A few injuries aside, this season has gone exceptionally well for the San Antonio Spurs. Currently first in the Southwest Division and second in the Western Conference, the Spurs are finally getting healthy (expect for T.J. Ford). The only problem is a major roadblock in the West is also getting healthy.
And that roadblock is the Memphis Grizzlies and their all-star forward Zach Randolph coming back soon to the court. Randolph has started contact drills with the Memphis Grizzlies (via Yard Barker).
"On Monday and Tuesday before the Griz left for the road, Randolph participated in his first contact practices. He's wearing a knee brace and Griz team doctors have told him the knee is structurally sound."
Here we go, Z-Bo coming. It hasn't been made immediately clear when Randolph will be available, but as long as he's healthy by mid to late April it doesn't really matter. Without Randolph, the Grizzlies are 22-12 and are currently third in the Western Conference with an overall record of 23-15. Barring an injury to another starter the Grizzlies are going to make the playoffs. The real question is where are they going to finish?
They're a half game up on both the L.A. teams and only three games from falling to eighth. If Randolph comes back in the next week or two, I don't see the Grizzlies falling past fifth place.
Fifth place is fine by me as long as the Spurs stay in second because that keeps Memphis on the other side of the bracket.
Let the Lakers or Clippers deal with them in the first round and let the Thunder have to slug it out with them in the conference finals. This would give the Spurs the easiest road through the West. It's not that I fear the Grizzlies. They aren't the same Grizzlies. Last season they beat the Spurs because they couldn't be stopped inside and their perimeter defense gave the Spurs fits. This season they're middle of the pack in both opponent field goal percentage and opponent three point field goal percentage. They still have Tony Allen to chase Manu around, but they miss Shane Battier on the defensive end. On the inside, Marc Gasol is still Marc Gasol, but we don't know how healthy Randolph will be come playoff time and how important Darrell Arthur was to this team last season shouldn't be understated. The Spurs are also better on the perimeter now than they were last season, and having Tiago Splitter inside certainly helps.
Yes, I like the Spurs chances against the Grizzlies better this season than I did last year, but that doesn't mean I want to see them in the postseason. San Antonio and Memphis still play each other one more time in April, which will give us a look at how both teams match up at full strength (hopefully).