PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round, Game 1.
With 11 straight wins to close the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs have shown they’re ready to defend their NBA championship.
The Memphis Grizzlies seem to have regressed lately, losing four straight and six of seven.
One of the bigger surprises this season, the Grizzlies find themselves limping into the postseason to start a best-of-7 series with the surging Spurs.
The Grizzlies nearly doubled their previous record win total with 50, and reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Memphis’ previous mark for wins was 28.
However, the Grizzlies are battling injuries and lost six of their final seven regular season games.
“Bottom line, we have to regroup and play the way we’re capable of playing,” said Memphis guard Mike Miller, who returned on March 18 from a back injury that kept him sidelined for 15 games.
San Antonio has stopping opposing offenses during its win streak. In the playoffs, the Spurs are looking to tighten the defensive grip even more.
“We play playoff-style basketball all year long,” said Tim Duncan, who seems to have gotten past a sore left knee. “We’re not scoring 100 points—we play in the 80s, and that’s how the playoffs are going to be.”
San Antonio held opponents to the lowest shooting percentage in the league (41 percent) and tied the Detroit Pistons for fewest points allowed at 84.3 a game.
“Defense first and everything else will fall into place,” Spurs swingman Bruce Bowen said of the Spurs’ playoff philosophy.
San Antonio’s defense looks to be peaking at the right time. On Monday, the Spurs allowed a season-low 66 points against the Portland Trail Blazers, and during their winning streak opponents averaged 78.5. Also, San Antonio allowed 100 or more just seven times all season.
Memphis will match up Pau Gasol with Duncan for a battle between perhaps the two most fundamentally sound 7-footers in the league.
Gasol, though, was still having trouble with a strained right arch Thursday, and the team’s chemistry and timing were out of whack after losing their final four games of the season.
Gasol and Bonzi Wells returned Tuesday as the Grizzlies lost to Dallas 110-103. Gasol struggled, shooting 3-for-13 for 10 points. Wells was out with back spasms.
“You just don’t have guys sit out four games and then expect them to come back and the timing is there, the passing is there, the crispness is there,” Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown said. “He went right in there a couple of times, and he couldn’t get up. A basketball player with an injured arch, it’s murder.”
Grizzlies center Lorenzen Wright returned March 29 from a knee injury that caused him to miss 13 games.
Despite their recent problems, the Grizzlies are proud of their 50-win season.
“We just played 82 games. If you’re not happy with 50 and 32, you’re not a real fan, and I don’t need to talk to you about it,” Brown said. “We as a coaching staff are proud as a peacock about it. And we’re proud of every one of our kids.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Grizzlies - sixth seed. Spurs - third seed.
TEAM LEADERS: Grizzlies - Gasol, 17.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg; Williams, 6.8 apg. Spurs - Duncan, 22.3 ppg and 12.4 rpg; Parker, 5.5 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Grizzlies, 3-1. Gasol led the Grizzlies with 14 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Duncan averaged 15.5 points and 8 rebounds for San Antonio.