Facing Grizzlies again motivation for Spurs

By Jeff McDonald

Tim Duncan swears he has not looked at the film. Not once since leaving Memphis after the Spurs’ stunning first-round playoff exit in April has Duncan felt the slightest need to dissect what went wrong, not even for the purposes of autopsy.

He doesn’t have to.

“It’s pretty crisp in my memory,” Duncan said.

For five months during the NBA lockout, the image of defeat played on a continuous loop in the minds of Duncan and the other Spurs who suffered through one of the most disappointing playoff losses in league history.

That is a long time to burn.

Tonight at the ATT Center, the Spurs open a new chapter, the start of a lockout-compressed season many thought would never happen. But first, they must close an old wound.

The Spurs begin their new campaign against the same team that unceremoniously shut down their last one. In stunning the Spurs in six games, Memphis became only the second No. 8 seed in the best-of-7 era to oust a No. 1.

“There’s definitely a lot of motivation there,” said point guard Tony Parker, who was outplayed in the series by his Memphis counterpart, Mike Conley. “I want to play them in the playoffs, but I’ll start with the first game of the season.”

Even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, never one to play up the payback angle or any other made-for-TV storyline, sees a smidgen of added impetus in the opener.

Of course, beating Memphis in Game 1 of the regular season won’t erase the disaster of last season’s playoffs. But it could be a good first step toward cleansing the palate.

“People are people,” Popovich said. “I’m sure when the game starts, our people will be motivated because they got beat by a very good team last year.”

In a way, tonight might feel like a continuation of last April, a Game 7 without the pesky drama of win-or-go home. Though nearly eight months have passed since the last time the Spurs and Memphis met, little has changed with either team.

Zach Randolph, who averaged 21.6 points and 9.2 rebounds against the Spurs in the playoffs, is still a load. The Grizzlies do welcome back small forward Rudy Gay, the club’s perennial leading scorer who missed the postseason while recovering from shoulder surgery.

The Spurs, meanwhile, bring back a roster almost identical to the one that won a Western Conference-best 61 games last season before falling short in the first round.

The most significant addition since April — besides a two-armed Manu Ginobili — is first-round draft pick Kawhi Leonard, the small forward from San Diego State obtained in a draft-day trade that shipped reserve guard George Hill to Indiana.

The Spurs also will expect greater contributions from a pair of second-year players — guard James Anderson and center Tiago Splitter — than they got in last season’s playoffs.

“If we win, it doesn’t take back what happened last season,” forward Richard Jefferson said. “It’s just one game.”

For the Spurs, bigger challenges lie ahead after Memphis leaves town. Tonight’s game is the first of 66, overstuffed into 129 days.

Though the Spurs won a title in 1999, the last time the NBA staged a shortened campaign, Duncan said there is a smaller margin for error than in a full season.

“You don’t want to get yourself stuck in a hole and have to find a way to fight yourself back, especially with all these back-to-backs and all the games in not many days,” said Duncan, the only player on the Spurs’ roster active in ’99.

“You have to take care of stuff, especially when you’re healthy, especially when you’ve got everybody.”

The Spurs hope to start a new championship push tonight, against the team that ended the last one.

One door opens, but not before the other one closes.

“There’s no excuses, they beat us, congratulations to Memphis,” Parker said. “Now it’s a new season.”

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