Grizzlies v. Spurs: The Wild, Wild West

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The Memphis Grizzlies will face the defending champion San Antonio Spurs tomorrow night in the FedEx Forum at 7 p.m. This will be the first of three meetings for these two teams this month, with the other two occurring on December 17 at the AT&T Center and December 30 at FedEx Forum. The Spurs will enter this match-up at 13-5 coming off a 95-93 loss in overtime to the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclay’s Center Wednesday night.  The Grizzlies will enter this match-up at 15-3 coming off a 105-96 loss to the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on Wednesday. The Grizzlies are looking to defend their home court once again and go on to have their 23rd consecutive win in regular season play at home.

The Grizzlies are 11-1 against Western Conference teams this season, and the Spurs are 6-4. The two teams are shooting about evenly matched in field goal percentage; Memphis is shooting at 46.6% this season, and San Antonio is shooting 45.5%. The three point shooting  percentage average is 36.5% for San Antonio and 35.1% for Memphis.  The average points per game are 100.2 for Memphis and 99.6 for San Antonio.  The Grizzlies team has exhibited exceptional play this season and they seem to be ready for the defending champions.

What should happen

These teams both have an advantage that many other teams do not:  team chemistry.  Chemistry doesn’t happen overnight, and neither of these teams are lacking in that aspect.  The Grizzlies Core Four (Allen, Conley, Gasol and Randolph) and the Spurs Big Three (Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker) have been battling against each other for years.  This game shouldn’t be any different.

Due to a right knee bone bruise suffered during the game against the Rockets, Marc Gasol is questionable for game.  This means that Kosta Koufos will most likely have to step into the role of starting center and defend the front court with Zach Randolph.  He’s been here before, since Gasol suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss 20+ games in the 2013-14 season; Koufos is arguably playing a better and more aggressive game than he did last year this time.  Defending the basket against San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw won’t be an easy task though.  Rebounding and limiting second chance play opportunities from offensive rebounds will be important to the front court’s game, and it’s important to keep in mind that the San Antonio Spurs have additional rebounding strength from Kawhi Leonard.

Since there is a chance that MVP contender Marc Gasol won’t hit the floor for the Grizzlies, they will need a scoring boost from their back court. Mike Conley and Courtney Lee must be on target from start to finish.  Additionally, although there doesn’t appear to be a large difference in the way the two teams are shooting the 3 pointer this season overall, the Spurs will take more 3 point shots than the Grizzlies.  They’re averaging about 22.6 attempts to 14.9 attempts for the Grizzlies.  The 3 point line must be defended at all costs.  The current percentage is an average of where the Spurs are; they can shoot the 3 and they will shoot the 3 if the Grizzlies don’t stop them.  Tony Parker and Danny Green will also work hard on the defensive end; so offensive plays must be well calculated and executed well.

Tony Allen will do what Tony Allen does.  He is a perimeter defender.  Scratch that…he is THE perimeter defender.  His offensive game occasionally suffers, but the Grizzlies can count on him to make up for that on the defensive end.  His assignment is simple: DEFEND, DEFEND, DEFEND.  He will have to wreak havoc. He will have to steal the ball.  He will have to get rebounds when he can, and he also needs to get in position for a back door cut, which is one of his signature offensive moves.  If the Grizzlies can capitalize on the offensive end from the turnovers that Allen is known to cause, things will go well.

The bench has to show up.  No other way to put it.  The Spurs have a strong bench. Every player in their system knows their role and stays in it. The Grizzlies bench will have to come with a good offensive and defensive game. Everyone will need to know their role and play it well.  This may be a good time to bring Tayshaun Prince out.  Opponents don’t always expect much from him, but he’s been bringing some great play from the bench whenever he has played this season.

This game should be no different than any other Grizzlies v. Spurs game since the 2011 playoffs. There’s been an intense rivalry between these teams since then. The month of December should be fun for both fan bases.  It’s not often that you’re playing one of your toughest opponents every other week. This game won’t be a blow out, and it shouldn’t be. As long as the Grizzlies bring the game that they’ve been playing all season and avoid the pitfall of missing free throws and turning over the ball, a win should be the final outcome.

Carmen Patton
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