Tony Parker, Zach Randolph

Western Conference Finals preview: Grizzlies vs. Spurs

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SEASON RECORDS

Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West

San Antonio: 58-24, second seed in the West

PLAYOFF RECORDS

Memphis: Beat the Clippers 4-2 in the first round. Beat the Thunder 4-1 in the second round.

San Antonio: Beat the Lakers 4-0 in the first round. Beat the Warriors 4-2 in the second round.

SEASON SERIES

The teams split the four games with two wins apiece, although both are very different now. In the first three matchups the Grizzlies started Rudy Gay, and in the final meeting, the Spurs started Stephen Jackson and played him 35 minutes. Neither players are with their respective teams anymore, with Gay being traded in late January and Jackson being waived in mid-April.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Memphis: Offense 104.4 (5th in the postseason), Defense 99.9 (6th in the postseason)

San Antonio: Offense 107.0 (2nd in the postseason), Defense 96.2 (3rd in the postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

Point guard matchup: It’s not an understatement to say that the team that gets the better of its point guard matchup is likely to win the series. That’s because both Tony Parker and Mike Conley are extremely vital to what each team does offensively. While Parker often takes on the role of a primary scorer in the current iteration of the Spurs, his dribble penetration and overall performance is what makes his team’s offense go. Parker is averaging 22.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in the postseason.

As important as Parker is, Conley is even more critical in setting up his team’s offense. That’s because Memphis doesn’t have the range of guys who can create their own looks that the Spurs do, and the Grizzlies’ offense has been known to stall for extended stretches even during their impressive postseason run. Conley’s improved play over the second half of the season has carried into the playoffs, and he’ll need to continue to perform at a very high level for his team to succeed.

Battle of the bigs: From a matchup perspective, Memphis would appear to to have the upper hand here — not only in terms the total amount of skill shared between Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph versus that of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, but also in terms of sheer bulk. Memphis has the physical size to punish teams both in the paint and on the glass, so it will be crucial for the Spurs’ big men to be in strong position defensively early in possessions to keep Randolph from establishing deep post position. Gasol spends more time at the high post than on the low block, where he’s an excellent facilitator of the Grizzlies offense.

Scoring: Offense will be at a premium in this series. Not only do we have two of the more defensively-focused teams going at it, but each has excellent individual defenders as well as players who have strong basketball IQs and can fit seamlessly into their respective team’s defensive scheme.

The balance of the Spurs and their ability to get contributions from multiple players on this end of the floor should be the difference in this series. Parker’s ability to consistently knock down mid-range jumpers will be huge for San Antonio, as will his effectiveness in getting into the lane to create for drive-and-kick opportunities for his teammates. The Grizzlies have largely gotten by in these playoffs by scoring just enough. If the Memphis defense has more trouble slowing the Spurs offensive attack than it had versus its opponents in the first two rounds, that might not be good enough this time.

OUTLOOK

While the Grizzlies have accomplished a lot in the first two rounds of the playoffs and were impressive at times on the way to the Conference Finals, let’s look at the reality of that last series against the Thunder. OKC was playing without Russell Westbrook, and was thrown into complete disarray in trying to replace what he brings to the table for them offensively. And still, all of those games were extremely close, and could have gone either way in the final minutes.

Expect the Spurs to be much more cohesive as a unit in playing their brand of system basketball than the Thunder were, and expect Memphis to have more difficulty in slowing San Antonio offensively because of it. In a series where both teams can defend, San Antonio should have a much easier time slowing the Grizzlies than the other way around, and it might result in this matchup not being as close as many foresee.

PREDICTION

Spurs in 6.

Report: Timberwolves, Pistons discussing Ricky Rubio for Reggie Jackson trade

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves brings the ball down court against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 28, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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A year ago, Reggie Jackson looked like the future paired with Andre Drummond in Detroit. But since he came back from injury this season things have not meshed as well — the Pistons are being outscored by 8.1 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together.

Minnesota is loaded with young talent, but they need some floor spacing shooting and the sense there is a different feel from the point guard spot than Ricky Rubio is providing.

So, maybe the two sides swap problems? Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN report the two sides are talking.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons have discussed a potential swap of point guards Ricky Rubio and Reggie Jackson, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that no deal appeared imminent Friday but said the teams have engaged in dialogue this week on a potential multiplayer exchange that would be headlined by Rubio and Jackson….

The Wolves have been openly trying to move Rubio for some time and reportedly are willing to attach swingman Shabazz Muhammad to offers featuring the veteran Spanish point guard‎.

At first glance, I don’t love the fit of Rubio in Detroit — if you’re going to play four out with Drummond in the middle, you need shooters and Rubio is a step back from Jackson there. Actually, several steps back — Jackson is shooting 37 percent from three this season, Rubio 24 percent.

However, to actually evaluate this deal I’d need to see who else is involved because this would expand to multiple players.

Wizards’ assistant coach Lowe fined $5,000, team $15,000 for coach’s distraction of Knicks shooter

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Down just three points 13.7 seconds left in the game, the Knicks needed a three. Carmelo Anthony had the ball and passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a three-pointer, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win. Lee said after the game he passed because he felt someone near him.

I’m looking at Oubre closing out next to me, and I’m hearing somebody right next to me saying, “I’m here. I’m here. I got your stunt. I got your stunt.” And, so I don’t shoot it. I drop the ball, thinking it is going to be a double closeout. And then I try to make a play to Brandon, and I think he bobbled the ball a little bit, and that’s the end of the game….

I thought it was one of their players because you’re getting ready to shoot – in my peripheral you see a body right there, and he’s saying, “I’m right here. I’m right here. I got your stunt.” Usually in basketball terminology, that’s we’ll switch or I am going to jump out. So, I shot-faked and drove. But I still should have shot the shot.

Turns out the guy on the court making those comments was Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe. The Last Two-Minute Report on the officiating said the referees missed the call and Lowe should have been called for a technical for being on the court and trying to impact the play.

The league took that one step further — Lowe was fined $5,000 and the Wizards’ organization $15,000 for “Lowe’s standing on the playing court and potentially impacting game action.”

Hopefully, this is the first step in the league and referees cracking down on coaches stepping on to the court. Look for it during a game, some teams do it a lot.

Sixers sign Mo Williams off waivers, then waive him again, sign Chasson Randle to 10 day contract

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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This is how the salary cap game is played.

Mo Williams is dead money, owed $2.2 million this season by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore. The Cavaliers kept Williams on the roster and the books in case they could use that salary in a trade, and they did shipping him to Atlanta as a throw in with the Kyle Korver trade. Atlanta then traded him to Denver, because the Nuggets wanted to add $2.2 million to their payroll and bring them closer to the salary floor. But they didn’t want him on the roster, so they waived him.

Enter the Philadephia 76ers.

But the Sixers were not done.

Now we see if one of the handful of teams with a worse record than the Sixers decides they would rather have the salary on their books.

To be clear, teams under the salary floor still have to pay that money to the players. Let’s say a team ends up $2 million under that floor, then the team pays $2 million to be divided among the players on that roster. So, bringing in a player like Williams just saves them cash.

NBA report: Wizards should have gotten technical for assistant coach being on court vs. Knicks

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The Knicks were down 113-110 with just 13.7 seconds remaining when Carmelo Anthony passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a 3-pointer from the corner, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win.

After the game, Lee said he didn’t shoot because he felt and heard what he thought was a defender near him, but it turned out to be Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe, who came onto the court and barked words implying he was switching out onto Lee.

The NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report sides with Lee, saying the Wizards should have gotten a technical. From the report:

A WAS assistant coach stands on the floor close to Lee (NYK) for several seconds and should have been assessed a technical foul.

This is an area the NBA needs to crack down on, coaches walk out onto the court all the time. Far too often. Frankly, I have an issue with coaches on the bench stomping their feet or yelling at shooters near their sideline, but Lowe took it a step further.

Much like telling a six-year-old to stop licking their shoes this isn’t something NBA officials should have to deal with, it should be common sense, but the league needs to crack down on coaches stepping onto the court. Maybe this will push the league to start enforcing that rule.