Once frequent playoff foes, these two teams are both a part of this unique bubble situation with the same goal on their minds: the 8th seed in the Western Conference. After Memphis’ loss to Portland, and San Antonio’s win against Sacramento, the Grizzlies hold a 3-game lead over the 10-seed Spurs for that last playoff spot.
As we enter this matchup, I caught up with Bruno Passos of SB Nation’s San Antonio Spurs blog, Pounding the Rock.
1) What’s your outlook for the San Antonio Spurs without LaMarcus Aldridge?
It’s going to be a rough go for sure—and it seems like the team knows it. If the scrimmages and recent quotes from Gregg Popovich are any indication, the Spurs will be as focused on developing and evaluating their young guys as they will be on competing. That means bigger roles for players like Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson and more time with Derrick White and Dejounte Murray sharing the floor. All of these are things fans have been looking forward to seeing, but it’s unclear how much of that will immediately translate to success. With Aldridge and Trey Lyles both out, the Spurs are also extremely lean in the frontcourt, forcing them to give minutes to guys like Drew Eubanks, and those are minutes the team typically doesn’t win.
2) What are your thoughts on the Spurs’ playoff streak of two decades being in real jeopardy?
There’s an adage about All Good Things that comes to mind, and that’s mostly where fans are at, I’d say. Could the team have done a few things differently that could’ve helped them extend the streak to 23 seasons? Maybe, but most fanbases would and should be happy with 22.
3) Who are some young players you see playing a role on the next great Spurs team?
That’s definitely what the front office is trying to figure out right now. It’s hard to say when that next great team emerges (I think there are still a few rough seasons ahead), but if I had to put my money on one player right now it’s probably Walker. We need to see what he can as a focal point of the offense (and of opposing defenses) but he’s young and definitely passes the eye test.
4) Which matchup are you looking forward to the most today?
Now that the Spurs appear to be leaning into their more defensively oriented backcourt of White and Murray, I’m looking forward to seeing how much luck they have trying to stay in front of Ja Morant. I would assume it’s White, who’s the better on-ball guy, that gets more reps. Still, Ja’s vision and change of pace really force an entire defense to be mindful of him.
5) What’s your all-time favorite Grizzlies and Spurs memory?
I have an extremely short sports memory, so I’ll go with their last playoff series in 2017, which tapped into peak Mike Conley, brought out the best in Kawhi Leonard and gave us at least one viral post-game press conference moment. Do I remember what exactly I was taking for data? No, but I remember how close the series felt after Mike Conley’s Game 4 heroics, and I can’t recall any rooking happening thereafter!