Call it a streak.
The Grizzlies have won 3 games in a row coming after a 5 game losing skid that felt as low as low could go. Now? The Grizzlies defense has tightened up and they’ve been able to string wins together. We’re about a month out from the playoffs beginning, so if there’s any time to put wins together it’s now.
Before the Grizzlies and Spurs face-off on Saturday night, we asked Bruno Passos from the fine folks at Pounding the Rock, SB Nation’s Spurs blog, to help us preview the game and give us insight about the Spurs.
Kawhi Leonard started to gain a national support for his MVP candidacy after his performance against the Houston Rockets. Not asking you to make a prediction as to who will win, but is he the MVP?
Whether he is or isn't seems to depend on what definition you go by. Is he the guy with the most impressive stats? No, there’s a dude averaging a triple double. Is he considered the best player in the league? That would still be LeBron, by most people’s estimations. Is he making the biggest impact on a team’s chances of winning a championship? I think so. He’s quietly become one of the best offensive players in the league which, combined with his defensive presence, makes him something of a unique superstar in today’s game. He’s the go-to scorer on the league’s second-best team (almost first) and the best defensive player on the NBA’s best defensive team. That’s a hell of a resume if you ask me.
Speaking of Kawhi, he did not play in the Grizzlies and Spurs only match-up of the season thus far, what is something new to look for from Kawhi this season that Grizzlies fans haven’t seen?
His playmaking has improved tremendously. In the last two-and-a-half months he's not only averaging around 30 points per game but also close to 4 assists, which forces teams to game-plan for him in a completely different way. He’s comfortable creating in the pick and roll, passing out of double teams, or finding the open guy when he’s forced baseline. It’s amazing how, despite how much he’s improved since his rookie year, he continues to add new facets to his game.
Along the same lines, Gregg Popovich is master of constantly evolving and changing his teams over the years and never becoming stale. What are new wrinkles the Grizzlies should be on the lookout for from this Spurs team, game plan wise?
Alley oops! The Spurs are suddenly brimming with guys who can play above the rim, and Pop is making use of them. It helps that the team also has a number of incredible passers which, combined with the team’s motion-heavy offense, opens things up for lobs. There were entire seasons in the past where they would only tally one or two alley-oop dunks -- this year, they must be up to around thirty. It’s not quite Lob City, but that’s a big change for San Antonio and it’s been really fun to watch.
What’s been the impact of Dewayne Dedmon being inserted in the starting lineup?
Speaking of alley oops, here’s the guy who’s been on the receiving end of most of them. Dedmon’s been a revelation, and it’s incredible how early into the season people were calling for this guy who was a relatively unheralded offseason signing to get all the minutes he could handle. His move to the starting lineup hasn’t been as positive in the advanced stats as I imagined it would be (he’s had a minus net rating since the change), but it still seems to be the right call by Pop. He’s one of the team’s best defenders, replacing one of its weakest (Pau), which means teams can’t prey on Tony Parker in the pick and roll as much. He also runs the floor extremely well and is a handful on the offensive glass.
Dedmon still has issues with getting into foul trouble, and Pop has actually not been finishing games with him all that much lately, but he helps the Spurs set a defensive tone early in games and he allows Pau to eat up opposing team’s second units. That’s not unlike what Zach Randolph is doing for Memphis now, right?
This is a likely playoff matchup if the Spurs are a #2 seed, but the Warriors’ lead over San Antonio is fragile. Do you think the Spurs will end up with the #1 seed?
With the Warriors’ recent struggles and the return of LaMarcus Aldridge (he was temporarily sidelined indefinitely due to a heart arrhythmia), I still like the Spurs’ odds to get the one seed. They hold the tie-breaker over Golden State and still get to face them one more time at home when the Warriors will be on the end of a back-to-back. Neither team will sacrifice health over getting the top seed, but I do think San Antonio needs it a bit more than Golden State.