While they will be playing the popular role of the underdog in this series, the Grizzlies have taken two out of the four games from the Spurs this season. Anyone in the league will tell you that this year's Grizzlies are a much improved team since their last playoff appearance in 2006.
And what is most impressive about this Grizzly team? Recently, they are doing it without their star player in Rudy Gay, who came down with a season ending injury involving his left shoulder on 2/16. While Gay has been out, the rest of the Grizzlies have picked up the slack, in particular their center Zach Randolph.
Randolph has averaged about 23 points and 15 rebounds against the Spurs this season. That is big time, compared to Tim Duncan who has averaged 11 points and nine rebounds in their series.
Keys to a Memphis Victory?
Take advantage of their strengths: Memphis front court of Randolph and Gasol need to take advantage of the Spurs front court of an aging Tim Duncan and fellow supporting centers. Rebounding will be key, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Stop the penetration of the Spur's guards Parker and Ginobili: The Grizzlies have two of the premier perimeter defenders in the league in Tony Allen and Shane Battier. If they can slow down the penetration of the Spur's guards, it can make things very interesting.
Now to the four time NBA Champions, the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs were a team that was seen to be on a downward spiral by many sport critics after being swept by the Phoenix Suns in the second round of last year's playoffs.
Yet again, the Spurs have proved the media wrong, having their best start in franchise history and ending with another 60+ win season.
A team that has seen it's biggest star have a major decrease in production, yet still finish with 11 more wins then the previous season. Why is that?
The Spurs have one of the deepest benches in the league, which has provided them with the sixth highest scoring team in the league. Yes, this Spurs team is all about offense, unlike the teams in the past that were based solely on defense.
That being said, here are the keys to the Spurs making it to the second round for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons.
Healthy Manu: If you haven't heard by now, Manu Ginobili is said to be "questionable" for Game 1 of the series due to a right elbow strain which he suffered in the last game of the season.
While there is no doubt the Spurs will need Ginobili to have any sort of chance to win their fifth ring, I believe the Spurs will be okay if he misses one or two games this series. It is important for him not to re-aggravate any injuries and to be 100 percent for the rest of the playoffs.
Heavy dose of Timmy: Tim Duncan, it is now your time to shine. Not only will he be asked to provide more of the offense for this team, but he will need to be the steady defensive anchor as well, especially against his opponent, Zach Randolph. All of those minutes that Pop had spared Timmy for the season is saved up for now. This matchup will be a key determinate in the outcome of the series.
Three-point shooting: The No. 1 three-point shooting team in the league will need to keep up the percentage to help their chances in getting through the playoffs. What needs to be done to make sure this happens? Home court helps.
However, the good shots are made by penetration from the guards and from double teams on Tim Duncan. Both need to happen.
X-factor: Will the real Richard Jefferson please stand up? It has taken him a year, but during the off-season, Coach Pop has gotten RJ the work and confidence he has needed to succeed in the rotation of the Spurs starting five.
Will Jefferson resort to being passive and shooting contested long jump shots? Or will he be aggressive with drives towards the basket and continue shooting a high percentage of open and set three-point shots. Hopefully the latter more so than the former.
If you think I am going to pick the Grizzlies, April Fools Day was about two weeks ago.
What is the biggest advantage the Spurs have on the Grizzlies besides having the best record and home court?
Experience. Been there done that.
If you want to talk match-ups, the Spurs have the Grizzlies covered in almost every aspect. Coaching, star power, bench, home court, and overall confidence.
However, with the powerful front-court of the Grizzlies, and the fact that they are hungry for the first playoff win in franchise history, I do think they will not go down easy. I believe they will win at least one game at home, and actually might sneak another one with a Manu-less Spurs team.
Spurs in six.