Preview: Grizzlies vs. Spurs

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It’s not often that teams will compete against each other three times in one month.  However, that’s exactly what will happen when the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs meet on Tuesday night.  The two teams are even in the four game series for this season so far with one win each.  The San Antonio Spurs were the victors of the first meeting winning the first game on December 5 in Memphis 107-101, and the Memphis Grizzlies returned the favor by winning the second game on December 17 in a thrilling triple overtime in San Antonio 117-116.  Yet, December has proven to be challenging for both teams as both teams have been plagued with injuries of key players as of late.

The Grizzlies sustained 6 of their 8 losses this season in the month of December.  Similarly, 9 of the Spurs 13 losses this season have come in December.  The Spurs have been without their starting point guard, Tony Parker, due to a hamstring injury and their 2014 Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, due to a bruised hand for most of the month.  Parker and Leonard played 23 and 31 minutes, respectively, in the December 5 game, but neither played on December 17.  Neither of them is expected to be ready to play during tomorrow night’s matchup either.  The Grizzlies were without G/F Tony Allen in the December 17 game due to an eye injury sustained the night before, and he didn’t return to the lineup until December 26.  Zach Randolph sustained a knee injury on December 19 that could potentially still have him sidelined during the meeting on tomorrow night unfortunately.  The last 10 games have been rough for both teams with the Grizzlies finishing 6-4 and the Spurs finishing 3-7.

What to expect

The Grizzlies will need Marc Gasol to play like he’s played in the last two meetings, especially if he has to battle in the paint without the help of Zach Randolph.  Randolph had 21 points and 21 rebounds in the December 17 game that the Grizzlies won.  His brother in the paint, Gasol, averaged 27 points and 10.5 rebounds in the first two games.  Gasol will need to lead the team in a similar fashion on Tuesday night, possibly even hitting another exhilarating clutch 3 point shot like he did in the December 17 game.  The team will also need some scoring power from its point guard, Mike Conley.  Conley had 23 points and 10 assists in the December 5 game, and nearly had a triple double in the December 17 game with 14 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds.  His play should be closer to that of the December 5 game to help lead the team to victory.  It seems almost like a distant memory, but Tayshaun Prince was a huge X-factor coming off the bench in the December 5 game with 20 points (going 4-4 from the 3 point line), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block.  Prince didn’t play during the December 17 game; instead Vince Carter brought the veteran leadership to that game off the bench with 18 points (going 5-9 from the 3 point line), 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.  The Grizzlies bench had 28 points in the December 5 game and 38 points in the December 17 game.  Ideally, bench play should resemble the December 17 game.

Guarding the 3 point line has plagued the Grizzlies for the first 30 games of this season.  The Spurs can shoot the 3; the Spurs will shoot the 3.  It is imperative that the Grizzlies guard that line at all costs.  The Spurs shot 56% from the 3 point line in the first meeting making 14 shots on 25 attempts.  At the December 17 game, the Spurs shot 48.6% from the 3 point line making 17 shots on 35 attempts.  Manu Ginobli and Danny Green bring a lot of energy to the Spurs game and momentum, while the veteran Tim Duncan is quietly and seemingly almost effortlessly bringing double-doubles to the team night after night.  Defending these players can help stifle their offense, though not smother it because they do have dependable depth.  The Spurs out-rebounded the Grizzlies during the first two games with Randolph in the lineup.  Missing him on the court makes every shot on either end much more important.  The Grizzlies have to prevent the Spurs from getting second chance opportunities on missed shots on the defensive end, and they have to work on making sure they don’t allow the Spurs to beat them out of second chance opportunities on the offensive end.

All in all both teams are looking to come out of this unscathed.  December has been hard enough; both teams are looking to start 2015 with their key players coming off the injured list.  It’s the last game of 2014 for the Grizzlies; a win against the Spurs after losing 3 straight home games would be great (DJ Khaled’s All I Do is Win and Kool and the Gang’s Celebration both need one more spin before the end of the year at FedEx Forum).  Ending the month 8-6 may not have been what many Grizzlies fans planned, but given the circumstances of the month, I’m sure most fans will take it.  There are a few tickets still available for tomorrow night’s matchup against the Spurs at FedEx Forum.  If you can’t make it to the Grindhouse, plan to watch the game on SportsSouth locally, NBA LeaguePass outside the local area or listen to coverage on 92.9 FM starting at 7 p.m.

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