Grizzlies are a tough matchup for Spurs

Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph give Memphis a chance in the Western Conference finals.

May 18, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • Memphis' Marc Gasol (33) and Zach Randolph have collectively averaged 38 points and 17.2 rebounds in the playoffs.
Memphis' Marc Gasol (33) and Zach Randolph have collectively averaged… (Joe Robbins / Getty Images )

SAN ANTONIO — Surprise, surprise, the Lakers made it to the Western Conference finals.

Not really.

But they did get repeatedly name-dropped Saturday by the San Antonio Spurs, which made sense considering the frontcourt duo the Spurs face in this round of the playoffs somewhat resembles the Lakers' tandem they quickly dispatched in the first round.

Even one of the last names is the same.

Instead of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, the Spurs must contend with the Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph starting Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the conference finals at AT&T Center.

"Marc and Zach, they're beasts inside," San Antonio guard Tony Parker said. "It's going to be tough. So a little bit like Pau and Dwight Howard; a lot of help, everybody has to be ready, team defense. Just like the Lakers, we're going to help a lot."

The 7-foot Pau Gasol and 6-11 Howard didn't amount to much against the Spurs, largely because the Lakers were essentially playing two on five amid a slew of injuries. San Antonio's four-game sweep almost seemed merciful.

The Grizzlies have a far superior cast surrounding Marc Gasol and Randolph, who pose enough problems on their own. The 7-1 Gasol is the NBA's defensive player of the year who has a complementary array of offensive moves.

"He doesn't block shots like Dwight or he's not like spectacular," Parker said, "but he does all the little stuff that you want for a defense."

The 6-9 Randolph plays much bigger than his size, constantly bulling his way around inside for offensive rebounds and putbacks. Put him together with Gasol and you've got almost 14 feet of trouble.

"They're huge, they're strong and when you've got two of them, you have to worry about them and it's tougher," San Antonio forward Boris Diaw said.

Collectively, Gasol and Randolph have averaged 38 points and 17.2 rebounds in the playoffs while shooting 49%. They've also put opponents in a foul mood with their physical play, combining for 13.4 free throws a game.

The pair represented the two biggest reasons the eighth-seeded Grizzlies upset the top-seeded Spurs in the first round of the playoffs in 2011.

"It was very difficult for us to score and to stop Zach and Marc," San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili recalled. "They did a wonderful job."

Of course, these Spurs might be better prepared than their predecessors to handle Gasol and Randolph. At 37, Tim Duncan is playing better than he has in several years and forward Tiago Splitter has developed considerably in the last two seasons.

San Antonio also has floor-spacing forwards Matt Bonner and Diaw, the latter acquired late in the 2011-12 season after being waived by the Charlotte Bobcats. Bonner spent several minutes moving around the perimeter after practice Saturday, making three-pointer after three-pointer. Not that he expected to repeat that scenario against Memphis.

"My focus when I get in is probably going to be more on the defensive end, a lot like the Lakers series, trying to do my best to match the physicality of guys who are much stronger and bigger than me," Bonner said.

It worked against the Lakers.

Then again, the Grizzlies aren't the Lakers.

"They're a get-in-the-paint, grind-it, that type of team," Ginobili said, "so we're going to have to get more physical, tougher, even stronger at the boards, so it's going to be a really tough series as everybody knows."

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