Season opener: Spurs-Grizzlies preview

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99-91. TP

That was the score last displayed at the top of the scoreboard in the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee on April 29 when the number one seeded San Antonio Spurs walked off of the court after being eliminated by the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the 2011 NBA playoffs.

The Spurs walked off the court in disappointment while the young Grizzlies would advance to the next round before eventually being eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With the shocking upset the Spurs were handed, questions about the future immediately began to arise. Was it time to break apart the “Big 3” of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker? Was a youth injection needed? Did the team need more size in the paint? What was the team going to do about Richard Jefferson? Would the series have been different if Ginobili was healthy?

Now, after seven months the Spurs are back to face the Grizzlies in the inaugural opening game of the regular season in which the team will finally try to see if some of the questions from the offseason have been answered.

That was then, this is now

The team’s first issue was the health of Ginobili. After the series ended, news came about Ginobili playing while nursing a broken arm. His arm healed over the summer and he even played in the FIBA Americas tournament in September. After, he stayed away from full contact professional basketball. Ginobili is healthy and ready for the season opener.

The aging Spurs have injected some youth into the team with the retirement of Antonio McDyess and by acquiring the draft rights to 20-year old rookie Kawhi Leonard and by drafting 20-year old rookie Cory Joseph. Second year 25-year old guard James Anderson is also healthy after battling injuries last season. This will only be 22-year old center DeJuan Blair’s third year in the NBA and Tiago Splitter is still 26. The average age of the team is just 27 years old with the signing of 28-year old veteran T.J. Ford. The problem is that the starting five of the Spurs averages out at 30 years old. Most notable are Duncan (35), Ginobili (34), and Jefferson (31). Overall, the youth movement for the foundation of the next era of Spurs has begun.

The small forward position looks to be in better shape as Jefferson is still the starter but Leonard and Anderson look to be excellent options coming off of the bench or, either of them could eventually replace Jefferson in the starting lineup. Danny Green is also a third consistent option to use at the position.

The big man issue still hasn’t been answered and may be a roll of the dice because of McDyess’ departure. With Duncan playing limited minutes and possibly being rested on back-to-back and back-to-back-to-back nights, the paint fortress will either stay strong with the maturation of Splitter and Blair or will fall if they can’t stay strong when Duncan is absent.

Here are the projected lineups for tonight’s matchup,

San Antonio Spurs

Starting FiveGuardsForwardsCentersInjured
PG Tony ParkerJames AndersonTiago SplitterGary Neal
SG Manu GinobiliT.J. FordKawhi Leonard
SF Richard JeffersonCory JosephMatt Bonner
PF Tim DuncanDanny Green
C DeJuan Blair

Memphis Grizzlies

Starting FiveGuardsForwardsCentersInjured
PG Mike ConleyXavier HenryDante CunninghamBrian SkinnerDarrell Arthur
SG Tony AllenJeremy PargoQuincy Pondexter
SF Rudy GayJosh SelbySam Young
PF Zach Randolph
C Marc Gasol

Analyzing the Chess Board

Backcourt: Parker versus Conley is always a good matchup because Conley is one of the point guards in the league who can actually keep up with Parker’s speed. Ford will be seeing some backup minutes when needing to give Parker a break while Joseph might see some time defending Conley and/or Mayo.

Ginobili being defended by Allen should be another entertaining matchup when you combine Ginobili’s craftiness on the floor with Allen’s pride in defense and roller coaster consistency on offense.

Mayo is the Grizzlies weapon off of the bench as he can hit the outside jumper while also pushing the ball up the floor. From what’s been seen in the preseason, Anderson has become the sixth man for the Spurs after George Hill was traded to Indiana. Anderson will be the go-to scoring option for the second unit in the backcourt.

Pargo is another new addition to the Grizzlies. He had a good preseason as he displayed speed, passing, and the ability to get to the rim and finish. He will be getting Greivis Vasquez’s minutes after Vasquez was traded to New Orleans on Christmas Eve.

RGThe wing: Gay missed most of the Grizzlies regular season and all of last year’s playoffs for Memphis but he’s known to be a major scorer. Look for the Grizzlies to look at him as either a second or third option on the offensive end. Spurs rookie Leonard could get his first shot at defending one of the league’s better scoring options in Gay and Mayo. Pondexter was the player traded for Vasquez and he seems to have an outside shot on the rise combined with the ability to drive into the lane and finish with a dunk. Cunningham is new to the Grizzlies but Young is a consistent forward off of the bench.

Frontcourt: The question remains the same from the Spurs’ exit last season, how will the team stop the tandem of Randolph and Gasol? A fresh healthy Duncan should help, but the uncertainty will remain the same if Splitter, Blair, and Bonner can’t limit the two players from wreaking havoc. With Arthur projected to be out the entire season for the Grizzlies, the team’s depth is really slim. Recently, Memphis rescinded a qualifying offer to their center Hamed Haddadi which makes him a free agent. This leaves Skinner left as the only option at the big man position for the second unit.

The game will tip off at 7:30PM CST at the AT&T Center. Will the Spurs get their revenge from last seasons playoff elimination at the hands of the Grizzlies, or will the Grizzlies show that last season’s success wasn’t a fluke and this team is here to contend in the Western Conference?