NBA Playoffs 2011: San Antonio Spurs' 5 Keys to Victory as They Hit the Road

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NBA Playoffs 2011: San Antonio Spurs' 5 Keys to Victory as They Hit the Road
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The headline "Miller, Nuggets Shock Spurs," was appropriate.

It was 2005, and Denver had invaded the AT&T Center on April 24 and stolen the playoff opener from the Spurs, setting off panic alarms across the Alamo City.

Andre Miller scored 31 points to lead the seventh-seeded Nuggets to their first postseason win in 11 years, and George Karl looked liked a coach ready to stand toe to toe with a battle-tested Gregg Popovich.

The final score, 93-87, should look familiar.

No one on San Antonio's roster was injured that freaky afternoon, and even after the team with home-court advantage salvaged the series with a 104-76 blowout, the Nuggets knew they were heading home with an unlikely split.

The Spurs and Nuggets anticipated a raucous Pepsi Center atmosphere, and Mile High City fans brought volume and passion. Analysts then wondered if a title contender could harangue a precocious Carmelo Anthony and keep Miller away from the basket.

A few writers were brash enough to suggest San Antonio's age had become a hindrance. Tim Duncan was 29, Manu Ginobili was 28 and Tony Parker, in his early 20s, was just itching the surface of his potential.

The veteran rotation mainstays—Glenn Robinson, Robert Horry, Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen—endured the brunt of the AARP wisecracks. Revisionist historians conveniently forget that some thought the eventual champion that year would stumble in the first round after a surprising Game 1 result.

Karl's Nuggets were 19-1 at home since he assumed the head coach post.

The circumstances differed a bit between then and now. Duncan was still recuperating from an ankle sprain that sidelined him much longer than the one he suffered in March this year. Bowen and Horry had proven themselves as prime playoff performers.

Popovich's biggest adjustment in that series: he started Barry in the second contest and moved Ginobili to his now-legendary sixth-man slot. His lineup tinkering spurred four consecutive victories in the series.

The NBA's record books show San Antonio won in five. But how many picking against the top seed now remember how close Denver was in Game 3, or that the Nuggets forced overtime two nights later? Do they recall how a front line that included Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby and a younger Nene trying to hound and hammer with hard fouls and bargain-bin cheap shots?

The 2010-2011 Spurs find themselves in a similar predicament tonight. Grab one at Memphis' FedEx Forum and they can steal back home-court advantage. Lose both, and a marvelous regular season  ends with a premature playoff exit.

The Dallas Mavericks know how the latter scenario feels, and even the newest additions must pay for how that flameout stained an organization's reputation.

Shane Battier has challenged the Grizzlies' bigs to force Parker, George Hill and Ginobili to "pay the price" when they bombard the rim. A rare sellout crowd will howl. The game figures to start with a furious Memphis run.

The question that dogs these Spurs begs for an answer. Can they embrace the road warrior, Darth Vader image championship squads relished? Can they respond to that expected initial punch with an uppercut of their own?

If you're not quite sure how either team will perform tonight when a rarely sold-out arena hosts history-making bedlam, welcome to the club.

The Grizzlies start 7'1" Marc Gasol, 6'9" Zach Randolph and a sedulous, Bowenesque defender in Tony Allen. Battier has done more than lead a locker room. He also drilled the biggest shot of this series.

O.J. Mayo is an explosive scoring wild card, and even his coach cannot predict how the pressure will affect him. Mike Conley runs the show with the confidence a $45 million man should exude.

No one will know how this next round of a knockdown fight ends until the boxers enter the ring. The Spurs could lose by 20, or triumph by the same margin. The Grizzlies might levy a thrashing, or they could get routed.

Ginobili could bury another game winner, or maybe Zach Randolph dials long distance with one second remaining.

If the Spurs want to seize back control, here are five keys to escaping a gruesome death in Memphis' grind house.

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