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Warriors vs. Grizzlies: Golden State looks to shake off rust against Memphis

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Grit-and-Grind invades Oracle arena in game one of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Will the Splash Brothers get the better of the Smash Brothers?

Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies will have their work cut out for them Sunday.
Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies will have their work cut out for them Sunday.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State welcomes the Memphis Grizzlies to Oracle arena Sunday afternoon, in a series that has always felt inevitable.

Unfortunately for Memphis, they arrive in Oakland a very different team. Star point guard Mike Conley is out indefinitely with multiple facial fractures, in addition to a preexisting plantar fasciitis injury that has limited him for much of April. Conley has missed six of the last nine Grizzlies games, and Grit-and-Grind is just 3-3 without him in that stretch.

With or without Conley, the Grizzlies have bigger problems. The Grizz looked like the second best team in the Association for much of the first half, posting a 39-14 record with a very healthy 100.6 points per game average (a good figure for a slow pace, defensive team like Memphis). Since the break, however, the Grizzlies are 16-13 with a 94.2 points per game average. Their strong point differential slipped from an excellent +4.8 points per game to a mediocre +0.3 (per stats.nba.com).

The Grizzlies likely lack the offensive firepower to keep up with a Warriors squad that has yet to go nuclear, these playoffs. The New Orleans Pelicans avoided the huge, back-breaking 24-point quarters that Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry have each dumped on opponents, multiple times in the Splash Brothers era. Without Mike Conley, a plus defender, in the lineup, the odds of seeing either guard blow up increase.

Defensively, the Grizzlies are as good as ever, boasting the third best defense in the league by defensive efficiency (102.2 points per 100 possessions). Paced by Marc Gasol and the well known Tony Allen, the Grizzlies have a good inside-out defense with no glaring weaknesses. On the season, their opponent's shooting splits mirror the Warriors' own, as the Grizzlies were elite against the three, mid-range, and at the rim.

The Warriors open up the second round on Sunday, looking to shake off the rust of an unusual eight-day vacation. One thing that might get their shooting strokes on-line is the free throw line, where the Warriors took an uncharacteristically high 26.5 free throw attempts per game (compared to a paltry 20.8 attempts per game in the regular season, one of the lowest totals in the NBA).

It'll be on the guards to consistently challenge the Grizzlies -- not just from behind the arc, but also in the paint. As Andy Liu wrote, relying on the motion offense to create new attacking angles is the key to keeping a stout defense off balance. This is even more important against a Grizzlies team that can't really boast good defenders up and down its lineup: if you're not attacking Conley, Gasol or Allen, you will like your chances.

Look for Draymond Green to spend a lot of time on Marc Gasol, as the All-NBA center drifts away from the hoop. Despite being a center, Gasol is not a major post threat, and Draymond is an ideal defender for face up bigs due to his speed, length and aggressiveness. Meanwhile, expect Zach Randolph and Andrew Bogut to wage a bloody war of attrition on the block.

In the back court, look for veteran Beno Udrih to get the start at point guard. He doesn't quite have three point range, and he's not a great three point shooter, but he does have an incredible mid-range shot. The Warriors are becoming famous for their willingness to give up long twos, but they may have to put that when Udrih has open looks. He's shooting over .500 from mid-range, which is one of the best marks in the NBA. However, he is not a good defender, and whichever Splash Brother he guards (likely Klay) should have his way with him, offensively. Meanwhile, Steph will likely draw Tony Allen, one of the league's best perimeter defenders. He hounded Curry into an ugly 9-of-25 night back in a December loss in Memphis. Since then, however, Curry has responded with an efficient 6-of-10 performance, and a huge 38 point blowup, in two comfortable wins.

With an awe-inspiring 41-2 home record, the Warriors should be the easy favorite over the depleted Grizzlies for game one. However, Memphis is a tough, veteran team. Do not expect them to go, willingly. The Grizzlies have taken care of the ball well, and if the Warriors can't get easy buckets via turnovers and three point misses, they face a slog through a decidedly "Memphis" type of game.

Game One Prediction: 105-99 Warriors