-game FT shooting is still a major problem, but his assist-to-TO ratio is great. Parker is playing his game, and he, like the rest of the Spurs team, is drilled on how to get it done no matter the opponent.
Matchup of the game. Can’t wait. Fired up! Wanna see it! Two super-quick pairs of hands on D, two uncontrolled slashers (one of whom is pretty good at it, I’ll let you guess which one), and two guys who are often the barometer for the team’s overall performance in a game. Tony Allen provides more energy on D than any Griz has in many a season, but Manu is just one of the best there is at his position. If Tony can frustrate Manu early, maybe he gets in his head-otherwise, it’ll be a long night for Tony Allen (which he’ll like, win or lose).
Small Forwards: Sam YoungvsRichard Jefferson
If Sam can get Jefferson to bite on just one shot fake, we’ll likely get to hear Pop invent expletives as Sam Young heads for the hoop. That’s my hope here. However, Jefferson has become much more accustomed to SAS’s defensive system, and has learned to control his level of commitment on the perimeter accordingly. Sam Young, still sort of an NBA nobody (not that he shouldn’t be), has come along nicely since being moved into the starting lineup, and has shown a propensity lately to actually do what is called “rebound” after being called out by Lionel Hollins on that part of his game. Sam has gained much on D through Tony Allen’s tutelage, but it will take a nice performance from Sam to win this matchup.
This is your basic unstoppable force v. immovable object matchup, one that both players will relish. Duncan could care less about his much-ballyhooed decreased offensive role (although it really hasn’t been that as much as some might think), he just does what he does, which is be a slightly-aged version of the best PF in history. He’s having to rely more and more on his insane level of intuition for the game and less and less on his always-limited athletic ability. Watching the footwork executed by these two guys, two of the best in the business at that aspect of inside play, should be enough to get any NBA junkie HIGHLY interested in this game. ZBo hada “loud” ZBo game against SAC, as opposed to the “quiet”-ly awesome 20/10′s he puts up regularly, and he’ll need to carry that momentum into this game to have a chance against Timmy D. Risky, but since Duncan is still on cruise control until the playoff run heats up and ZBo is ready to fire all eight cylinders, #50 gets it.
Two beasts. Blair has the quickness advantage, but Gasol has at least four inches of height. Gasol’s true hook has become deadly in the lane, and unless Duncan (or Dyess, etc.) come to help, Blair could find himself getting scored on a LOT, getting in foul trouble, or both. Gasol, however, has his share of foul problems as well, and Blair’s nose for the offensive glass and putback could turn that table on Marc in a hurry. Should be a good matchup, and whoever can stay out of foul trouble should be the winner here.
This isn’t as much of a joke matchup as it might have seemed only a week ago, even with Rudy Gay’s absence making someone start who likely should not and would not. The addition of Shane Battier has greatly bolstered the Griz bench, and OJ Mayo had a nice defensive game (and hit a couple threes to help the Griz run away with the game) against SAC in the first game since he was nearly traded. I’m personally wishing for some intense Haddadi/Splitter minutes! I’m kidding, mostly. But not entirely. James Anderson, who was in the mix heavily for the Grizzlies for last summer’s #12 pick, has returned from injury, and it will be interesting to see if his deadeye shot comes to him quickly or slowly. Gary Neal, the “rookie” (but he’s 26), has been quite a sensation, but on another team, he’d be a bit more exposed on D, methinks. McDyess is still capable of valuable production in bench-sized spurts (McD/Arthur will be fun), and George Hill will eat Jason Williams’ lunch. The Griz have closed this gap, but it’s still clear advantage SAS.