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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 7:00 AM

It may not feature marquee cities or guys you’ve been seeing in TV commercials round the clock for the last several weeks…but the Western Conference Championship series matching the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies could end up being a real classic.

Both teams are playing well. Both teams are relatively healthy at the moment (knock on wood). The betting market can’t decide which is the better team. The first series prices up where near pick-em, suggesting Memphis is the slightly better team overall as San Antonio has home court advantage. Sharps bet the Spurs up to -140, which is more in line with the series value of home court when even teams go to battle.

In other words…this would be a toss-up on a neutral court according to the composite view of the most important market influences…suggesting plenty of drama ahead in both cities.

It’s been a while since we got to run a series through our ringer of key indicators. Let’s do that now with the Grizzlies and Spurs. Remember that these numbers are from the regular season only to keep sample sizes and schedule strength similar. Also note that Memphis started playing better than its overall seasonal numbers when they traded Rudy Gay to Toronto, erasing an efficient offensive player out of the mix.

 

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. .500 OR BETTER

Memphis: 28-19

San Antonio: 31-17

Edge here to the Spurs, though you’d think Memphis might knot it up if they had a full season without Gay. Note that Memphis is 8-3 so far in the playoffs against the Clippers and Thunder, while San Antonio is 8-2 so far against the Lakers and Warriors. Great stuff from both teams. We’re slightly more impressed with what Memphis has done because drawing the Lakers is a virtual bye.

 

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANKINGS

Memphis: #18

San Antonio: #7

The Spurs always do a great job of moving the ball around so a player well-positioned to score has the best chance to do so. Memphis has improved to slightly above league average without Gay clogging the lanes. But, this is still a category that the Spurs own handily. They have a variety of ways to score. Memphis mostly pounds the ball inside and dares you to stop them. Note that there’s a big difference between these teams in three-point ability…which explains much of the rankings differential you see above.

 

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANKINGS

Memphis: #2

San Antonio: #3

People forget how great San Antonio’s defense. Memphis was best in the West, and arguably #1 in the NBA ahead of Indiana once you adjust for conference strength. San Antonio was right behind them. You have to be impressed with the way the Spurs figured out how to stop Golden State’s three-point barrage in the last round. Memphis has a slight edge here…but it’s not as big as the media would have you believe.

 

REBOUND RATE RANKINGS

Memphis: #2

San Antonio: #17

Big edge to the Grizzlies, which will allow them to add some second chance points to what’s the lesser offense in terms of efficiency. You know we love saying “defense and rebounding wins championships.” Memphis is a classic defense and rebounding team. The Spurs have been a disappointment in this stat of late, and lost it too often in the last round to Golden State. HUGE category in our view in terms of shaping the series. San Antonio can’t afford to get bullied on the boards.

 

PACE RANKINGS

Memphis: #29

San Antonio: #6

You’ll recall from our March Madness and regular season college basketball coverage that the team who can force a game into its comfort zone is most likely to win. San Antonio will try to speed up and wear down the Memphis bigs. The Grizzlies will try to slow things down to force a Greco-Roman wrestling match. The goods news for Memphis is that playoff basketball tends to slow down anyway. Even the Spurs/Warriors series slowed down even though two up-tempo teams were involved. Playoff history suggests things will settle into a pace that favors Memphis more than San Antonio.

 

BEST EXPECTATION

That probably depends on how well the Spurs rebound and force tempo. Note how closely those two are connected. You HAVE to rebound to push tempo. San Antonio is in big trouble if this is a slow, plodding battle. Memphis may be in big trouble if they can’t slow down the Spurs and/or deny three-pointers. Classic basketball handicapping would give a slight nod to the Griz. Experience plus home court could easily help the Spurs overcome that.

JIM HURLEY has a strong opinion about this series and Sunday’s opener. You can purchase NETWORK’S top releases in basketball and baseball every day right here at the website. If you have any questions about seasonal packages (which offer the most bang for your buck!), call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Our preview of the Eastern Conference Finals will also run on the day of the season opener. Miami is lying in wait as they prepare for what they hope will be another championship run. When championships are one the line…Western…Eastern…or the whole world…you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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