Preview: Did Grizzlies figure out Spurs or will Game 3 be more of the same?

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There have been seven quarters — 84 minutes — of the Western Conference Finals where the Spurs have looked much the better team.

But the last 17 minutes — the fourth quarter and overtime, Memphis erased a 16-point deficit, pushed the game into overtime and made this start to look like the close series we expected going in. San Antonio still won and leads the series 2-0, but things felt different.

So which is it Saturday night in Memphis?

Have the Grizzlies figured it out or are the rested Spurs going to benefit from the Johnny Carson vacation schedule of this series and dominate again?

There are two key things to watch for with this.

1) Can the Grizzlies score when Tim Duncan is on the court? Here’s the reason the Memphis comeback in Game 2 may have been a mirage: It pretty much all happened when Duncan was on the bench. To be fair, he was on the bench because of foul trouble that was the result of having to battle Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside, but still he is generally not going to get into this kind of trouble again.

Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw give a good effort, but the fact is Bonner just can’t keep Gasol off the glass. Without Duncan, Memphis was able to get better position for their bigs and play more of their game. But when Duncan has been on the court Memphis has struggled through two games — an offensive rating in the 60s in points per 100 possessions — and they have to solve that puzzle fast or they will be down 3-0.

Memphis has found some success Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter — San Antonio has made it tougher on Memphis inside by essentially ignoring the “threat” of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince as shooters and zoning off, adding a lot of support inside. Pondexter is 6-of-13 from deep this series and the Spurs have to respect him in the corner, so expect a lot more of him. He’s as good a floor-spacing shooter as the Grizzlies have and they need to create more room for Gasol and Randolph to operate.

2) Can the Grizzlies slow Tony Parker at the point of attack? This is bigger than item No. 1 — Memphis is not going to get back in this series if they don’t find a way to slow down Parker getting into the paint. When that happens and the Spurs are spacing the floor with shooters there is nothing any good defense can do.

During Memphis’ fourth-quarter comeback they didn’t solve the Spurs pick-and-roll at all, San Antonio just missed shots it normally makes. That includes Parker who was 2-of-8 shooting.

They had better solve it now. Parker cannot be allowed to turn the corner and do as he pleases. San Antonio is pretty much running the pick-and-roll with whichever guy Randolph is guarding setting the pick (they don’t want Gasol around the play) and that is allowing Parker to get inside and then kick the ball out — San Antonio is 23-of-54 from beyond the arc this series (42.6 percent).

If San Antonio is allowed to get in the paint, work inside out, and not get run off the three-point line the Spurs are going to get a lot more rest waiting for the NBA Finals to start June 6.

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.