Three things to watch: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

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1. Will the Grizzlies repeat history?

Thirteen of the last 14 teams to win 60 games won at least one playoff series.

The lone exception: The 2011 Spurs, who earned the No. 1 seed with a 61-21 record then got stunned by the eighth-seeded Grizzlies in six games.

Memphis still has four players – Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen (though Allen is injured) – from that epic upset. Those four have created a culture of toughness and tenacity that should still serve the underdogs well.

But the gap is far greater this year – 18 games using Pythagorean wins, as opposed to eight games in 2011.

Determination matters. So does talent, and San Antonio has more of that.

2. How will Memphis score?

The Spurs’ had the NBA’s best defense in the regular season. The Grizzles’ offense ranked 19th, worst among Western Conference playoff teams.

Memphis has actually become reasonable from the beyond the arc, hoisting and making 3-pointers at middling rates.

The Grizzlies just can’t finish at the rim. They rank last in the NBA, shooting 56.4% in the restricted area. And they’re reasonably selective with their attempts there.

That’s an indicator of Memphis’ lackluster athleticism, and San Antonio is darn tough to beat in methodical games.

The Grizzlies’ scoring issues won’t get any easier against an elite defender in Kawhi Leonard, a couple All-Defensive candidates in Danny Green and Dewayne Dedmon and Gregg Popovich’s ace scheming.

3. Will the Gasol Brothers bring intrigue to an otherwise dreary series?

The Spurs (27th) and and Grizzlies (28th) are among the NBA’s slowest-paced teams. The only slower playoff team is the Jazz, who rank 30th in pace. San Antonio and Memphis also emphasize defense.

This series will not feature high-flying, up-tempo, basketball.

But it has a cool storyline: Marc Gasol vs. Pau Gasol.

The brothers have had great careers, and neither is done yet. Marc is integral to the Grizzlies on both ends of the floor, and Pau comes off the bench for the Spurs. So, they might not be matched up much.

Still, the moments these go at each other will be a treat.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.