Thursday April 14th, 2011

These teams approached the playoffs with different aims: The Spurs (61-21) earned the No. 1 seed with the ultimate goal of winning a fifth championship around Tim Duncan. The Grizzlies (46-36), who have never won a game in postseason, simply wanted to make the tournament -- especially after losing star forward Rudy Gay to a season-ending injury in February. The Spurs now look to recover the health of Manu Ginobili, who suffered a hyperextended right elbow in the regular-season finale, and advance strongly toward a potential conference finals against the No. 2 Lakers.


Antonio McDyess vs. Zach Randolph. DeJuan Blair will also help defend Randolph, a 20-and-10 star who embodies the Grizzlies' low-post offense that ranks No. 1 in paint points. This is one of San Antonio's least imposing defensive teams, but look for a typical team effort inside as the Spurs deny Randolph, switch their defenses unpredictably and then attempt to force turnovers when he tries to pass out of double teams. This will be a blue-collar effort from the 36-year-old McDyess, who is seeking his first ring in what appears to be his final season.


Spurs: Tim Duncan. The greatest power forward of all time averaged career lows of 13.4 points and 28.4 minutes this season, but the Spurs were simply pacing him through the regular season. He has much more to offer and it will begin to show in this series, despite the Grizzlies' improved defense (they ranked No. 9 in field-goal defense at 45.6 percent). The Spurs have trended toward an up-tempo, perimeter-based offense, but in the playoffs that will serve to create more space for Duncan to take over when they really need him -- and he will surely oblige.

Grizzlies: O.J. Mayo. They'll need him to shoot well off the bench because deep shooting is an issue -- the Grizzlies were No. 27 from the three-point line (33.2 percent) -- and they'll need perimeter scoring to loosen the interior defense around Randolph and center Marc Gasol. Mayo was demoted to the second unit and almost traded at midseason, but a hot postseason could restore his value while enabling Memphis to surprise San Antonio early in the series.


Duncan's Spurs have never lost a first-round series when healthy, and they aren't going to waste the No. 1 seed in the West by taking a win against Memphis for granted. They may lose an early game in the series, but thereafter they'll exhibit a playoff-level discipline and intensity that will provide a good lesson for the promising young Grizzlies. Spurs in 5.

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