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Preview: Warriors host the "dangerous when healthy" Grizzlies

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With Mike Conley and Marc Gasol present, Memphis could make noise in the crowded middle tier of the West.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors return to action Monday after a rare weekend off at home. This is game three-of-five at Oracle (our longest homestand of the season) and will be the team’s first look at a healthy Memphis squad.

WHO: Warriors vs. Grizzlies

WHEN: Monday, November 5; 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Oracle Arena - Oakland, CA

WATCH: NBCSBA, NBA TV

RADIO: 95.7 The Game

Grizzly bears or teddy bears?

Memphis has one of the more riveting franchise storylines in the NBA. When ex-star player Pau Gasol asked out and was traded to the Lakers, many voices cried out in anguish. The Lakers landed a franchise center for basically nothing - i.e. mostly unknown little brother, Marc Gasol.

But with Gasol and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies eventually developed into a threatening, if not quite title-contending, team. Since 2010, the Grizzlies beat the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, the Thunder in the conference semifinals, and lost 4-2 to the Warriors just a few years ago.

However, while they’ve made the playoffs for seven straight years (until last season, that is), they’ve also been bumped in the first round four times during that span.

More than the playoff ills, the Grizzlies’ ceiling is mostly limited by the health of their key players. First, let’s start with Chandler Parsons and his four-year, 94 million dollar contract. Since signing the deal in the ‘16-’17 season, Parsons has played 34 and 36 games each season. Fittingly, Parsons is listed as “out (knee)” for our game tonight.

With that reality hanging over the franchise like a dark cloud, you can understand the depth of the gloom that accompanies any additional key injuries. While both Gasol and Conley have significantly struggled with injuries recently, none were quite so bad as last season when Conley was out for most of the year. The Grizzlies were flat out horrible. Conley only played 12 games of the 22-60 campaign last year, which would have been the worst in the entire league if the Suns hadn’t edged them out by one extra loss.

Is this year different?

So that’s the salient question here, isn’t it. So far this season, Memphis looks healthy and much better than their 22 wins last season. Their most impressive win was a 10-point takedown of the Utah Jazz on Friday, where both Conley (28 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists) and Gasol (17 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists) shone.

While it’s much too early in the season to provide any certainty, a win over the powerhouse Warriors team would at least bolster Memphis’ standing in the court of public opinion.

Warriors firing on all cylinders

On the opposite end of the certainty spectrum, the Golden State Warriors have opened the season with the enthusiasm of a punk band (speaking of which, anyone else see the Bombpops this weekend? What a show!).

Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have taken the whole “ruined the league” thing to new heights - absolutely demolishing everything and everyone right out of the gate this season. Aside from the sole loss (on the tail end of high altitude back-to-back games in Utah and then Denver), the Warriors look nearly unassailable. Led by Durant and Curry, the team is also featuring a version of Draymond Green that’s playing what coach Steve Kerr described recently as “the best basketball I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here.”

And keep in mind this is all being done while enduring the coldest shooting streak of Klay Thompson’s career, nagging injuries to Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston (who may be out again for tonight’s game) - and while awaiting Demarcus Cousins’ first appearance of the season.

The absence of Patrick McCaw has opened the door for Alfonzo McKinnie, who has thrived enough to essentially erase the previous fan favorite from our gestalt intelligence.

A battle of styles

There is one area where the Warriors may be vulnerable to the Memphis Grizzlies: turnovers. It’s not that the Warriors don’t care, so much as they view turnovers as an opportunity cost of their offense. Golden State once again ranks as the most efficient offense in the league, but this is defined by their efficient shooting. They treasure shot quality. But holding on to the ball? Not so much - the team ranks 23rd league-wide in turnover percentage.

The Grizzlies are almost the polar opposite. Their shooting is subpar (they have the 19th ranked effective field goal percentage), but they are excellent at winning the turnover battle. Memphis leads the league in defensive takeaways and as the Warriors often fall prey to turning the ball over too much, you can guarantee that forcing turnovers will be a major area of focus.

Predictions

The Warriors have been too good at home. They want to give Oakland a farewell gift of an undefeated season at home.

Warriors run away with this one in the 4th quarter: 118 - 96.