Memphis Grizzlies (20-4) at San Antonio Spurs (17-8)
AT&T Center, 8:30 ET, League Pass
A Southwest Division showdown between the upstart Memphis Grizzlies and defending champion San Antonio Spurs just might be the top early season matchup to date. Memphis has been on fire as of late and they are coming off of the most impressive victory of the young season.
Riding a league-high 16 game winning streak, Stephen Curry led his Golden State Warriors to the FedEx Forum for a tilt with the Grizz last night. Instead of walking away with their hot streak still in tact, Curry and co. were frustrated into their first loss since early November. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter combined for 74 points in the win, which improved them to a ridiculous 12-2 record against the Western Conference.
The Spurs, however, will give them a different test, since they can match up with the tremendous size and strength of the Grizz. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are all game-time decisions but they will likely try to play, knowing that a statement can be made with a win.
The battle between MVP candidate Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan will be the most intriguing subplot to watch; Gasol is a much more polished post player than in previous years and Duncan has not slowed down one bit from the team’s title run a year ago.
But you also have to pay attention to the Grindfather (Tony Allen) v. Kawhi Leonard, Zach Randolph v. Tiago Splitter, Carter v. the Spurs’ second unit and Parker v. Conley. Whoever dominates the majority of the matchups will come out on top, especially considering how close these teams are in terms of talent. It will be the ultimate battle of strength and physicality (Memphis) v. savvy execution, on both ends, and three-point shooting (San Antonio).
An exciting, grind it out battle is in store for these two squads. If either Conley can Parker can influence the pace of the game, their team will have the upper hand when it is all said and done. Look for a tough, defensive minded contest between two of the most well-oiled teams the league has to offer.
Marc Gasol: Projected Top D.O.G.
Underdogs (Players Under the Radar):
F/C Jon Leuer (MEM): It’s a shame not many NBA fans are aware of Leuer’s talent and productivity on a contending team. Though the numbers many not always tell the story (avg. 5.8 ppg & 3.7 rpg), Jon has emerged as the third big in the lineup behind Gasol and Randolph, a role he is more than ready to embrace.
With a sweet stroke out to the three-point line, Leuer is a faceup, pick and pop player who can scatter opposing bigs out to the perimeter. If the Spurs can’t contain him, he could put up nice numbers off the bench.
G Cory Joseph (SAS): Joseph has played a very integral role for Coach Popovich’s offense this season. With Parker in and out of the lineup due to various injuries, the 4th year guard has manned the ship with poise and moxie.
If Parker can’t go, CoJo will be tasked with stopping Conley’s penetration as well as initiating the offense throughout the game. If he can get his jumper going early, the Spurs will be in a nice position to pick up the W.