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Study in contrasts as speedy Warriors face gritty Grizzlies

Series Preview: Warriors vs. Grizzlies

POSTED: Apr 30, 2015 6:09 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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Inside the NBA: Warriors-Grizzlies

The guys look ahead to the Western Conference Semifinals matchup between the Warriors and Grizzlies.

This is going to be good, the Warriors of 67 wins and a first-round sweep over the Pelicans against the Grizzlies of 55 victories and a 4-1 limbering up at the expense of the Trail Blazers in the opening series.

This is going to be fun, with two good offenses, even if Memphis does not play as fast as Golden State.

Most of all, this is going to be loud, and not just in terms of arena atmosphere. Both teams love to defend, so Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green v. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be bodies crashing against bodies as the Grizzlies pound the ball inside, maybe now even more than before depending how long Mike Conley is out. Tony Allen will be physical with the challenge of guarding Klay Thompson.

Buckle up.

Complete series coverage

Five quick questions (and answers)

1. What is Conley's status? That is the question heading into the series, but there is nothing close to a definitive answer. The Grizzlies have noticeably stayed clear of putting a timetable on his return, making anything from suiting up for Game 1 to missing the entire series a possibility.

2. But how did the schedule help the Grizz? Game 1 is Sunday, Game 2 is Tuesday... and then Game 3 is Saturday. Three days without a game certainly can't hurt. The longer the series goes, the better the chances Conley plays as a point-guard counter to Stephen Curry.

3. What happened in the season series? The Warriors won two of the three meetings, losing in Memphis in December (when they played without Bogut and David Lee) and winning April in Oakland (when the Grizzlies played without Conley and Allen) and in March in Memphis. Thompson scored 22, 28 and 42 points while shooting a combined 62.3 percent overall and 75 percent (18-for-24) on 3s.

4. Where do the Warriors need to improve from the first round? The bench. Shaun Livingston was inconsistent, Marreese Speights was barely noticeable, Andre Iguodala shot 31 percent, and David Lee didn't play because of injury.

5. Where do the Grizzlies need to improve from the first round? Randolph (34.9 percent) and Gasol (41.8) both struggled with their shot against the Trail Blazers. It's hard to imagine Memphis with a real chance to take down the Warriors if that doesn't change, especially if another offensive threat, Conley, is missing or less than 100 percent.

When the Warriors have the ball...

The pace slows down in the playoffs, huh? The Warriors got the same shots per game in the first round as they did in the regular season. That's either because it's a small body of work, or maybe, just maybe, because Golden State has so many ways to injure defenses that there's no reason to stop firing away.

The Grizzlies will try to force the Warriors to play slower. (Famous last words.) But with Allen leading the defense on the perimeter and Gasol the inside, Memphis also has the chance to actually do it. Not all the way to slow, but slower.

When the Grizzlies have the ball...

While a lot of Memphis' effectiveness will depend on the availability of Conley, how the Grizzlies play will not change whether he is able to get back in time for the series or not. They remain a team that looks inside first, to center Gasol and power forward Randolph, the leaders in shot attempts during the regular season. And the Grizz will still have the ability to hurt the Warriors from the three-point line, especially with Courtney Lee and maybe some with Jeff Green.

The Warriors have the inside countermeasures no one else in the West can match, with center Bogut and power forward Green both headed to possible first-team All-Defense honors and shooting guard Thompson an impact player on that side of the ball as well. Likewise Andre Iguodala at several positions.

In the clutch

That was one of the biggest Warriors positives of the first round, that they had to be sharp in the fourth quarter to sweep, winning twice at home and once with a monster comeback on the road. They didn't have many chances to play in the clutch in the regular season, and they didn't want them while being pushed by New Orleans. But when the moments were there, the Dubs responded.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, were right on script for winning close games. They did a great job of taking care of the ball, committing just 41 turnovers in the five games against Portland, despite health problems at point guard, and hit their free throws at a much higher rate than the regular season.

Wild cards

David Lee had been losing minutes the longer the season went and then a strained lower back sidelined him the entire first round. Now he could become a key reserve against an opponent that has the ability to tear through a team's big-man depth chart.

Courtney Lee is the Memphis choice, only not because the Grizzlies and Warriors don't know what to expect from him. They know exactly what to expect -- scoring from the perimeter and beyond the arc. But he gets lost amid the attention that goes to the other four starters who are better known. Lee, though, is the player who helps keep defenses honest while paying so much attention to Gasol and Randolph inside. If he's making threes, a lot opens up for the Grizz.

Prediction

The easy call is for a close, long and probably physical series. But the ultimate call is for Golden State, with the benefit of home-court advantage along with the usual winning factors. Warriors in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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