After a needlessly overwrought season that seemed to start all the way back in July with LeBron James'(notes) "Decision," the playoffs are finally here. After months of waiting, we're at a point where we don't have to qualify every on-or off-court decision with the caveat that reminds us that we're not yet at playoff time. No, we're at playoff time. It's the freakin' playoffs, cats and kittens, and I can hear your goosebumps popping from here. Gross.
Listening to a prominent podcast featuring a prominent NBA scribe on Thursday, I was a little taken aback at his assertion that he "had" to pick an upset in the first round. That's not really the case, you know. The point is sort of to get it right. If you end up trying to get it right and making a prediction that goes against the grain along the way, so be it. But don't go against what you believe just for the sake of not wanting to have your board filled with logical winners.
I'm going against the grain here, and picking Memphis. This isn't to be showy, this isn't an overreaction to Manu Ginobili's(notes) elbow injury (which, as we need to keep pointing out, is on his non-shooting arm), and this isn't because I feel a need to pick an upset so as to keep things interesting. I'm drinking green tea and wearing a striped, collared shirt. Interesting isn't happening.
But a Grizzlies win? In spite of San Antonio's impending upshift into its final gear and Memphis' year-long issues with closing out on 3-point shooters, I'm feeling a Memphis win. I just can't get over how well the Grizz played against San Antonio in the regular season, well before the Spurs' expected late-season slowdown, and how much Zach Randolph(notes) could tip the scales for Memphis. Marc Gasol(notes) shot just 34 percent for the Grizz this season against San Antonio, but he's also coming off a terrific April.
And who knows where the Spurs are at? Rhythm and chemistry are funny things, and though it was nice to see the boys rally against both the Lakers and Suns in losing efforts this week played mostly with their benches, I have to see the Spurs move up to that extra gear before I dismiss Memphis splitting the season series with the Spurs (including a loss in overtime), and the team's complete dismissal of San Antonio on March 1 (during an 11-3 Spurs run through the league).
I like the Grizzlies. San Antonio can double-down on Randolph consistently and knock in three after three; and yet I just can't move my check mark to San Antonio's side. I'm probably wrong, but I'm going with what I feel based on what I've seen. Sort of the point of the gig.
My pick? Grizzlies in six games.
One thing I probably should tell you because if we don't, they'll probably be saying this about me too. We did get something -- a gift -- before I made this prediction. A man down in Tennessee named Chris Vernon, who works on the radio, heard myself and other prominent bloggers mention that we enjoy the work of Tony Allen(notes). And, believe it or not, the day before I started to write my Spurs/Grizzlies playoff preview, we got a package from Federal Express in Memphis. I went down to the mailbox to get it, you know what it was?
It was a Tony Allen T-shirt, that he sent all the way from Tennessee:
Grey and black, spotted with letters and Tony's stern visage. And this little blogger -- Kelly, the 30-year old blogger -- named it "Tony." And you know, the bloggers, like all bloggers, love the Tony Allen T-shirt and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.
Welcome back to "PLAAAAAAAAAAYOFFS!" It's that time of year again, sports fans! This postseason, who will survive and thrive? Who will spit the bit? And who's going to come up with a third thing that rhymes?
Here to give you their made-up takes on the key X-factors, O-multiples and Zeeman effects of Spurs/Grizz are 7-foot-4 Utah Jazz center-turned-celebrity motivational speaker Mark Eaton and 310-year veteran/olde-tyme crustbucket Ol' Man Howard!
Mark Eaton: Partner, this has got to be one of the most intriguing series of the first round. The teams split their four meetings this season, with Memphis taking the last two, and by combining tough low-post play with tight perimeter defense, these Grizzlies really seem to have found a formula that could give the top-seeded Spurs some problems.
Ol' Man Howard: Handle it proper, a spur can kill a barr. It's sharp and it jangles in a way't dispirits 'em. Other way 'round, though? Can't happen. Spur's metal. Ain't got no vitality. Can't kill it, no matter how set the barr is on maulin'.
ME: So … you'd pick the Spurs based on the presumed results of a theoretical mascot fight?
OMH: "Presumed" and "theoretical," my rotund Aunt Sally. I've seen that Balkan coach of theirs dispatch a barr with a spur-and-whiphandle that he'd fashioned into a crude camp axe. Plus, he's trained one of Memphis' own to do his biddin'. Smart one, that Balkan.
ME: Hmm -- that does speak well for the Spurs' chances. And you're not concerned at all about Ginobili's elbow injury?
OMH: Argentines are a hearty sort. I suspect he'll be present to render judgment. Spurs in six.
ME: Valid points, all, to be sure. But given the combination of sound offense and defense in the lane, the innate kinship I feel for Hamed Haddadi(notes) and Memphis' status as the series' beardier team, I feel my course is clear. Grizzlies in six.
(Editor's note: Dan picks the Spurs in seven.)
Eric Freeman's Reputation Index
The regular season counts, but the postseason is where reputations are made. Tracy McGrady(notes) never won a playoff series and will always be seen as a disappointment. Derek Fisher(notes) lacks several fundamental basketball skills but will always be seen as a champion because he makes big shots when it counts. Chauncey Billups(notes) owes his entire nickname to the 2004 playoffs. The point being that playoff performance skews national perception of NBA players beyond all reason. In that vein, behold the BDL Reputations Index, your guide to what's at stake for the top names in the first round.
Tim Duncan(notes): The Big Fundamental will almost certainly go down as one of the best players in league history, and San Antonio's performance in the postseason will have little impact on his legacy. In the here and now, though, Duncan occupies a curious spot where he's still his team's most recognizable figure but not necessarily their most important player. A few games of vintage Duncan against Marc Gasol and Co. would serve notice that he's still a player capable of controlling the paint at both ends. No one will think Duncan's still in his prime, but he will still be feared like few other big men in the league.
Tony Parker(notes): Turning 29 in mid-May, Parker stands as the youngest member of the San Antonio big troika. Yet, for all his importance to the franchise over the better part of a decade, Parker has not necessarily established himself as an obvious building block of the post-Duncan era. Trade rumors have followed him for several seasons, and with Duncan on the decline Manu Ginobili has emerged as the primary backcourt option on offense. Parker has a favorable matchup against Mike Conley(notes). Will he take advantage or be seen as on the downside of his career?
Zach Randolph: Z-Bo has achieved enough in his two seasons in Memphis to have changed his career reputation from "lazy screw-up" to "lazy screw-up who put it together long enough to put together a few damn good seasons." But, without playoff success, Randolph's career is still going to be seen in the negative overall. He doesn't have to win the series singlehandedly -- one or two games in the Grizzlies' favor would probably be fine. Making it this far has been impressive enough. To change public opinion, Randolph just has to show that he belongs.
Rudy Gay(notes): Yes, I know that Gay is out for the entire postseason as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Yet the Grizzlies achieved a 15-8 record with Gay on the bench and stand a decent chance of pushing the Spurs to more games than you'd except from a No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup. If the Grizzlies perform well, Gay could be seen as overrated, an odd outcome for a player who improved his all-around play after signing a huge contract last offseason.
Spurs is six games.