Column: RICK SOLEM
The NBA is an exciting sport made up of superstars that do things not thought humanly possible.
The most popular is, of course, the dunk, and when it comes to the Western Conference Finals, don’t expect many.
For most, the series between the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs will be a snooze fest focused on fundamentals and defense.
This is a series I’m very excited about. Maybe because I can most relate to aging, grounded veterans who can’t really dunk anymore and rely a lot on their post game.
Basketball at its best, in my opinion, involves a post game, an inside-out philosophy, passing, teamwork and maybe some defense.
Expect all that from this series. But when it comes to predicting who survives, there’s no way of telling.
My head says Memphis, because they seem to have a little of everything, including the been-there-before experience. My heart says the Spurs, because this is it, this is their last run (how many years have they been having their last run?).
When it comes to a conference finals, it really shouldn’t be easy to predict the winner … unless it’s the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013.
So, picking this one is difficult, but I will go with my head over my heart and say the Grizzlies. Just kidding, I think the Spurs win it in seven. I can’t deny Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.
The Grizzlies look better on paper, but I think Marc Gasol is a bit of a hype and Zach Randolph, who always gets the “he works so hard” tag, scores a lot of junk that may be tougher to do against a wiley, long veteran like Duncan.
THE GRIME AND GRIZZLE
The Grizzlies do have all the intangibles – a solid point guard who does everything in Mike Conley and lock-down defenders like Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, who isn’t “lock down” anymore, but he’s long and wise, and they have those two bigs, Gasol and Randolph.
They seem to have it all together. This has been years in the making and it’s never been a smooth ride into the playoffs
Last year they lost Randolph for most of the year and then had to try and reinsert him mid-March and make things work. They blew a 27-point lead to the Clippers in losing Game 1 of the first round and then lost the series in seven.
The year before that, they lost Rudy Gay in mid-February for the rest of the year and still managed to beat the Spurs in the first round (six games) and take a young Oklahoma City team to seven games before exiting.
This year, again, no Rudy Gay for Memphis, after a midseason trade. Most thought it confusing the Grizzlies got rid of their go-to scorer on the perimeter, but when it was all said and done, they were a lot better without him – maybe because he shot just over 40 percent and had nearly as many turnovers as assists.
This is a team that isn’t a deer in headlights, never been there before. They’ve worked years putting this run together and finally seem complete and ready to win it all.
THE OLD AND WISE
Speaking of “worked years putting this run together,” that’s been San Antonio’s motto the last, what, five years, maybe 10?
They’re looking for their fifth title in 15 years, all of which Duncan has had a hand in. The next three titles involved Duncan, Parker and Ginobli.
One has to wonder how many more years those three can keep putting up runs like this. This may be the do-or-die season for them to win a title and that is ultimately the deciding factor in why I think they will win. Duncan is 37. Ginobli is healthy in the playoffs. And Parker is still Parker. Having those three healthy now won't happen again.
Breaking down the matchups, I believe Conley and Parker are a push. Ginobli should be the next best player. Most would think Gasol is the best player in this series but I don’t see how he’s any better or worse than Duncan.
Randolph is the x-factor, but his play is so garbage, I don’t ever trust him, though he’s been pretty reliable all season. We’ll see how he does against Duncan’s length.
The next two best players are Spurs – Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard. They are much better than anything Grizzlies. Allen an Prince are OK, but they don’t have enough offense. The Grizzlies don't have enough offense and that’s what pushes San Antonio over the top.
They simply have more dynamic players offensively.