San Antonio Spurs: Trying to Avoid Playoff Matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies
By Ryan McCallum
It would be a catastrophic collapse for the San Antonio Spurs to miss the Playoffs.
The New Orleans Pelicans are on a tear, winning eight of their last 10. Yet, they sit with a .547 winning percentage and are a half-game back from the eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. A half-game doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not, but the net of the argument is that one of those two will be in the Playoffs, but neither will catch the Spurs.
February 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs forwardTim Duncan
(21) looks on during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Spurs 110-99. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio is 4.5 games ahead of Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, and five games up on the Pelicans.
The Spurs are in for their 17th straight Playoff appearance- stretching all the way back to the 1998 Playoffs. That’s good for the longest active streak in the NBA.
So, if San Antonio is in, we should now concern ourselves with positioning. It isn’t often that the Spurs find themselves in the lower ranks of the Playoff-going Conference. We have to go back to 1997 to find a time when the Spurs weren’t ranked first or second in the Division. That is back in the Midwest Division days. But, our Spurs have made it to March, and are supplanted in the seventh position in the Western Conference Playoffs.
San Antonio is not unique in that they want to avoid playing Memphis in the first round. Memphis is big. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, heck Kosta Koufos can throw bodies around.
"It is critical that San Antonio gets out of the seventh-seeded position. The Spurs just simply don’t match-up well with the Grizzlies."
While Tim Duncan appears to be reversing in age a-la Benjamin Button, the Spurs’ frontcourt has been banged up all season. Duncan is supporting Tiago Splitter and his multiple injuries, while the most apt backup is Aron Baynes, who is big enough defensively to manage Koufos, however Randolph will be an immense problem.
Gasol will absolutely destroy the Australian. Baynes is just too green. The experiment with cycling in Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner failed. Neither of them can bang down low with Randolph and Gasol. Although Bonner would pull Randolph away from the basket with his long-range shooting, the Playoffs- in the West- are about size.
The backcourt for the Grizzlies is solid as well. Point guard Mike Conley is having a career year, besting his scoring average by nearly three points (16.2 PPG this season). The swing player, veteran small forward Tony Allen, is having the most consistent season of his 10-year career. His lengthy defense will directly impact the productivity of Kawhi Leonard.
It is critical that San Antonio gets out of the seventh-seeded position. Either way actually. Going down to the eighth spot, albeit mathematically unlikely, isn’t the worst thing. San Antonio matches up well against the Golden State Warriors. Now it is San Antonio’s size that will be the troublemaker. The Warriors are jump shooters, and jump shooters go cold. They go cold quick when Leonard eliminates either Steph Curry or Klay Thompson.
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San Antonio does have a visible path to one of the top four spots in the West, earning them home court in the first round. That path just may be the best way to ensure the Spurs make it out of the round of eight. San Antonio is just 16-16 on the road this season, but are 23-7 at home. Dallas is right in front of them, only a half-game ahead. The Clippers are only two games up in the win column, and Portland, without Wesley Matthews, becomes predictable.
Dallas has Cleveland, the Clippers, Oklahoma City, Memphis, and Phoenix in their next six game, and the Spurs following that. Not an easy road by any means. The Clippers have OKC, Dallas, and Houston in their next three before an easy stretch against the Eastern Conference. Golden State is waiting for them on March 31st, this time Blake Griffin will likely be back from injury. Portland has an easier road to hold their standing. They have Houston on March 11th, then Memphis and Golden State at the end of the month.
Clearly the Spurs want to move up in the standings. If not to get home court, to avoid the Memphis Grizzlies. Both are relevant goals.