2-San Antonio Spurs vs 5-Memphis Grizzlies

Robd: This is a tough one to predict. Do you go with the bigger, tougher defensive-minded team who plays to its strengths inside, knows its limits, and is devoid of the traditional superstar? Or do you go with the battle-tested veteran team who has been running the same system for 15 years, anchored by the greatest PF of all time and arguably the best backcourt of the last decade? The Spurs are more complete and can adapt depend on who is hitting their shots on the day. The Grizzlies are a bit more 1-dimensional – if Z-Bo and Gasol aren’t dominating inside I’m not sure they can find enough points.

My gut is telling me Memphis, but that’s because I always root for the underdog. The Spurs are the classier unit. I pick them only if Tony Parker is the best player in the series. He has to be if they’re in with a shot, because Mike Conley has grown leaps and bounds this postseason. If he can’t fire the Grizz will bully their way to victory. Either way it’s going to be seriously fun to watch. Spurs in 7.

DJ Leon Smith: My original submission for the Spurs-Grizzlies Western Conference Finals matchup was unfortunately rejected by the NBAMate Editors as it simply said: “Flipped a coin. Spurs in 7”. This series really is that close though. This will be the most unsexiest sexy matchup (i.e. casual fans will hate it, die-hards will salivate) we’ll see in this season’s playoffs. The great thing about both San Antonio and Memphis is they don’t beat themselves – expect no Warriors-style meltdowns here.

After six bruising games against Andrew Bogut, matching up against DPOY Marc Gasol won’t be as tough as it could have been for Tim Duncan, and while the Conley/Allen backcourt has improved significantly (mainly Conley), it’s still no match for the Parker/Ginobili (and rising star Kawhi Leonard) perimeter onslaught the Spurs can throw at their opposition. Just hope whoever wins doesn’t end up spending everything in their tank getting to the Finals and is running on fumes against the Heat or Pacers. Spurs in 7.

JT: I don’t put too much stock in the Game 1 result. If you recall, San Antonio was up 2-0 on the Thunder last year in the West finals and lost 4-2, and Memphis was down 0-2 against the Clippers in the first round of these playoffs and won 4-2. That’s the beauty of the postseason – a seven-game series can take many twists and turns.

To me, it comes down to this; when you look at the big three on each team – the Grizzlies’ with Gasol/Conley/Randolph, and the Spurs’ with Parker/Duncan/Ginobili, Memphis has more players in, or close to their prime. Combine this with the fact the Grizzlies have some superb role players around these guys (ex. Prince/Allen etc.) and this looks like a winning combination – they’re well coached, they’re a defensive-minded team with some elite individual defenders, they’ve got size, reasonable depth and they’re tough as nails.

And with the San Antonio Spurs, I respect the hell out of them but when have they beaten an elite team in the playoffs over the last few years? History says they feast on the small fry but have trouble with the big boys. This year they took down a decimated Lakers team in the first round, and in the second round the Warriors gave them all they could handle, despite having their two best players in Curry and Bogut on one leg throughout the series (as well as David Lee out).

So I think if the Spurs face an elite foe, like Memphis, they will eventually get exposed, as they have been for the last 3-4 years when playing that upper echelon team. But you know what? That’s to be expected when your key guys are on the other side of the hill. (ok, I admit, Kawhi Leonard’s emergence could change everything here). Memphis in 7.


1-Miami Heat vs 3-Indiana Pacers

Robd: Despite what Knicks fans might have you believe, these really are the best two teams in the East. Do the Pacers have what it takes to trouble the Heat? Yeah, I think they do. I think they have the size and an in-form Roy Hibbert which will strain Miami’s interior defense. Good luck to Chris Bosh for having to deal with him and David West. And I think the Pacers have enough talent on the perimeter to keep Lebron and Wade busy, because George, Stevenson and Hill won’t just settle for threes the way NY did. But realistically, “trouble” for the Heat means losing maybe a game or two,  no more.

I think the games will be close, but the Heat have two of the best closers in the game as well as clutch three point shooters who keep you honest. Plus, I get the feeling LeBron hasn’t stepped out of third gear yet – you know he is going to explode in one of these games, probably game 4 or 5, to seal the series. For the Pacers to win, they don’t just need to bring size, toughness and their A-game. They need to rely on the best player in the world having a bad series. And I just don’t think LeBron is capable of that right now. Heat in 6.

DJ Leon Smith: Have to give credit to my buddy Angus for this line after the Pacers earned themselves a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the defending champs Miami: “The first six minutes of every game of this series: ‘…and that’s two early fouls on Hibbert…’” Obviously said in jest, but if Hibbert can stay out of foul trouble – and as fun as NBA/ref conspiracy theories are, most of the time big Roy’s foul trouble is entirely his own fault – and hold down the inside for the Pacers (on both ends), this series could be very interesting. Also, if you had to create a defender from scratch to try to slow down LeBron, Paul George might be as close as you’d get to perfection. Still, after Game 1 of their series against the Chicago Bulls, it seems like Miami have flicked that “beast mode” switch well and truly on, when this happens they’re practically unstoppable. The only way the Pacers win this is if LeBron pulls a “Mavs 2011” in this series. That’s not happening. Heat in 6.

JT: There are some concerns with the Miami Heat – they looked average against Chicago, none of the Big Three are playing standout basketball, D-Wade has a gammy knee and LeBron’s post game has (predictably) gone M.I.A. But someone still needs to beat them four games out of seven and I can’t see Indiana (or anyone, really) being that team.

This group has substance and a defensive mean streak (I’m a big fan of Paul George; he’s basically a better version of Andre Iguodala), but they have two fatal flaws at this stage of the game – three point shooting and a comically thin bench. You can be pretty certain that they’ll try and muck these games up with some extracurricular activity, which can disrupt the Heat (to a degree), but ultimately these flaws, combined with a lack of top-end talent won’t get it done against the Heat. Miami in 6.


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