Regular Season Game 77: at San Antonio Spurs, 7pm ET
The Storyline: The Grizzlies continue to cling to the 8th, and final, spot in the Western Conference playoff hunt after a 100-92 victory at home against the Denver Nuggets. They now travel to San Antonio to take on Tim Duncan and the Spurs, who are coming off a loss following their franchise-record nineteen game win streak. The Spurs own a 3-0 advantage over the Grizzlies this season, with the clubs last playing each other January 7th in a Spurs 110-108 overtime victory at the FedEx Forum. Additionally, this game could be a glimpse at the first round of the NBA playoffs as the Grizzlies would meet the Spurs if the season ended today.
The Matchup: Mike Conley vs Tony Parker. Both of these point guards tend to be “the straw that stirs the drink” on offense for their clubs. Against a team as fundamentally sound and deep as the Spurs, it is imperative the Grizzlies’ offense is performing at a high level. Conley attacking Parker early and often, as well as getting the ball to Randolph and Gasol in the post will allow the Grizzlies to be the aggressors in this game. On the defensive side, limiting Parker’s dribble penetration will help avoid a Spurs assault from beyond the arc; the Grizzlies cannot afford to get into a three-point contest in any game, let alone this one.
The X Factor: Surprisingly, it might be Marc Gasol. Though these teams have played three times this season, Marc has only played forty-four minutes against the Spurs this season, and thirty-four of those minutes were in the season opener. Since Gasol has been in the lineup consistently, the Grizzlies have been a more difficult opponent to face (duh), going 35-18 in games the big man has played this season. Adding in the team’s best player gives Memphis a much-needed boost going into a match-up with these kind of playoff implications.
The Number: 3. This is the number of wins the Grizzlies currently possess against their divisional foes. While the Southwest Division is the best in basketball, a 3-11 record is never one that a team is proud to own in any regard. A win against the Spurs could help bolster not only their record against their division, and their playoff hopes, but their confidence going forward against these playoff caliber teams.
The Prediction: I expect this game to have playoff type intensity as the Grizzlies try to strengthen their playoff foothold against a Spurs team who still has yet to clinch home court in the playoffs. Both teams should be as close to one-hundred percent as we can expect given this point in the season, and we can expect to see some great quality basketball in San Antonio. The Grizzlies need this game in the worst way, and I think it shines through, even on the road in a hostile environment. In the spirit of the Final Four, this one comes down to the final shot in a Grizz win.