Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Grizzlies Spurs Preview

And So It Begins

The San Antonio Spurs have a bad taste in their mouths, bitter after the way last season ended, feeling they need to atone for a heart-breaking loss that finished them in last season’s playoffs. They enter this season with a chip on their shoulder, feeling that the national media and all the experts have not given them the respect they deserve after the accomplishments of the 2012-13 season.

No, wait. What? The Spurs are even going to take that away from the Grizzlies? If any team should feel bitterness… if any team should come out with a chip on their shoulder… if any team has the right to feel disrespected by the national media, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies, not the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs have won 50 or more games in every non-lockout season since 1996-97. They have made the playoffs in every one of those seasons. They have won four NBA titles, and came within seconds of a fifth one last season.. They have no right to play the Rodney Dangerfield card. They can’t take that away.

Right? C’mon guys. Please? And thus, the little brother complex continues for the Grizzlies.

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Just when the Grizzlies were feeling good about finally earning a seat at the big-boy table, having made the Western Conference finals last year, the Spurs showed them that they didn’t belong. They not only defeated, but also demoralized the Grizzlies, all the while showing the rest of the league how simple a task that was. They sent the Grizzlies back to the drawing board, rethinking their approach. Significant changes were in order.

The Grizzlies had already done some retooling last year.  New owners. New front office. Franchise-altering inseason trades.

But, if they wanted to advance further, it would require more changes. New coach, more in-line with the thinking of the new front office. New offensive system. That’s the plan.

Last years playoff sweep at the hands of the Spurs exposed some weaknesses. They needed more consistent outside shooting to prevent defenses from packing the paint. They went out and got Mike Miller. Although the starting five may remain the same, bringing Miller off the bench may help. Throw in a healthy Quincy Pondexter and a re-signed Jerryd Bayless, and it may be enough.

A better bench may also help. The Grizzlies added Kosta Koufos to the big-man mix. They may have solidified the backup point guard spot with Nick Calathes. These moves could result in a little more rest through fewer minutes for Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley.

Were these personnel moves enough? Will the new offense work with these players? Has the coaching staff had enough time to instill their new philosophy?

Can it be a good thing that there are this many questions when the opening night opponent is the San Antonio Spurs? Well lace ‘em up, cuz we’re about to find out.

The Spurs kept their core of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker together by signing Ginobili to a two-year deal worth $14.5 million. They also signed center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal this summer, and will keep Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph around through the 2014-15 season after picking up their fourth-year options. They enter this season in pursuit of their fourth straight Southwest Division title.

As a franchise, the Grizzlies opening round upset of the Spurs in 2011 was a major stepping stone. The Grizz have gone 2-10 against the Spurs since. Last season’s ascent to the Western Conference finals was another huge step. Getting unceremoniously swept at the hands of the Spurs was another huge lesson.

If you don’t think the Spurs respect the Grizzlies, remember last season when Greg Popovic sent four key players home from Orlando, after they had played the first half of that game. They skipped the nationally-televised game against the Miami Heat, enduring the wrath of the NBA front office to the tune of a $250,000 fine. They did this to prepare for a game against the Grizzlies, an all-important in-division game against the Grizzlies.

For the Grizzlies and the Spurs, the 2013-14 season starts tonight.

When: 7:30 p.m. Central Time

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio

Whatsup: Rematch of the Western Conference Finals, when Memphis lost four straight and was eliminated by the Spurs. The Griz split a four-game regular-season series with the Spurs last season. Each team won at home and lost on the road. The Griz have lost the last eight in San Antonio.

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Tags: Memphis Grizzlies San Antonio Spurs

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