The San Antonio Spurs are out to prove that their veteran core still has enough left to make the club contenders in the Western Conference.
Knocking off the young and up-and-coming team that handed them a surprise elimination in the first round of last season's playoffs would be a good way to start.
The Spurs kick off their 2011-12 season this evening against the visiting Grizzlies, who defeated top-seeded San Antonio to raise questions about a possible decline for the NBA powerhouses.
Tim Duncan and company will be looking to shake off doubters after a conference-leading 61-21 record a season ago proved fruitless. While San Antonio's veteran core also still consists of guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the starting lineup will get a fusion of youth in 26-year-old center Tiago Splitter, who steps in for the retired Antonio McDyess.
"We expected it, even if Antonio was here," Duncan said of getting more production from Splitter. "He's got some time under his belt now, so we're expecting him to step up. He's had a good summer, we worked out a lot together and I expect a lot from him."
Splitter will look to help the Spurs extend their streak of 50-win seasons to 13 and lift to the club to its 13th regular-season victory at home over the Grizzlies in the past 14 encounters. San Antonio also won two of three at home over Memphis in last year's opening round.
It was the Grizzlies, though, who moved on to the next round in their first playoff appearance since 2006. Memphis won a total of just 68 wins over the next three seasons following that campaign, but improved to 40 wins in 2009-10 before a 46-36 mark a season ago. The Grizzlies then furthered optimism by giving the Thunder all they could handle in a seven-game semifinal before bowing out.
"It's obvious that as a team, we have a lot of optimism. We feel like we have a team to make a run at a championship," Memphis point guard Mike Conley said.
Memphis kept its impressive nucleus together by re-signing center Marc Gasol to team with power forward Zach Randolph for a dominating low-post punch. Also, forward Rudy Gay is set to return after being limited to 54 games following surgery to repair a left shoulder subluxation.
The Grizzlies, though, did lose backup Darrell Arthur after the forward tore his Achilles in the preseason that will sideline him for the entire season. Memphis also added to its roster on Christmas Eve, getting guard/forward Quincy Indexer from the Hornets for guard Greivis Vasquez.