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.