Separated by only two games in the standings, the San Antonio Spurs visit the Memphis Grizzlies for a crucial inner-division meeting on Friday night.
After kicking off their four-game road trip with a resounding victory over the Boston Celtics, this San Antonio Spurs team finally looks to be kicking things into overdrive. The offense is flowing, the young players are integrated into the lineup and head coach Gregg Popovich is finally settling on some effective rotations.
However, this visit to the No. 9 seed Memphis Grizzlies is a must-win for the wryly Spurs. Similarly to them, the Grizzlies are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant leading the way and veteran forward Jae Crowder heating up in recent games.
Despite their status as an up-and-coming team, the Grizzlies have wins over top-tier teams like the LA Clippers and Miami Heat as well as one victory over the Spurs earlier this season.
This game also coincides with an incredible hot streak by All-Star contender DeMar DeRozan, who is playing his best ball in the silver and black over his last nine games. The scoring machine is posting hyper-efficient lines while opening up the game for his teammates and dictating the tempo of the Spurs’ offense from the small forward spot.
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If the Grizzlies win this game, they take possession of the eighth seed in the playoffs and push the Spurs back out of the postseason picture temporarily. This would also ensure the Grizzlies at least a tie with San Antonio in the season series, further dampening the Spurs’ hopes of making the postseason for the 23rd consecutive year.
San Antonio needs production from its young guards in order to win this one. The tandem of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White will likely take the Morant assignment, though it won’t be an easy one. This is where they need to levy their experience into wins and put Morant into uncomfortable situations where he’ll need to defer to his teammates.
Considering the Spurs blew Memphis out by 30 points in their previous game, and tend to dominate season series with the inner-division foe, this should be a fairly easy win as long as the team sticks to its wits and plays for each other.
If not, San Antonio will lose a lot of leverage in this Western Conference playoff race and could fall back into irrelevance like it did in November.