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Southwest Showdown at the Alamo: Grizzlies vs. Spurs

On Sunday night a struggling Grizzlies team goes on the road to take on the red-hot San Antonio Spurs. What can fans realistically expect from this Western Conference clash?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Setting the Stage

The Memphis Grizzlies are reeling after two home blowouts against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday and then the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. That’s the worst situation to be in right now for a number of reasons.

  1. The next game is on the road, where it’s always more challenging to win- even on a hot streak
  2. The next game is on the road...in San Antonio, where only 8 teams have come away with a win this season.
  3. The next game is against Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and the rest of the Spurs.

Earlier this year that 3rd reason would actually be nonexistent as Memphis finally kicked their losing habit against the Spurs. But their two victories (and one loss) against the team that’s had their number since the glorious 2011 NBA Playoffs happened way back in December. Unless you celebrated New Year’s in a cave somewhere and just never found the way out, you know the picture has changed dramatically since then.

It’s a disservice to San Antonio to say they’ve merely kicked it on. In reality the rest of the league has stood by and watched something a little more like this:

Without a miracle happening during their day off, Memphis will be running into a third straight buzz saw. The Grizzlies haven’t been performing terribly but they have underwhelmed to say the least. Their 5-5 record over the last ten is a perfect representation of the team’s recently average play. And on the other end of the court is a team that lost at the New York Knicks, got verbally wrecked by their coach afterwards, and has gone 5-1 since. While the Grizzlies keep losing to the NBA’s best, the Spurs have beat the likes of Atlanta, Oklahoma City, and Dallas in their upswing. There’s no question that San Antonio has finally arrived just in time for the playoffs, and if that sounds familiar that’s because it’s what they do. All the time.

Obviously the Grizzlies and Spurs are trending in opposite directions and it’s hard to imagine Memphis suddenly having a throwback performance on the road, based on recent showings. On top of that, Tony Allen might be sitting this one out with an injury sustained during Friday night’s debacle. And on top of THAT, a whole slew of others are dealing with nagging injuries while the entire team (except the mercurial Jeff Green, but I’m not convinced there aren’t just two of him at this point) is in a major scoring slump.

Tale of the Tape

The teams’ recent games don’t paint a pretty picture for the Grizzlies’ hopes on Sunday and the recent stats can be credited with this little piece:

van Gogh's depiction of Grizzlies fans this week; he even got the color right.

If I told you that Memphis was shooting better than the Spurs from three-point land would that cheer you up? If yes, then stop reading here and cling to that tiny glimmer of hope. I'll wait.

Things aren’t so peachy for the rest of us, because somehow Memphis’ game planning still has them making almost two fewer 3pt shots per game than San Antonio over the last 5 outings. It’s the same old song and dance for the Grizzlies who refuse to shoot. They’re not ice cold from the field but still average three fewer field goals and a whopping eight fewer 3pt attempts. That right there could explain why on one end Memphis is averaging 97 points per game and San Antonio is putting up 105+ on the regular. Dedicated fans and regular GBB readers will know that Memphis’ record when scoring over 100 is near perfect, and just average below that threshold. So averaging 97 is a recipe for disaster.

Beyond that one area (3pt%) it’s possible Memphis will get beat in every other dimension of the sport we call basketball. A head-to-head comparison illustrates this well and I’ve even taken the time and put in the extra effort to bold the areas in which Memphis holds the edge:

Stat (last 5 games)

Grizzlies

Spurs

Field Goal %

46.8%

49.5%

3PA / 3P%

15.6 / 44.9%

23 / 36.5%

Free Throw %

71.4%

82.4%

Rebounds

38.8

46

Turnovers

12.8

13.8

Assists

19.8

26.6

Steals

7.8

9.2

Blocks

2.8

4.2

Fouls committed

19.6

15.8

Points For

97

106.6

Points Against

97.4

90.4

If my arithmetic skills are as strong as the dozens of gold stars I received on 3rd grade assignments would suggest, that makes for two Memphis advantages to San Antonio’s ten.

That’s A Wrap

There isn’t a whole lot more to talk about in a preview of this matchup, and doing so would only add to the sense of dread going into the game. I think it’s really going to be a matter of damage control for the Grizzlies to avoid losing by over 20 points for a third straight game. Keep your fingers crossed that this elaborate reverse tanking job has our first round matchup against anyone but the home team on Sunday night.

Prediction- Spurs 104, Grizzlies 95