#1 San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies (46-36)
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For a team that coasted to the top seed in the Western Conference for most of the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs (46-36) are getting little respect heading into their first-round playoff matchup with the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (46-36). There are a few reasons why many so-called experts are not picking the aging Spurs to win their fifth NBA championship this year, but the young Grizzlies should provide a decent test to find out whether or not those doubts are valid.
Maybe it is because San Antonio sputtered down the stretch, nearly losing the top seed in the West and finishing second overall to Chicago for the league’s best record due to the team’s longest losing streak in Tim Duncan’s career at six Games. Maybe it is because star Manu Ginobili (17.4 points per Game) suffered an elbow injury in the regular-season finale at Phoenix and is doubtful to play in Game 1. Maybe it is because the Spurs just do not match up well with the rest of the teams in the West, including Memphis.
One thing is for sure — a healthy Ginobili will be needed to win this series and help them advance deep into the postseason. While he may not play in the series opener, Game 2 is a must for the most versatile player and deadliest shooter on either side. Ginobili injured his knee in the last meeting with the Grizzlies on March 27, scoring only two points in 19 minutes en route to a 111-104 road loss. Duncan also missed that Game due to an ankle injury, and he was one of five starters who failed to Scorein double figures in a 109-93 loss at Memphis on March 1.
The Grizzlies have covered the spread in the last five meetings with San Antonio, going 3-2 straight-up over that span. They were one of the NBA’s best teams against the spread during the regular season at 52-29-1, including an impressive 26-15 mark on the road. The most amazing trend in their favor that will not be a factor in the playoffs due to days off between Games is that the team went a remarkable 17-3-1 ATS when playing without rest.
The Spurs will need all the rest they can get to keep up with Memphis offensively and slow the pace defensively like they did when they won their first Four titles. In fact, defense could very well be the deciding factor in this series. Four of the last five meetings have gone OVER the total, and all of those were played at a tempo that favored the Grizzlies. If San Antonio does not figure out a way to play better defense, a long series seems more than likely.
Series Pick: San Antonio Spurs (-370 at Bookmaker) in 7