Grizzlies, Warriors ready to meet in conference semifinals
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) The Golden State Warriors waited a week to play another playoff game, and they’re still not exactly sure who they’re facing in the Western Conference semifinals.
Sure, they know they’ll host the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 on Sunday. They just have no idea whether Mike Conley can play after having surgery to repair broken bones in his face or how Memphis will adjust without its point guard.
”I’m not ruling him out until I don’t see him on the court in Game 1,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. ”He’s got a week to prepare. These pills these days do wonderful things. We’re preparing like he’s playing. You never know what’s going to happen. They could make him an Iron Man mask. Who knows?”
Conley traveled with the team to the Bay Area and is listed as doubtful for the series opener. Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said after Saturday’s short practice at Oracle Arena that Conley has been fitted for a clear, plastic protective mask but still needs to be cleared by the medical staff.
When that happens is anybody’s guess. This much is certain: the Grizzlies are among the NBA’s most formidable and physical teams regardless of who’s on the floor.
”We believe we can get it done,” Joerger said.
These two teams spent most of the season atop the West standings and many thought they might not meet until the conference finals.
The top-seeded Warriors won a franchise-record 67 games before sweeping New Orleans in the first round. They’ve been almost unbeatable on their raucous home floor, going 41-2, including winning their past 20 games.
Memphis slipped to the fifth seed in the final week of the regular season before dispatching the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers in five games. The Grizzlies are in the conference semifinals for the third time in five years, and their playoff-tested pedigree gives them reason to believe they can overcome Conley’s absence if needed.
”I have confidence in my teammates,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. ”I know we have talent. We have competitiveness. I have no doubt in my mind that we can win against anybody in this league.”
The Grizzlies gave Golden State fits the past few years, but the Warriors shifted the matchup under new coach Steve Kerr this season. They went 2-1 against Memphis, winning once at home and once on the road, though both teams were missing key players in each game.
”Whether it’s a flashy up-tempo game or whether it’s an 87-83 game, we feel like we have enough pieces and versatility to win all sorts of ways now,” Warriors point guard and MVP candidate Stephen Curry said. ”Our defense is going to show up. That’s what we’re going to bank on for the whole series.”
Here are some other things to look out for in the series:
REPLACING CONLEY: If Conley can’t play, the Grizzlies’ reserves will be under a lot of pressure to perform. Memphis handled Conley’s absence the past two games by starting Nick Calathes and bringing Beno Udrih off the bench. They’ll need to play better than they have all season against a Warriors team that starts Curry at point guard and has one of the league’s deepest benches.
PHYSICAL FRONTCOURTS: The series features two of the most physical frontcourts in the league. Golden State’s Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency this season to pace the league’s top-rated defense. Gasol won defensive player of the year in 2013 and power forward Zach Randolph is as crafty as they come inside. ”It’s going to be an ice-bath series,” Bogut said.
SPLASH BROTHERS: The league’s highest-scoring offense flows through sweet-shooting Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry surpassed his NBA record for most 3-pointers in a season, finishing with 286 from beyond the arc, where he shot 41.7 percent in the opening round. Thompson ranked second in the league with 239 3-pointers and shot 48.5 percent from long range in the first round. Grizzlies guard Tony Allen is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, but it’ll have to be a team effort to slow down Golden State’s dynamic duo.
THE LEE FACTOR: Grizzlies guard Courtney Lee struggled with a right hand injury through the end of the regular season, scoring in single digits in nine of the final 14 games. But he looked healthy in the opening round, shooting 66 percent (31 of 47) from the floor and 54.5 percent (6 of 11) from 3-point range. Memphis needs outside shooting to keep Golden State from collapsing onto Gasol and Randolph.
SPEAKING OF GASOL: The man nicknamed ”Big Spain” is coming off possibly his best playoff series. He tied his playoff high with 26 points to finish off Portland, and he has at least 15 or more points, seven or more rebounds and a block in each of his first five games this postseason.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker and AP freelance writer Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.