The San Antonio Spurs’ first season without the presence of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan has gone as well as can be expected with the club easing into the playoffs.
It was the franchise’s first campaign without the presence of Duncan since 1997, with the power forward playing an instrumental role in their five NBA Championships.
However, his former team-mates have managed to cope in his absence, rallying around new star Kawhi Leonard in their bid to return to the top of the NBA.
Gregg Popovich’s men battled their way to their second 60-win season on the bounce, and third in four years, but it was not enough to dislodge the Golden State Warriors from the top seed in the Western Conference.
As a result, the Spurs will face off against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the post-season – the Grizzlies are familiar opponents due to their rivalry in the Southwest Division.
David Fizdale’s men split their series against the Spurs this term and defeated the Warriors twice – so they will be a tough challenge for San Antonio to overcome.
However, Popovich’s brushed aside the Grizzlies in their last playoff encounter at the same stage last term, so confidence will be high in Texas.
We’ll now look back at how both teams fared in the regular season and break down the odds for their clash in the first round of the playoffs.
The Spurs were handed the toughest of tests in their opener against the Warriors on the road, but they were outstanding from start-to-finish.
Popovich’s men successfully limited the potent trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant to 100 points, while Leonard commanded the contest with a 35-point display.
San Antonio tasted victory in their opening four matches, but three defeats in four at the AT&T Center were damaging before they managed to get back on track courtesy of a nine-match winning streak.
Another home loss halted their progress – this time at the hands of the Orlando Magic, with the Spurs limited to just 83 points. However, a strong run of form through December left Popovich’s men at 27-6 at the end of the year and well placed at the top of the Western Conference.
The Atlanta Hawks were able to best the Spurs on New Year’s Day in an overtime thriller on the road, despite a fine performance from LaMarcus Aldridge.
Although, the Spurs won more contests than they lost in January, Popovich will have been irked by back-to-back losses at the end of the month to the New Orleans Pelicans and the Dallas Mavericks.
San Antonio and Leonard’s form remained excellent heading down the stretch run of the campaign, but they did suffer one of their worst defeats of the term to the New York Knicks. A nine-game winning streak brought them back to form, securing their berth in the playoffs in the process.
For the second season on the spin the Spurs displayed their brilliance by reaching the 60-win mark with an overtime win over the Grizzlies, but they have stumbled in April slightly losing three of their last four matches. However, they have the quality to up the ante for their playoff opener.
Dave Joerger paid the price for the Grizzlies exit in the first round of the playoffs last term at the hands of the Spurs and was replaced by Fizdale, who has enjoyed an encouraging start to his reign.
Mike Conley has taken his game to a new level this term, while Marc Gasol has remained a defensive force in front of the net. Support has come from Zach Randolph, giving the club a solid line-up, but it will take spirited performances to send the post-season meet beyond four matches.
Memphis started the season with a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Conley notching 24 points in a four-point win at the FedEx Forum.
Fizdale faced the first test of his tenure at the beginning of November, losing five of their opening seven matches. However, they responded by winning six matches on the spin – five of which came on the road.
December proved to be another solid month, winning 11 of their 17 matches, despite losing three on the bounce before Christmas. The Grizzlies ended 2016 on a high note with comfortable back-to-back wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings.
January was a frustrating month, with a 7-7 record, even though it included one of their best performances of the season in an overtime win over the Golden State Warriors. Seven wins in February took the club to a 36-25 and within striking distance of the post-season, although they would stumble over the finish line.
Inconsistency was the name of the game in March as five defeats on the bounce were followed by four successive wins, including their triumph over the Spurs. A four-game losing run knocked the Grizzlies off course, but they finally secured their berth with a win over the Mavericks on March 31.
The Spurs eased past the Grizzlies in their contest last season before being beaten by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Conference Semi-Finals.
San Antonio were desperately disappointed by their premature exit and will be redoubling their efforts to surge back into the NBA Finals this time around.
Leonard has taken on the superstar mantle from Duncan and has been outstanding this term, averaging 25.7 points per game. With Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Aldridge in support there’s enough on the offense to overwhelm Memphis’ defense.
The Grizzlies split their series with the Spurs this term, and defeated the Warriors twice. Fizdale’s men boast the third-best defensive record in the NBA – behind only the Spurs and the Utah Jazz.
Therefore expect the game not be a points-glut in front of the net, with the battle between the two Gasols an intriguing prospect.
San Antonio have experience and depth of talent on their side – so expect Popovich’s men to advance, although it will not be a walkover to advance into the Conference Semi-Finals.
At odds of -1111 the Spurs are strong favourites to win the contest with Sportsbet Sportsbook due to their offensive power and the depth of their roster. A 4-1 scoreline would seem to fit the series, with the Grizzlies capable of snatching at least one game at odds of +182 .
San Antonio Spurs To Beat Memphis Grizzlies
San Antonio Spurs To Beat Memphis Grizzlies 4-1
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