The Big Guns of the West duel on Sunday for the first time as the NBA’s Western Conference Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies tip off. It promises to be a best-of-seven series for the purists, with two smart and hard-working squads, filled with unselfish performers, squaring off for a spot in this season’s NBA Finals against either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers.
The Spurs toiled to see off Golden State 4-2 in the semi-finals, appearing a little vulnerable to the relentless offensive pressure of the Warriors until injuries derailed their challenge. Memphis, who thrashed Oklahoma City 4-1, will represent a different kind of foe, more physical and rugged, but one with potential to push San Antonio to the limit.
The Grizzlies are underdogs to progress into the finals, and 7.25 to win the title, but they should not be underestimated. The tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will give the Spurs headaches inside and, as Andrew Bogut showed for Golden State, Tim Duncan is no longer the totem he once was.
There’ll also be a tricky match-up for Tony Parker against Mike Conley, with the Grizzlies point guard raising his game to new heights. It could come down to the support casts with Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili needing to contribute for San Antonio and the entire bench required for duty in Memphis.
One thing is for certain, said Duncan: "It's not going to be pretty." Expect a low-scoring, scrappy series, decided by a few baskets here and there.
San Antonio are favoured by -4 on the handicap for Game 1 at 1.91 with Memphis at 2.58 to steal victory. But the way in which the Grizzlies have stepped up this post-season, expect them to keep the total points under the line of 183 at 1.91 and to push this series the full distance.
It could go either way. But Memphis, so long a laughing stock of the NBA, are capable of advancing into their first-ever Finals by truly earning their spurs.
Best bet: Take Memphis at +4 on the handicap over San Antonio at 1.91