(SportsNetwork.com) - Contrasting styles collide, as they often do in the postseason, when the efficient, fluid Golden State Warriors take on the rugged Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Warriors finished with the league's best record and tied the sixth-best regular season mark. Golden State is the 10th team to win 67 games during the regular season and seven of the previous nine won the NBA title.
Memphis was second in the Western Conference through most of the campaign, but fell late due to some injury issues. The Grizzlies finished fifth.
The Warriors led the NBA in scoring, while the Grizzlies finished second in opponents' scoring. Golden State was not all offense, however. The Warriors led the league in opponents' field-goal percentage, while the Grizz were 10th.
The Warriors have the Splash Brothers - Steph Curry, the MVP favorite, and All-Star Klay Thompson. They handled the bulk of the scoring, while the Grizzlies boast a powerful frontline with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
"There's not that many big teams in the league anymore. Memphis is one of them." explained Golden State coach Steve Kerr. "We feel like we have the personnel to try and match up and defend them well."
Draymond Green of the Warriors finished second to San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Center Andrew Bogut is one of the best defensive centers in the association.
Golden State has rested for quite a while. They swept the No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans in a series that ended Saturday. They'll have over a week to get healthy, although the Warriors are in great shape injury-wise.
Memphis was the fifth seed, but had homecourt advantage over the Portland Trail Blazers in round one. The Grizzlies needed five games to dispatch the injury-ravaged Blazers, so they've been off since Wednesday.
"We wanted to go get the job done now, get some days of rest to get ready for the next tough series," Grizzlies veteran forward Vince Carter said.
The Grizzlies have a huge injury concern. Guard Mike Conley missed the final two games of the Portland series after getting hit in the face in Game 3. Conley required facial surgery for the fractures and there's no timetable for his return.
"We're hopeful that it'll be sooner than later," Conley told the The Commercial Appeal. "It has a lot to do with swelling. (The injuries) were pretty serious to my knowledge. I'm happy to get out of it successfully. My eye was swollen shut two days ago."
These two teams have never met in the postseason. The Warriors won two of three from the Grizzlies during the regular season, including one in Memphis. However, since the 2010-11 season, the Grizz are 12-5 versus the Warriors. At one point during that stretch, the Grizzlies won five in a row at Oracle Arena.
"We know who they are," Curry said. "It's going to be a tough battle. They're a great team that's been together a while. We've got to be ready from Game 1.
"It should be fun."
BACKCOURT: Curry and Thompson were amazing in round one versus the Pelicans. Curry averaged 33.8 ppg and 7.3 apg, while shooting 41.7 percent from long range. That is astonishing production and, if Curry does win the MVP, he'll most likely receive the award some time during this series. Thompson was no bum, either. He posted a 25.0 ppg average and shot 48.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. 48.5 percent from deep! Thompson is also a plus defender. This is the best backcourt, not only remaining in the playoffs, but in the world.
The Conley injury is devastating, especially considering what a strong defender he is. Conley averaged 16.0 ppg in his three appearances this postseason. There is no timetable on his return. Nick Calathes started in his place and did admirably, shooting 54.5 percent from long range. Courtney Lee was sensational versus the Trail Blazers. He averaged 17.2 ppg, shot 54.5 percent from long range and was almost pressed into some point guard duty if Game 5 was closer in the fourth quarter.
"Night in and night out what Courtney Lee has done in this series probably gets him the MVP of the series from our side as far as what he did shooting the basketball, being assertive in a very efficient series for him," head coach Dave Joerger said of his shooting guard following the clinching Game 5 victory.
Green is a monster. In addition to being the most versatile defender in the league, he averaged 15.8 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 6.3 apg, 2.5 spg and 1.3 bpg against the Pelicans. Fantasy players salivate at lines like that. Can he match the physicality of Randolph? That'll be tough, but Green will not shy from a challenge. He's an agitator and energy guy in the truest form. Bogut doesn't give much offensively, which is what separates himself from Gasol. The Warriors will dump it down to him for a bucket occasionally, but don't confuse that for being empty offensively. Bogut is a great facilitator at the foul line. He will have the primary assignment on Gasol and that is the most critical matchup of this series. Harrison Barnes' scoring was down from the regular season to the first round of the playoffs. He did shoot 42.9 percent from long range versus the Pelicans.
Gasol is most likely a first-team All-NBA player this season. During the campaign, he averaged 17.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg and 1.6 blocks. Against the Blazers, he averaged 20.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 5.0 apg and 2.4 blocks. He's the best all-around center in the league. He works beautifully with Randolph either from the low post, or the elbow. Gasol won't have a grueling task defensively with Bogut, but he'll need to police the paint. Randolph's numbers dipped against Portland, but he's a winner. Randolph will have trouble following Green on the perimeter, but his size and strength could be a huge asset on the interior. An engaged, efficient Randolph leads to postseason success. Tony Allen might be a forward when the PA announcer reads his name, but he might start the series on Curry. Allen is the best perimeter defender in the NBA. There's little to his game offensively, but his defense will give Memphis its best chance at upsetting the Warriors.
BENCH: Andre Iguodala is the primary bench player for Kerr and while he didn't score much against the Pels (6.3 ppg), his defense is still his calling card. Kerr likes to play Iguodala in crunch time if his shut-down abilities are needed. He would most likely be responsible for Jeff Green should Joerger have him on the floor in the fourth quarter, which is likely if Conley can't go. Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa are capable veterans. Countering Memphis' size inside will probably lead to more minutes for the defensive-minded Festus Ezeli over Mo Speights.
The Conley injury changes the dynamic of the Memphis bench, a unit that was 21st in scoring during the regular season. Beno Udrih was very good early versus Portland, but tailed off as he dealt with a sprained ankle. Green had a rough series against the Blazers. Joerger will need his scoring to compete with Golden State. Lee was great, but Green is one of their biggest wing contributors. Carter gave the Grizzlies some good minutes. He's a playoff- tested warrior with the ability to knock down 3-pointers. Kosta Koufos is the only big man to back up Gasol and Randolph.
COACHING: Kerr finished second to Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer in Coach of the Year voting. Almost every decision Kerr made this season with the Warriors turned to gold. Does Kerr feel the pressure of expectations? This is his first season as a coach and the playoffs are a different breed. Memphis is a postseason-built squad, but Kerr has enough magic to figure it out.
Joerger is among the second-tier coaches in the NBA, which is not a slight. Not everyone can be Gregg Popovich. He knows how to make Memphis work. Joerger's done as well as expected with Conley down. He indicated after closing out Portland that he was going to consider Lee at the point with Allen, Green and the bigs if it got close enough. He's rubbing sticks together to try to handle Conley's absence.
PREDICTION: When the postseason slows down, the Grizzlies are a very difficult matchup with Gasol and Randolph. This unit has been together for a long time and has made a Western Conference Finals appearance. Nothing will surprise them, nothing should rattle them.
Golden State can.
Their guards are their strength, but Green's scoring against the Pelicans should give Memphis some problems. Can Randolph keep up with Green on the perimeter and in transition?
Golden State has too much firepower in that backcourt. Curry proved in Game 3 of the first round he's capable of carrying this team to victory. Memphis is leaps and bounds better than New Orleans, but the Warriors have an aura of destiny about them.
The games might be close, but the Warriors are too much for anyone to handle.
SPORTS NETWORK PREDICTION: WARRIORS in FIVE