Tag:First-Round
Posted on: April 24, 2011 12:24 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 12:46 am
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NBA Playoffs Spurs-Grizzlies: Zach Randolph FTW


Posted by Matt Moore

Zach Randolph is a career 28 percent 3-point shooter. He was 0-1 in the playoffs coming into Game 3. In the regular season, he shot 19 percent on 3-point attempts. He took 43 3-pointers this year. He hit 8 of them. So naturally, with the Grizzlies up just two in a pivotal Game 3 against the tried and tested San Antonio Spurs at home, Randolph elected to hoist one for all the marbles. 

Ka-ching. 




Just like they drew it up. 

It would make sense that this would happen. All season long, Randolph would launch those threes, and when he'd hit, the reaction was Memphis sounded something like this:
"No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no ZBO NO YES!"

Repeat. 

Randolph, who was considered a team killer, a locker room cancer, and a stats-first nobody when he came to Memphis, has reinvigorated the franchise. Among a cast of characters cast off from other teams, and in the case of O.J. Mayo, this one, Randolph stands as the people's champ in Memphis. And he just handed them their first playoff win in the city of Memphis, against the No.1 seed, and a 2-1 advantage going into Monday's Game 4. 

Just like they drew it up. 
Posted on: April 23, 2011 11:05 pm
Edited on: April 24, 2011 12:42 am
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: A mystifying end

The Spurs do what they always do, fail to execute in the key moments of the game and surrender a 2-1 edge to the Memphis... wait, what? 
Posted by Matt Moore

Update 11:56 p.m.: Some interesting stuff here. Here's video of the final possession from the Spurs. 


Now let's look at it frame by frame. Tim Duncan is trucking down the floor trying to call time. Here's the halfcourt set before Duncan reaches the Spurs' side of the floor. 




You'll see Bonner up top calling for the Ball to hit an open three, not calling time. Pay attention to the clock in the upper right, not the broadcast clock. There's time remaining, but no one on this side of the floor is calling time. You'll see George Hill bottom left also calling for the ball, not calling for time. 




You'll see here, the red light is NOT on, and though the image of the clock is fuzzy, that tells us time is left on the clock. That certainly looks like .1 seconds. On the left, you'll see Tim Duncan racing in, screaming for a timeout. The official at the top of the screen, though, is watching the action and doesn't see and can't hear Duncan screaming. None of the other Spurs realize until after Duncan gets there that they need to be calling time. 




The buzzer sounds as the clock expires, Duncan is frantically calling for time. The broadcast clock says .2, but the game clock above the goal says .00. George Hill is still calling for the ball. Matt Bonner is pointing at Tim Duncan. And the Grizzlies are going up 2-1 in this best of seven series. 

Now, there's a world of things that can be talked about here. 1: the Spurs should have called time when they got possession. 2: Bonner, closest to the official, or Ginobili, or Hill need to be calling time once the ball crosses the timeline. 3: Even if the officials had seen Duncan motioning, there may not have been time for the Spurs to get a shot off. 4: The player has the responsibility to alert the official. 

But the fact remains that before time expires, Tim Duncan is calling timeout. 

-------------------

Original post: The truth is, they've always been, well, the Spurs. 

The Spurs have been the model of execution for over a decade. They're a -- pardon the term --- "grizzled" veteran squad that does everything right, knows how to extend or speed up the game, makes the right pass, delivers the right play, works it down to the nub and pulls out the win more often than not. And all of that crashed and burned on their final possession in a pivotal Game 3 loss to the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night, 91-88. 

The Spurs managed to survive a final possession from Memphis which would have ended things right there. Zach Randolph missed a pull-up jumper just minutes after sinking a 3-pointer (yes, a 3-pointer), and the Spurs grabbed the rebound. That's when the hijinks began. 

George Hill grabbed the rebound, but instead of calling timeout, which would have progressed the ball to halfcourt, allowing the Spurs to set up a final possession, Hill took off like a rocket, trying to push. The Spurs did have a timeout remaining. Without the timeout, a rushed, hurried possession resulted in Manu Ginobili nearly getting the ball stripped in a trap, unable to get a shot off, and time expired. 

Memphis 91, Spurs 88. The 8th seed now has a 2-1 edge and maintains homecourt advantage in the best of seven series, with a chance to put the veteran Spurs on the cliffs of insanity Monday night in Memphis. 

There's some discussion that Tim Duncan may have been calling for time on the final play. The minute Hill elected to dribble, the opportunity to advance the ball was lost. However, the Spurs still would have been awarded a timeout and gotten the ball inbounds from under the Grizzlies' basket. But without the timeout, a Spurs team that looked out of sync and overwhelmed for much of the game, barring a stellar third quarter was unable to get the set they wanted. The result was an out-of-sync play and Ginobili, who was a hurricane in Game 3, was unable to pull out the miracle.

Questions will abound as to whether the Spurs did call time, and if they didn't, why in the name of George Gervin they didn't. In a series that has shown that records don't always show the difference between teams, Memphis has gained the advantage in the most unexpected of ways. 

By the Spurs not being the Spurs. 
Posted on: April 23, 2011 11:37 am
Edited on: April 23, 2011 3:11 pm
 

Series Reset Grizzlies-Spurs: Rhythm and blues

So... no pressure, guys, but, uh... this game probably decides the series. 
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative: The series will either right itself in terms of the logical order of the universe, where the No.1 seed takes control of the series, disheartening the home team in their first playoff game in five seasons... or, the inmates run the asylum for another few days and may just have a chance to break out. How big is Game 3? The Duncan-era Spurs have never won a series in which they lost two of the first three games when they had homecourt advantage. They've only lost one series in which they won two of the first three (Lakers). So this is kind of a big deal. Will Memphis' fans show up? Will Manu Ginobili have an even bigger impact in Game 3 than he did in Game 2 (when he had five turnovers)? There's a lot of uncertainty about this game, but a Spurs win will calm the waters and restore some order to our chaotic universe. 

The Hook: The Spurs' 3-point barrage broke out a little big in Game 2, but hasn't fully gotten loose. The corner three was available, especially late, helping the Spurs to put Memphis away.  That's got to continue. Matt Bonner has to make big shots to justify his floor time considering he's a defensive liability that calls for a clearout every time he's on the floor. George Hill can destroy the Grizzlies if he can pull defenders and then hit when they collapse. And Manu Ginobili can just straight up pull-up and nail big shots. 3-pointers are often affected by homecourt advantage, there's a weird energy that affects those plays, being the big momentum swingers they are. How the Spurs respond will be a big deciding factor. In the regular season, the Spurs shot 5 percentage points worse from the perimeter on the road than they did at home. There are some playoff veterans on this team, and some inexperienced shooters. If the Spurs get hot from the outside, Memphis may drown defensively. They've done a good job running them off in this series. Keeping them off is another matter. 

The Adjustment: The Grizzlies gotta get space, man. In Game 2, the Spurs collapsed the lane, daring the Grizzlies to beat them with mid-range jumpers. The correct response here is to spread the Spurs out using spacing and continue to attack the rim. Instead, Memphis obliged and the result was control of the paint for San Antonio. The Grizzlies have to clear things out and that means hitting a few mid-range jumpers. But instead of the off-dribble pull-ups they went to in Game 2, the Grizzlies need to utilize the space created by the pick and roll. They have reliable spot-up shooters in Darrel Arthur and Marc Gasol, and on the perimeter with O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley, and Shane Battier. If they use ball movement to create open looks, their offense looks much better. Off the dribble, it's an abject mess, and that's before you factor in San Antonio's penchant for creating turnovers out of such situations using their trap-and-swipe. If those shots open up the floor, the Spurs' defense will adjust which opens up interior passing to Randolph and Gasol, who can score, even if they're slightly out of position as long as they're not blanketed. How that adjustment fairs will determine if Memphis can carry any efficiency offensively at all. 

The X-Factor: O.J. Mayo has had decent, but not great games in the first two of this series. In Game 2, he went hero mode, trying to attack off the dribble and forcing shots while still drawing bad fouls. Mayo is a phenomenal streak shooter. When he works off the catch-and-shoot, or when Lionel Hollins uses him as such, Mayo can burn a defense and leave them shaking their heads. When he tries to produce off the dribble against bigger and longer defenders like George Hill, he gets swallowed alive and his bad decision making compounds it. The Grizzlies' bench unit is much better than it was at the start of the year, but still needs some form in order to function. Called plays for Mayo off-screen and catch-and-shoot could hurt the Spurs and frustrate them. Running improvisational sets with Mayo as ball handler or working with Greivis Vasquez at point will lead to more of the wasted possessions we saw in Game 2. Mayo has to get his if Memphis wants to take the advantage in this series. 

The Sticking Point: If you're talking about talent, outside of the Big 3, you could make the argument the Grizzlies have looked like the more talented team in this series. Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, Shane Battier, Mike Conley, the list goes on. It's not a runaway by any means, but you could make the argument. It's been close these first two games. But championship caliber teams know when to take control of the wheel.  The Spurs function better than the Grizzlies systemically, and that's why Game 1 was so tight, and Game 2 was a win for the favorites. That's what this series really comes down to. Individual efforts vesus group think. And in those situations, group think usually wins when they have the strength and ability the Spurs do. That said, a loss would unravel that system somewhat, and create self-doubt. Once that's introudced, it's a whole new ballgame and Memphis will be riding a surge of momentum going into Game 4. Game 3's are always pivotal. Most playoff games after the first two are pivotal. But you get the sense that this game really will decide the  series. 
Posted on: April 21, 2011 2:39 am
Edited on: April 21, 2011 3:51 am
 

NBA Playoffs Spurs-Grizzlies: Bring the walls up

Manu was fine. The Spurs' defense? It was great.
Posted by Matt Moore




The popular story will be Manu Ginobili. Ginobili, returning from an elbow injury, scoring a game-high 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds! Hero! In reality, Ginobili had a decent 17 points on 13 shots, but had five turnovers. There was some rust there. And if we want to look at the change that improved from Game 1 to Game 2, it wasn't the offensive output from Ginobili. It wasn't their offense at all.

Game 1 was a slower, methodical affair, with a pace of 89 possessions versus 95 in Game 2. But the efficiencies were higher on both sides. Basically, the Grizzlies benefited from a slower, more efficient game. Game 2 was an ugly, brutal affair. Even when the Grizzlies were able to convert turnovers at a higher rate than in Game 1, things bogged down on offense for Memphis. Particularly inside. 

In Game 1, the Spurs' largely went one-on-one in defense, trying to rely on their individual defenders to prevent cuts and open shots. The result was largely Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph killing them softly. In Game 2, the Spurs shifted their strategy completely. Instead, the Spurs sent everyone to collapse once the ball entered the paint. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for just 23 points on 23 shots Wednesday night. In the block, the Spurs would wait until either post player made their move to the paint, then bring an aggressive double, swiping at the ball from a wing. Often, Richard Jefferson did the job. Instead of swinging baseline and nailing hooks or fadeaways as they did in Game 1, the two found themselves turning the ball over, or unable to get a clean shot. When the two beasts inside turned face-up to the basket, three defenders would close to shut off any chance of a clean shot, even with the size advantages. 

San Antonio also threw a whole world of effort at denying the entry pass. By keeping the ball out of the block, the Grizzlies tried more interior passing. That didn't work. The result was a slew of awkward possessions, most often resulting in a poor pull-up jumper by a wing. Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Sam Young, O.J. Mayo and Shane Battier combined for 59 shots in Game 2, versus just 37 in Game 1. The Spurs set the tone, the wings would have to beat them in Game 2, and Memphis couldn't get it done. 

Matt Bonner was the one weak point the Grizzlies actually attacked, and Darrell Arthur finished 4-5 for 8 points, mostly from destroying Bonner. But, again, the Grizzlies didn't commit to exposing Bonner, and the result means Bonner hangs around to hit threes on the other end. 

The Spurs set the tone in Game 2, playing the kind of defense they haven't all year. Memphis was more than happy to play into it. Going forward, the shot distribution between the paint and the wing is going to go a long way in determining if Memphis can make this a series.
Posted on: April 20, 2011 12:22 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 1:21 pm
 

Series Reset: Manu Ginobili and the Memphis fits

Can the Spurs get back on track now that Manu Ginobili returns? Will Marc Gasol keep up his production? What about all the fouls? 
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative: Manu Ginobili's going to help. A lot. That's why he's Manu Ginobili. The Spurs very nearly beat the Memphis Grizzlies without Ginobili, and since he's the Spurs best/second-best/third-best player (depending on who you talk to), it's not arrogance for a Spurs fan to feel like all will be well once Manu hits the floor for Game 2. The Grizzlies have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Tony Allen and Shane Battier. Allen will try and body Ginobili, to wear him down physically, specifically on that sore elbow. Battier will try and distract and frustrate him with precision and consistency. 

Neither is likely to succeed. 

Ginobili has a wide range of basketball talents. Shooting, driving, particularly to his left, and a hesitation dribble followed by a burst where applicable. The Euro-step. But also among those talents is flopping -- the art of drawing the foul. Allen has a reputation for falling for the pump-fake. Combine the two and you've got a recipe for three quick fouls in the first half on Allen, and five by the 10-minute mark in the fourth. Battier will do better in avoiding said fouls, but he also doesn't have the speed anymore to stick with Ginobili on the drive. Considering the Grizzlies' notoriously slow rotations in the paint, Ginobili could have a big game in his return. 

The Hook: And all of Ginobili's wiles won't help with the biggest problem the Spurs had in Game 1. He can't guard Marc Gasol nor Zach Randolph. More than one Spurs fan remarked after Game 1, "There's no way Marc Gasol goes off for 24 points again!" Then they guffaw. There's much general guffawing. This is likely due to their not being aware that Gasol was one of the league leaders in field goal percentage last season. He shot 53 percent from the field this season, and it was a down year for him. He struggled with his shot for most of the year before correcting it in the last two months of the season, and shooting 56 percent. As for why his point totals never got that high? He's not often asked to be a big scorer in the Grizzlies' offense. His responsibilities are more focused on facilitating ball movement at the pinch post, working the offensive glass, and setting screens. But to confuse his versatility with an inability to convert his opportunities into buckets is to short-change Gasol. Tim Duncan said after Game 1 than he didn't focus on Gasol because he was concentrating on Randolph. That's going to be key in this game. Antonio McDyes can't check him, Gasol has too much quickness. DeJuan Blair can't, Gasol has too much length and agility. Matt Bonner can't because... well, he's Matt Bonner. So it comes down to whether Duncan can shut down Gasol. Zach Randolph's going to get his. But if Duncan can shut down Gasol, it will put the Spurs in a much better position. If he can't, it's going to be an issue for San Antonio.

The Adjustment: The Grizzlies did what they do in Game 1, not sending help on perimeter penetration, letting the Spurs get where they wanted and picking up about seventeen hundred fouls. It worked out in some ways for Memphis, they avoided the Spurs' perimeter shooters daggering them to death.  But giving up so many free throws is not a sustainable approach.  Part of that will fluctuate from officiating crew to officiating crew. But I've yet to see a crew who doesn't give Tony Parker the benefit of the doubt when he launches himself to the floor following contact. Memphis has to be able to defend without fouling, which means smarter, better rotations and help defense, which the Grizzlies have not done well all season. If the free throw disparity keeps up in this series, Memphis' hopes for an upset are dashed. 

The X-Factor: George Hill was aggressive in Game 1, but eventually became frustrated as the Grizzlies switched off on him and Tony Allen got his legs under him. Allen may spend more time defending Parker in Game 2, and going forward. But more confusing was the solid defensive work O.J. Mayo did on Hill in Game 1. Mayo is not a great defender, but his lack of size isn't compromised against Hill, and Hill was unable to shake Mayo. Hill is the superior athlete and player, however, and could have a big impact if he shakes off his frustrations from the second half of Game 1 and gets back to the damage he did in the first half. The Grizzlies' bench is thick offensively to begin with. The Spurs can deliver a knockout blow if Hill leads a charge off the bench with Manu Ginobili back in starter rotations. 

The Sticking Point: How do you defend the drive-and-kick, ball-movement-led corner 3-pointer in the NBA? The traditional model is to "run it off." Close as hard as you can off the help defense, swinging your arms wildly and praying to distract the shooter enough to get his aim off. The Grizzlies did a fair amount of that in Game 1, but also threw in another element. Memphis' best defensive element is their ability to create turnovers by playing the passing lanes. The Spurs did a great job in Game 1 of avoiding turnovers, winning that battle 16-10. But the Grizzlies impact was in preventing opportunities, as the Spurs were cautious with those passes, and when they did make them, they were often adjusted to avoid interception. This strategy usually led to struggled catch-and-shoot situations, forcing a reset. The Grizzlies can't let the Spurs kill them with the corner three. If that happens, Memphis will drown under a tidal wave of the Spurs' biggest strength: their offense. 
Posted on: April 17, 2011 5:35 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 6:14 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: The joy of one

Memphis wins first playoff game in franchise history as unlikely heroes come full circle. Oh, yeah, and there's a whole series in front of them.

Posted by Matt Moore




Joy comes in the morning . The Memphis Grizzlies entered the postseason 0-12 in postseason play. They walked out of the AT&T Center in San Antonio with a 1-0 series lead and their first ever franchise playoff win. 

It would be really easy to put this win in terms of the culmination of questionable moves the franchise has made, the history of failure and how far the team has come in getting one measly win in a playoff series. A win in series in which they are a considerable underdog to the very model of a small-market franchise that has won four NBA championships in the past ten years. 

I will do so now. 

The Grizzlies won behind two huge efforts from their frontcourt. Zach Randolph led the way with 25 points. Randolph was acquired ina  trade from the Clippers for Quentin Richardson. At the time, it was considered terrible, since Randolph was known as a locker room cancer who never won anything. Instead, he became the Grizzlies' first All-Star since Pau Gasol, and, on Sunday, did what he does: create shots underneath the basket where there's seemingly no room to create one. Without a legit player with length underneath, Randolph was able to create slight tip-ins. Throw in some poor defense by DeJuan Blair, and you've got a big day for Randolph.

In one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, the Grizzlies traded their All-Star Pau Gasol for the expiring contract of Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and the rights to Gasol's brother Marc who was playing in Spain. Randolph gets all the attention, and rightfully so. But Marc Gasol is as big a part of what the Grizzlies do as any player. He's a tremendous defender, both down low and on pick and rolls. He shows hard on screens and recovers, runs off mid-range Js (as he did Sunday), and has a wide offensive repertoire. While Tim Duncan was taking him one on one in the post in the first half, Gasol was getting his own, and wound up outscoring Duncan 24-16.  Anyone have that figured to start the day? 

Memphis made a series of terrible decisions in trading a first-round pick for Ronnie Brewer last season, then renouncing his right as a restricted free agent. They then used that money to acquire Tony Allen, another player with questionable skills and reputation, who wound up with a huge fourth quarter. Allen was plagued by foul trouble, but still managed to have an impact on the game with a series of gritty late-game defensive plays and some key buckets. 

The Grizzlies nearly traded O.J. Mayo at the deadline before the deal fell through and they got the trade request in too late. Mayo had 13 points off the bench. 

Memphis signed Mike Conley to a 5-year, $40 million contract, and were blasted for it. Mostly by me . (I made amends later after Conley continued to show his improvement, though the decision at the time was still irresponsible). Conley had 15 points and 10 assists and actually held his own offensively against Tony Parker (defensively, it was a different matter). 

The list goes on and on.

Then there's this. The Grizzlies drafted Hasheem Thabeet, one of the biggest busts of the decade with the No.2 overall pick in 2009. They had to send Thabeet along with a pick just to get rid of him. Houston took him on, in exchange for an expendable veteran defender who can hit the occasional 3-pointer. The Grizzlies got Shane Battier


Seems like a lot to make out of a Game 1 win when Memphis is just as likely to get blasted in the next four games, especially considering Manu Ginobili's absence. But, for a franchise trying to establish some level of legitimacy and momentum, it's a big deal. They won that first playoff game, and now have stolen homecourt advantage from the No.1 overall seed. This series looks long, it looks physical, and it looks exciting. And for the first time in franchise history, Memphis fans have to feel like they actually have a shot. 

You want some perspective on this? How about Manu Ginobili's absence? The Spurs' best element today was drawing fouls against a perimeter Grizzlies' defense that couldn't stop a drunken toddler from getting into the lane and resorted to just beating them up. The Spurs shot 15 more free throws than the Grizzlies, and hit 15 more. When Ginobili returns in Game 2, as he probably will, that number may actually increase. Ginobili and Parker are two of the best at drawing fouls (and some would say flopping). There may actually be dents in the AT&T center hardwood if the pattern from Game 1 keeps up.

The Grizzlies won despite only forcing 10 turnovers and losing the turnover battle. The Spurs were deliberate with their attack, and while the Grizzlies did succeed in forcing the Spurs off the 3-point line, outside of a handful of Richard Jefferson threes and two Matt Bonner bombs late to make everyone forget how terribly, terribly awful he was in guarding Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies outshot the Spurs by 12 percent, holding the Spurs to 40 percent from the field... and only won by three. That's a bad sign. 

If the Grizzlies don't figure out how to keep the Spurs out of the paint on the drive, or not foul them every single time they do enter, they're going to go down in flames. They gave up 29 free throws to George Hill and Tony Parker. That may seem like an outlier that won't hold. Given Memphis' style, it's likely not an outlier. 

But at the end of the day, Memphis did what they've done all season. Find a way to beat a better team by grinding it out, making big shots, and playing remarkable defense. For a day, it was good for a win, the biggest in franchise history. 
Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 6:56 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Western Conference First Round Picks

The NBA playoffs are here. We've previewed the Western Conference. Now here are our picks along with the rest of the CBS NBA staff for you to mock or praise. Be gentle. 




Here are the EOB picks for the Western Conference, with a little 'splainin. Leave your picks below. 

8 Grizzlies vs. 1 Spurs

Ben Golliver: The Manu Ginobili elbow sprain is a real drag and Memphis will surely give San Antonio all it can handle in the paint, but the Spurs are near untouchable at home and this isn’t their first rodeo. The Grizzlies deserve all the credit in the world for how they played the second half of their season – especially given the absence of Rudy Gay – but disciplined, experienced veterans with a clear system almost always beat out the enthusiastic, aggressive upstarts during the post-season. Look for Tony Parker to introduce Mike Conley to a crisis of confidence. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Royce Young: The Grizzlies wanted the Spurs, well now they're going to get them. It's silly to wish for things, but man, I can't help but think what the Grizzlies would look like with Rudy Gay. Alas, it's not meant to be. The Spurs are proven winners and the Grizzlies are the young, talented kids. It's not going to be easy for San Antonio, but Memphis just isn't ready to move on. Prediction: Spurs in six.

Matt Moore: It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Ken Berger: There are two big health questions for the Spurs: Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The Grizz have a lockdown defender, Tony Allen, capable of minimizing Manu's impact. The Grizzlies are a dangerous offensive-rebounding team, and they're second in the league in turnover differential. But the Spurs have the experience and presence to win on the road, they have enough big bodies to contend with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker will be the best player on the floor in this series. Prediction: Spurs in five. 

7 Hornets vs. 2 Lakers

Ken Berger: This could get ugly for the Hornets, who I fear will be seeing the Lakers team that won 17 of 18 after the All-Star break, not the team that got bored and lost six straight at the end to nearly squander the second seed. New Orleans is among the grittiest defensive teams in the league, but not against the Lakers; Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot 67 percent in the four-game season series, swept by the L.A. Even if Bynum isn't 100 percent, the defending champs should cruise. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Royce Young: With David West being out, I think the Lakers are privately saying it's sweep or bust. Everyone is expected a sweep and it's hard to argue it, but with the semi-uncertainty of Andrew Bynum's knee and the fact Chris Paul is very, very good, the Hornets might be able to sneak up and steal a game. That would be the goal for New Orleans because they are climbing a mountain here and they're barefoot. Lakers in four.

Ben Golliver: Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Sacramento Kings in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Matt Moore:  HORNETS SEASON = OVER; OVERMATCHED = VERY YES. Prediction: Lakers in four.

6 Blazers vs. 3 Mavericks

Matt Moore: When was the last time a three seed was slept on this much? All of a sudden the Blazers, with Wesley Matthews as a key weapon (fine player that he is) are going to knock off a team with playoff experience who shored up their biggest weakness with Tyson Chandler? The Mavs miss Caron Bulter. They're not going to miss him that much. Prediction: Mavericks in six.

Ben Golliver: Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but I see Dallas eventually pulling it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a good option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Ken Berger: What does it mean that this is the only first-round series I'm picking to go seven games? It means that I'm too much of a wimp to pick an upset. There is ample evidence to support the theory that Portland could dump the playoff-fragile Mavs, not the least of which are the Blazers' advantages in turnover differential (No. 1 in the league) and offensive rebounding rate (third). This could come down to a really fun Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge show. But even after the trade for Gerald Wallace, the Blazers haven't won on the road consistently enough to suggest they could pull off a Game 7 upset in Dallas. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Royce Young: I like the Blazers. It's almost irrational, but I can't help but like them. I see them as a team ready to challenge almost anyone. But the Blazers have almost become too much of a chic pick to be entirely comfortable with it. The Mavs are good. They won 55 games. They have Dirk. But it just seems like Portland is the better team. Blazers in seven.

5 Nuggets vs. 4 Thunder

Royce Young:  Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. They match up well with the Nuggets and Denver doesn't have anyone to defend Durant. But getting a healthy Arron Afflalo is a wildcard and as we know, don't doubt the Nuggets. They're dangerous. Thunder in five.

Matt Moore: We have yet to see the Thunder in a series where Kevin Durant just takes over (because they've only been in one series). Durant could choose to end this series if he hits that level. But until he does, you have to believe George Karl will have some tricks up his sleeve, that the Nuggets will continue to play hard, and that the Thunder will have some trouble with dispatching the Nuggets. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ben Golliver: Thunder/Nuggets has epic potential given how well each team has played since making massive moves at the trade deadline and how selfless each team’s overall approach to the game is. In a nailbiter, I give the Thunder the edge because both of their stars score efficiently, can get to the line and because newcomer Kendrick Perkins fits in with the rest of the starting unit perfectly. Denver’s depth is second to none but Oklahoma City’s bench is no slouch, either, and when it comes to crunchtime I have a feeling Kevin Durant will add to his legend in a big time way. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ken Berger:  Along with Blazers-Mavs and Knicks-Celtics, this will be among the most entertaining and competitive first-around series. The Knuggets like to push the pace, shoot threes, and exploit mismatches in the pick-and-roll game by getting opposing bigs on the move and forcing them to make decisions. The Thunder are almost as efficient offensively, though at a slightly slower pace. Both teams are better defensively after their major deadline trades, though the Thunder are more consistent in that area. It could come down to which team has a superstar to make big shots and carry the load down the stretch. The Knuggets traded theirs, Carmelo Anthony; the Thunder acquired a diabolical screen-setter, Kendrick Perkins, to make things easier for Kevin Durant. Prediction: Thunder in six.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 12:28 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 12:36 pm
 

Grizzlies-Spurs Preview: Quick and brutal

Our first-round series previews continue with this look at Memphis vs. San Antonio. Are the Spurs the grizzled defensive team of old? Can Tony Allen do anything to disrupt Manu? 
Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

If the playoffs were one giant game show, Grizzlies-Spurs is the box with the gigantic question mark on it. Are the Spurs as good as their record indicates? Because if they are, this thing's going to be over in about forty-five seconds. Are the Grizzlies able to translate that toughness to the playoffs and is San Antonio in a weak spot with an injured Manu Ginobili and some defensive questions? Because if that's the case, this thing could go the distance. We just don't know. The Spurs have so much experience. The Grizzlies are playing with so much emotion. The Spurs are an elite offensive team. The Grizzlies are a great defensive team. Tim Duncan. Zach Randolph. Manu Ginobili. Tony Allen's abject insanity. Good benches, good coaches. This one has all the makings of a great series. It's a 1 seed vs. the 8 seed. Which means it could be terrible. 

We don't know anything. We're waiting for both of these teams to define themselves. We're pretty sure San Antonio's going to win, because they're better with better players. But Memphis has been on such a roll, has such good chemistry, has size and good wing play and attack the rim. Trying to decipher this series is maddening, but that also means it could be fun, even if it's a sweep. 

II. What Happened: A Look at the Season Series

The Spurs only lost 21 games. Two of them were to Memphis. One was a tank game at the end of the season, though. Memphis averaged 103 points against San Antonio, who only scored 101. Both teams won their home games. The Spurs took the first two meetings, the Grizzlies the last two. Three of the meetings were after the trade deadline acquisition of Battier for Memphis. 

You want a weird one? Both of Memphis' wins over the Spurs came after Rudy Gay was lost for the season. 

Other than that? It's a bizarre amalgam of information from those games. The Spurs won when Tony Parker scored 37. They won when Parker scored 2. Memphis won a slow paced game, lost a slow paced game, won a fast paced game, lost a fast paced game. The Spurs won when they shot over 50 percent, and lost when they shot over 50 percent (the tank game). Memphis won when they controlled the rebounding battle, and lost when they controlled the rebounding battle. There is literally no discernible pattern other than individual matchup advantages that were at times expressed and at times not expressed. 

The consistent theme is that Zach Randolph's going to get his. He plugged in 24, 24, 23, and 21. That's predictable, considering Randolph's consistency in the 20-10 game. But the fact that Randolph's production isn't tied to Memphis winning has to be a concern for the Grizzlies. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Manu vs. the Yin-Yang

Manu Ginobili is one of the toughest covers in the NBA. Tony Allen and Shane Battier are two of the best defenders in the league. Manu has the Euro-step. Battier and Allen are obsessed with tape review to figure out tendencies. This is a huge matchup to watch. Ginobili will need to be in full flop mode. If he can frustrate Allen by drawing fouls via flop, Allen will start to gamble more. Given his penchant for falling for the pump-fake, it may not be too difficult for Ginobili to do that quickly. Against Battier, Manu has more speed advantage, and the Grizzlies' frontcourt help defense is not good. 

For Memphis, the key here needs to be to deny the ball. Ball pressure has to be a key part of their attack on Ginobili. They can't bring help at the elbow, due to the Spurs' plethora of shooters. So they have to focus on keeping the ball out of his hand, which is nearly impossible when they set the offense with Manu as ball-handler in the deep backcourt. The Grizzlies focus on turnovers, and Ginobili's turnover rate is the lowest of his career (that factors how many possessions he uses). If Hollins doesn't figure out a way to attack Ginobili at the elbow on the drive before he slips low (where he is nearly impossible to defend), he's going to hurt Memphis in a big, big way. 


IV. Secret of the Series: Underground seating

Memphis does not have a good bench. But they may have advantages against the Spurs. Matt Bonner is a terrific 3-point shooter, but who is he going to defend? Zach Randolph will bury him. Darrell Arthur is both faster and stronger. Antonio McDyess is a capable defender, and he could have a huge impact in this series. George Hill has had a great season, but with Battier and Mayo coming off the Bench, there are answers. Darrell Arthur is a big secret for Memphis. He's not only strong and quick, but he has a reliable mid-range from 18. Stretch bigs give the Spurs fits, and if Conley and Arthur start to operate in space, and that jumper falls for Arthur, that's some damage that could be done. 

It'll be interesting to see if the Spurs start McDyess to cover Randolph, giving Duncan the less offensive-focused Marc Gasol. In that situation, DeJuan Blair would come off the bench. Blair's defensive issues are problematic, but he could neutralize the boards advantage for Memphis. Do that and the Grizzlies lose some of their umph. Lineups and rotations will go a long way in deciding this series.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "THE SPURS ARE TOUGH, GRITTY, VETERAN DEFENSIVE TEAM."

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who spins this yarn at you, needs to go. I've talked about the Spurs' defensive slide on this site quite a bit, and there's been no dramatic shift in the other direction. The Spurs simply don't have the personnel they used to. Gone are the veteran wing defenders like Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen. Instead George Hill, who has great speed and is a terrific offensive player, is asked to play in a reserve two-guard role often. Richard Jefferson has solid length, but isn't an elite defender. DeJuan Blair doesn't have the length or explosion to defend bigger players in the post, and is still young as to not have the savvy experience necessary to overcome those limitations. He'll get there, but he's not there yet.

Every year prior, if you asked who had a better defensive efficiency, the Spurs or their first-round opponent, you'd automatically answer "San Antonio." But this year? The Grizzlies are 8th in defensive efficiency. The Spurs? 11th. This doesn't mean the Spurs won't win, or that they won't find that extra defensive playoff gear. It just means that going into this series, the Spurs are not that old, veteran tough team they're always known to be. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each matchup?

PG: Tony Parker has terrific speed on the perimeter. Mike Conley has made huge strides this season, but he routinely gets blown by faster guards.  Conley will probably get his fair share of points and assists, but Parker's ability to dominate this matchup is unquestionable. Advantage: Parker.

SG: We discussed above, but it should be put this way. Manu Ginobili is a championship caliber wing with savvy, speed and great scoring ability. This is a no-brainer. Advantage: Manu.

SF: The Grizzlies run Sam Young and Tony Allen in tandem at the 2/3 spots. Young has added bulk and been taken under TA's wing this season. But Jefferson has about a million more moves. Young will be more aggressive, but that will also lead to leaving Jefferson open in the corner, where he's become deadly (highest 3-point percentage of his career). Jefferson get the nod here. 

PF: Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. Zach Randolph is a top five power forward in the league right now. And neither will guard each other much in this series. We're going to give the nod to Duncan, only, and we stress only, for his defensive impact. Randolph is a poor defender, Duncan is still strongest. Advantage: Duncan.

C: Marc Gasol is constantly the most underrated center in the league. McDyess is a solid veteran defender. DeJuan Blair is a nice rebounder and put-back machine. Neither is seven-feet tall with the ability to run the pinch post, nail the open 16-footer consistently, pass well out of the post and attack the offensive glass as easily as Gasol. Plus his beard is mighty. Advantage: Gasol. 

Bench: We just got through telling you the Grizzlies have some matchup advantages on the Spurs on the bench. But the Grizzlies bring off Ish Smith and Hamed Haddadi. Advantage: Spurs. 

Coach: We'd comment more thoroughly on this, but we're afraid Popovich will make fun of us. Advantage: Popovich.

VII. Conclusion

When you have a matchup that becomes as complicated and confusing when you get in the details as this one, you have to take a step back and look at the simple picture. The Spurs have had one of their best seasons ever. They have championship players. They have Hall of Famers. They have a Hall of Fame coach. They are an elite offensive team that understands what they have to do defensively to win. They have experience, where the Grizzlies have almost none. The Spurs are the top seed in the West versus the 8th seed. 

It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in 5. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com