NBA Playoff Preview: San Antonio vs. Memphis

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SEASON RECORDS
Spurs: 61-21 (No. 1 seed)
Grizzlies: 46-36 (No. 8 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Tied: 2-2, with each team winning both games on their home court. Tony Parker missed one of the Spurs losses, Tim Duncan the other.

KEY INJURIES
Spurs: Manu Ginobili, the two guard from Argentina that is key to the Spurs chances injured his elbow two minutes into the final game of the season and did not return, an MRI Thursday will let us know the severity and time missed.
Grizzlies: Tony Allen, he missed the last two games of the regular season with a sore and swollen knee, but he will go for the playoffs; Rudy Gay, the best perimeter player on the Grizzlies, will miss the entire playoffs with shoulder surgery; Xavier Henry, the rookie backup two guard, has had knee problems and is out for the playoffs; Jason Williams, the backup point guard, is out for the season with back problems.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Spurs: Off. 109.4 (2nd in NBA); 102.8 (11th in NBA)
Grizzlies: Off. 104.4 (16th in NBA); 102.5 (8th in NBA)

THREE KEY SPURS

Manu Ginobili: He would be on this list if he was 100 percent healthy, but after injuring his elbow in the last game of the regular season he is at the top of the list. The Spurs have modified their offensive attack this season to not focus as much around Tim Duncan in the post and rather have Ginobili and Tony Parker more the decision makers out on the perimeter. There are few guys who can penetrate like Ginobili, and when he does he’s a crafty, willing passer who sets up teammates as much as he takes his own shot. They need him and his health matters.

Tim Duncan: Okay, he’s not the focus of the offense anymore, but he is still central to what they do on defense (and he’s still scoring 13.4 points per game on 50 percent shooting, it’s not like he dropped off the face of the earth). In this series his defense will be key — he will get a lot of time on Zach Randolph and while he’s not going to stop him Duncan has to slow him. Part of that is making Randolph work on the defensive end (or if he chooses not to work, to exploit the mismatch). Look for Duncan to get a lot of touches.

DeJuan Blair: He is the physical enforcer down low for the Spurs, and he’s going to get called on to do a lot of the dirty work by Greg Popovich. The Grizzlies score more points in the paint than any team in the league (51 a game) and the Spurs have to make them work for those points, to not be efficient. Blair and his physical style will be a lot of that.

THREE KEY GRIZZLIES

Zach Randolph: Is there a better low-post scorer in the NBA? If so, not many. The Spurs have size but with Duncan and Antonio McDyess up front they are not young. Randolph had 23 points on 14 shots in the last meeting with the Spurs (with Duncan out) and they are going to need games like that from him again to have a chance.

Tony Allen: He is going to draw the defensive matchup on Manu Ginobili — we’re assuming Ginobili will play in the series at this point — and in that way will be key. The Spurs now focus their attack from their guards and Allen is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. If he can disrupt Manu, it will put more pressure on Parker and George Hill off the bench. Allen and his teammates need to take away the three ball that has become central to the Spurs attack.

Mike Conley: He has had his best season as a pro, really earning the deal he was given last summer by the Grizzlies. But now he really needs to earn that paycheck. He needs to slow Tony Parker. What’s more, on offense he needs to feed the Grizzlies big men and not turn the ball over — points are not going to be that easy to come by this series and turnovers that lead to easy transition points for the Spurs would make them hard to catch.

OUTLOOK

Inside/outside. Which team can do a better job of taking away the other’s strength? Memphis wants to pound the ball down low — with Randolph they have one of the best low-post scorers in the league, his counterpart Marc Gasol provides another 11.7 points per game (and he has a midrange game you have to respect as well). The Spurs will counter with Tim Duncan, who is no longer the best defensive big man in the league, but he’s not bad, and the physical play of DeJuan Blair and McDyess. Tiago Splitter, who played much better at the end of the season, also will get key minutes.

On the flip side, the Spurs make a league-best 39.7 percent of the threes they take (about 21 a game) and the Grizzlies are not good at defending the three (opponents hit 36.9 percent, 24th best in the league). The Spurs generate a lot of their offense off the pick-and-roll with the ball in the hands of Ginobili and Parker, either with them driving or then kicking out for spot-up looks (almost 25 percent of the Spurs offense is spot-up looks, often those discussed threes). Tony Allen and Shane Battier need to be keys to defending those plays. Memphis has not been great this season at defending the pick-and-roll or closing out on spot-up shooters this season but they have to if they want to advance.

The real key to this series could be depth — San Antonio gets a lot out of George Hill, Gary Neal and Bair off the bench. Can O.J. Mayo match them?

PREDICTION

Memphis is about as tough a 1 vs. 8 matchup as we can recall. They have real strengths inside and are going to be a physical team that will leave bumps and bruises on whoever they face. The Spurs big men are going to have to work hard all series to both defend and secure rebounds.

But in the end, what the Spurs like to do on offense the Grizzlies don’t defend well, and without Rudy Gay the Grizzlies lack the scoring on the wings they really need to compete.

Spurs in 6.

Report: Warriors investigating how practice video was leaked to TMZ

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The video changes how things feel, even if it doesn’t ultimately change the outcome.

The Warriors went from “there was an altercation at practice” to a video showing Green rapidly escalating a standard shoving match with a quick and vicious punch to the face of Jordan Poole. This was something the Warriors thought would fade away and was out of the news cycle to something at the top of the sports news cycle they will have to deal with for a while.

The Warriors are now trying to find out how this practice video got leaked, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN were first.

Two thoughts here.

First, the Warriors absolutely should investigate who leaked this video. Players around the league’s reaction to the public video shows how they feel practice is a safe, private space for them, and to make it public crosses a line. It’s possible a Warriors or Chase Center staffer went for the bag (TMZ pays for this kind of video/story) and violated the Warriors’ policy and practices in the process. Simply put: Someone should get fired over this.

However, the more interesting scenario is the Warriors can’t determine where the leak came from. That could lead to all kinds of speculation about someone wanting to make Green look bad — the who and why of that possibility can go a lot of different directions.

Second, we see this in politics all the time — use the search for the leaker to distract from what was leaked. Blame the messenger. The video shows a vicious, borderline sucker punch from Green (he was facing Poole, but nobody saw that coming), and it’s fair to question if the Warriors are handling it “internally” was the right move and if they have done enough to chastize Green. There is a history of crossing the line with him.

Wherever you fall on how the Warriors are handling it, they would much prefer a discussion of how it was leaked to discussing that footage and the impact on the team.

That’s the big problem for the Warriors — this is no longer just fading away as they hoped.

NBA world reacts to video of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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“How did that video get leaked?”

That was the primary reaction of players on Twitter after TMZ got ahold of the practice video showing Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole during a Warriors practice. The video has gone viral in NBA circles and brought an issue the Warriors hoped was in the rearview mirror front and center again.

Trae Young played the instigator on Twitter with his response (although the rumor of Green wanting to join the Lakers if the Warriors don’t extend him has been floating around the league for a while).

While some other players talked about the incident, most players were focused on how something they consider private — a practice — became public.

Former Grizzlies executive John Hollinger posted the response of the 29 other teams.

Leaked video of Draymond Green punch of Jordan Poole means incident not just going away

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The Warriors thought they had the situation handled. Sure, Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole during practice but Green apologized to the team and discipline was being handled “internally.” Nothing to see here, move along.

Then TMZ got ahold of a leaked practice video that shows things being much uglier than most imagined.

It shows Green and Poole had their beef and were talking, Green walked up on Poole, then Poole pushed him away with two hands and Green came back with a vicious punch to the face that was a massive escalation.

The Warriors do not practice on Friday and nobody from the organization is scheduled to speak to the media. Green is expected to rejoin his teammates in practice on Saturday, coach Steve Kerr said previously.

The Warriors likely will say this changes nothing, they had already seen the video before settling on a punishment. Plus, punches have been thrown in NBA practices more times than anyone could count — including Kerr getting punched by Michael Jordan in a legendary Bulls practice.

But there was never video like this leaked before.

The Warriors reportedly are investigating the leak of the footage to TMZ.

The video being public increases the inherent tension around the situation, keeps the news cycle alive and gives fans (and media pundits) some context and facts to discuss whether the Warriors are letting Green off easy.

It will also bubble up the subtext to all this about the Warriors’ future spending, something NBC Sports Bay Area’s Dalton Johnson and I discussed on a PBT Podcast previewing the Warriors’ season. Co-owner Joe Lacob has said that the Warriors’ salary and tax limit will make it hard to extend all three of Andrew Wiggins, Poole and Green at the prices they expect. Poole, the youngest of the group and a bridge to the future, is going to get his money (probably a little more than Tyler Herro just got from the Heat). There’s been speculation that Green would be the odd man out, be forced to opt-in for less than he wants, or he can opt-out and be a free agent this summer.

The Warriors thought this fight was in the rearview mirror. Green and Poole would have to address it with the media at some point, but the Warriors wanted to move on and focus on the season and their upcoming ring ceremony.

The leaked video changes that dynamic. The controversy remains on the front page and the Warriors will have to deal with it.

The only thing that is certain in all this is that the Warriors will fire whoever leaked this video, if they can find out who it was.

 

Adam Silver hopes teams don’t tank for Wembanyama. Good luck with that.

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Victor Wembanyama came to Las Vegas this week and put the hype machine into overdrive: In two games against the G-League Ignite he scored 73 points with 15 rebounds, nine blocks, hit 9-of-18 3-pointers (and 22-of-44 overall). He is a 7’4″ freak that LeBron James called an “alien” and a “generational talent,” and Stephen Curry said he was a “2K create-a-player.”

Combine that with the play of the Ignite’s Scoot Henderson — who had scouts using a young Derrick Rose comparison because of his athleticism, body control and skill — and the reaction in NBA circles was clear: There will be a “race to the bottom” this season. With multiple franchise cornerstone players available (and a deep draft at the top beyond those two), tanking will be an epidemic in the NBA.

Adam Silver, speaking in the United Arab Emirates before an NBA preseason game between the Bucks and Hawks, does not want to see teams tanking for Wembanyama.

Good luck with that, Adam.

The league office hates tanking and even a discussion of it. They hate the idea of a fan base being told — or, worse yet, actively rooting for — their team to lose games. This season there will be an epidemic of it around the league. In a typical year, a front office may want to tank but their challenge is getting buy-in from ownership. Not this year — Wembanyama could add $500 million to the value of a franchise, one league executive told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It could make the NBA trade deadline in February wild as teams that started the season thinking playoffs but were out of the mix (due to injury or just not being good enough) pivot to tanking. For example, think Portland from last season after Damian Lillard had surgery. Of course, the Trail Blazers also can serve as a cautionary tale — they had the sixth-worst record in the league last season but fell to seventh in the draft. Tanking doesn’t always work.

There were already were teams clearly in rebuild mode and racing to the bottom this season — do you think it’s a coincidence Danny Ainge blew up the Jazz this past summer? — and some other teams with some promising young talent (Houston, Orlando) that are fine losing a lot of games while those guys learn on the job. But the bottom of the standings could get crowded.

The NBA flattened out the lottery odds a few years ago to discourage tanking: The teams with the three worst records have a 14% chance to get the top pick and the odds drop from there (fourth is 12.5%, fifth is 10.5%, and it keeps on going down). However, this year, because the prize at the top of the draft is so huge, more teams than ever could try to get into that top three, or at least do what they can to fatten their odds.

However, with the prize being Wembanyama this season, a lot of teams may be willing to take that risk.

Despite what Adam Silver wants.