And so it begins. Welcome, all, to the start of the 2011-12 NBA season. Sure, there were 5 games on the docket yesterday, but really all we care about is tonight's game between the Grizzlies and the Spurs.
Naturally, there is plenty of intrigue in this one, especially given the fact that the Grizzlies bounced the Spurs out of the first round of the 2010-11 playoffs. Then, of course, we're going to be following this one closely because it's game No. 1 of the season. Finally.
Truth is, though, we have plenty of not-so-straightforward reasons to be watching tonight. Such as, bench play and, yes, turnovers. Let's take a look at the keys to tonight's game... Man, it definitely feels good to get our Grizzlies back in the fold! So excited.
This game is important on many fronts. First, we get to answer the one question that's been the lead story-line this offseason: how will the Grizzlies fare with Rudy Gay back in the mix? Great question!
That's something we definitely have to keep an eye on tonight. Getting Gay back in the mix, without ruining the sets that were so successful for us in the post-Gay playoff run last season, is going to be key. Does he force the offense to fall back into a stagnant half-court set? Or does he push it so that we now lose our power-play identity? I think it's actually going to be a bit of Column A and a tad bit of Column B. We're going to have a different look on offense. Not vastly different, but we're not going to be a complete power team. Gay adds athleticism, along with a "better" stretch of the floor, as opposed to what we look like without him. But it's going to take a minor period of adjustment for the individuals on this team to find their role. That'll take time. In part because of the shortened preseason.
The other thing we're going to need to keep an eye on is our depth, our bench. We've lost Darrell Arthur (injured), Xavier Henry (injured), Shane Battier (Heat) and Grievis Vasquez (Hornets). In the mix now are Josh Selby, Jeremy Pargo, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter and Brian Skinner. Lots of new faces. From what once was a pretty decent strength of ours, now all we really have to point to as a 'solid' player off the bench is O.J. Mayo. The rest, we'll find out!
Tonight's game is going to be a fun one to watch. As always, we have to limit our turnovers. We also have to develop an outside presence early, so that the Spurs don't load up on us in the paint. With Marc Gasol (ankle) a little banged up, we're going to see him moving at close to, but not quite 100 percent. Meaning, time to man-up Z-Bo and company.
For the Spurs, we pretty much know who they are. They're one of the toughest outs in the NBA, with a core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Their bench is decent, but they definitely have some bodies to come in and push our big boys around. I suppose this is where guys like Cunningham and Skinner will earn their pay.
Prediction time: We'll struggle with the turnovers, we'll post strong numbers off the glass and get a good look at our young bodies off the bench. This isn't going to be anything but a game about rhythm. Unfortunately for us, the Spurs are generally a team who doesn't struggle to get into a game rhythm. That said, we've got the horses to run with them. I can honestly say that in Game 1 I don't have a feeling either way about whether or not we're going to win, but naturally I have faith in our ability to at least close out this team, as long as we can keep it within our reach -- we'll drop because of the turnovers and spotty outside shooting. Time for someone off the bench to come up big. Mayo, you ready?
Grizzlies 101 - Spurs 93
Optimistic, much? Sure. Realistic, though, for me to think we can beat the Spurs. Which, unlike in seasons past we might have just said that all we're hoping to get is a "moral victory."
For more on the Spurs: Pounding the Rock