Grizzlies-Spurs Preview

The San Antonio Spurs’ 61 wins in 2010-11 were their most in

five seasons, yet none of them mattered to the upstart Memphis

Grizzlies when the teams met in a first-round playoff series.

Memphis’ six-game victory over top-seeded San Antonio may have

been a surprise, though it could have been the beginning of a power

shift in the Western Conference.

With age hindering the Spurs’ chances for another title and

youth sparking the Grizzlies toward the same goal, the teams meet

in their season opener Monday night in San Antonio.

Memphis (46-36) finished 15 games behind the Spurs as the eighth

seed, playing the final 28 regular-season games and all of the

playoffs without star Rudy Gay due to a shoulder injury.

Zach Randolph stepped up to average team highs of 20.1 points

and 12.2 rebounds, then continued his solid production in the

postseason to lead the Grizzlies to the first playoff series

victory. After knocking off the Spurs, they took Oklahoma City to

Game 7 in the conference semifinals before being ousted.

That success, along with the return of Gay, has Memphis thinking

big.

“Last year, we got to the second round, Game 7 with one of our

best players not being there,” Randolph said.

And now that he’s healthy?

“I’m hungrier than ever,” said Gay, who averaged 19.8 points

before being injured.

Randolph is the Grizzlies’ oldest regular contributor at 30

years old, while Gay (25), O.J. Mayo (24), Mike Conley (24) and

Marc Gasol (26) all are in the prime of their careers.

Gasol signed a four-year extension during the extended offseason

after Randolph signed his long-term deal last season, giving

Memphis a formidable frontcourt duo for years to come.

“Nobody expects to get a quick ‘W’ when they come into Memphis

anymore,” Gay said.

That’s the same mentality most teams had heading into San

Antonio last season, as the Spurs finished tied with Chicago for

the NBA’s best home record at 36-5.

The Spurs (61-21), who posted their most regular-season wins

since going 63-19 in 2005-06, appeared poised to make a run at the

franchise’s fifth championship before the Grizzlies eliminated them

early.

With Tim Duncan entering the final year of his contract, Manu

Ginobili turning 34 during the offseason and Tony Parker entering

his 10th year, it seems San Antonio’s dominance in the West may be

coming to an end.

“A lot of young teams are coming up, so we just have to make

sure we can keep up and be competitive,” Parker said. “You have to

be positive and you have to believe in your team. I definitely

believe in my team. Hopefully we can stay healthy and not have

those little bumps like last year.”

Though Duncan had career-low averages of 13.4 points and 8.9

rebounds – the first time in his 14 seasons he averaged less than

10 boards – he said aging isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Also, the 66-game season shortens the haul for a veteran team

such as San Antonio.

“This is basically the same team,” Duncan said. “We have as good

an opportunity as anyone else. We have that experience a lot of

people are going to work for.”

Ginobili and Parker remain the top two threats for the Spurs,

though there’s little behind them. Richard Jefferson continued his

decline by averaging only 11.0 points last season, Antonio McDyess

retired and backup guard George Hill was traded to Indiana for 15th

overall pick Kawhi Leonard on draft night.

Leonard joins fellow first-round pick Cory Joseph as the Spurs’

main roster changes.

Memphis and San Antonio split four regular-season meetings in

2010-11, though the Spurs have won 14 of the last 16 matchups at

home including the playoffs.