NBA Western Conference finals predictions
The Western Conference finals are set with the San Antonio Spurs facing the Memphis Grizzlies for the right to advance to the NBA Finals. Who will come out on top? SI.com writers Ian Thomsen, Lee Jenkins, Ben Golliver, Rob Mahoney and Chris Mannix make their picks.
Spurs in 7. I'm going with the Spurs on faith. They're going to have trouble with the Grizzlies' productive frontline, but Tim Duncan will create problems, too. While I'm a Mike Conley fan, he has never been an MVP candidate like Tony Parker. San Antonio has enough size, team defense and cohesion to stay close, which will enable Manu Ginobili to make big plays while Kawhi Leonard has a breakout series in the seams. This will be a tremendous series culminating in a Game 7 in San Antonio -- the last extra lift to push the Spurs through.
GOLLIVER: Previewing the Western Conference finals
Spurs in 7.This will be a long, taut series, and the Spurs' depth, home-court advantage and versatility gives them a slight edge. They can play different ways, with the size required to match up against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol but also the ability to go small and spread out a Grizzlies defense that prefers to pack the paint. The Spurs superior outside shooting allows them to generate offense when the Grizzlies suffer droughts.
Grizzlies in 7.The Spurs and Grizzlies split their season series at two games apiece. The home team won all four games, two of which went into overtime and a third was decided in regulation by a last-second game-winner by Conley. Clearly, there's not much difference between the teams, and the fact Memphis's No. 18 regular-season offense has jumped to No. 5 in the postseason, despite facing two teams that had top-10 defenses in the regular season, makes this matchup that much tighter.
Memphis's intangibles have been very convincing: They didn't break after going down 0-2 against the Clippers, they enjoyed great success against both Chris Paul and Durant, they've dictated the pace and style of their games throughout the playoffs, they have a nice matchup advantage with Randolph and they have the "playing great basketball at the right time" card mentioned earlier. That's enough to convince me to take them in a series that will go the distance.
Spurs in 6. This has all the makings of a long and fascinating series, with neither team a true underdog. In picking between the two, I'm inclined to choose San Antonio based on my skepticism of Memphis's ability to score against a more disciplined defense. Effective spacing and Mike Conley's evolution allowed the Grizzlies to take advantage of their opponents' defensive breakdowns in the first two rounds, but the Spurs will be better prepared and will execute more cleanly than either the Clippers or Thunder. This series will be a battle and the Spurs will have to operate at peak levels to put up points against the Grizzlies' incredible team defense. But the Spurs' ability to execute against pressure gives more reason for confidence and makes them the slight favorite in a compelling series.
Spurs in 6. Zach Randolph was superhuman in Memphis's upset win over San Antonio in 2011 and that team didn't have Rudy Gay, either. But these aren't the same Spurs. Manu Ginobili played with a broken arm and Tiago Splitter was a shell of the player he is today. San Antonio has the muscle to match up with Memphis and Tony Parker playing the best playoff basketball of his career. The Spurs are masters of making adjustments and they will make Memphis pay for its lack of perimeter shooting.