The San Antonio Spurs will begin their quest for a sixth NBA title on Saturday when they play the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round playoff series in San Antonio, Texas.

What’s at stake?

Moving a step closer to an NBA championship is always the reward of winning the first round battles. However, for the Spurs, not reaching at least the conference finals in the playoffs will be considered a total failure.

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At 61-21, San Antonio easily secured the no.2 spot in a very competitive Western Conference, but their inconsistency (1-4 in their last five games) could be a red flag.

Head coach Gregg Popovich is very much aware that his team is facing a formidable Grizzlies team that is battled-tested in postseason play. Aside from the fact that they are well-coached, Memphis is one of those teams that can adapt to the slow-paced, highly-physical playoff atmosphere.

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They might have finished no.7 in the standings with a mediocre 43-39 slate, but the regular-season record is often irrelevant in postseason play. The Spurs learned the hard way in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, when they got eliminated in the first round by the Grizzlies despite securing the no.1 seed in the West.

Players to watch:

Spurs: All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard had another MVP-type season, as he once again upped his scoring averages to at least 25 points per game while keeping his stature as the best on-ball defender in the league.

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With Tim Duncan is gone, the Klaw will try to lead the Spurs to their first playoff series victory post-Big Fundamental. This postseason will be the measuring stick for Leonard. In the Grizzlies series, Popovich will likely assign Leonard to defend ball-handler Mike Conley Jr,, who has become the heart and soul of the Grizzlies offense.

Grizzlies: As already mentioned, Memphis will heavily depend on the playmaking skills of Conley, who averaged 20.5 points and 5.3 dimes per contest.

While big-time contributions are needed from All-Star Marc Gasol and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Zach Randolph, Conley must assert himself as the leader of the pack by putting up gaudy numbers every single game if they want to pull off a huge upset over the favorites.

Prediction:

The Spurs-Grizz first-round series will go down as one of the most competitive series in this postseason, because their style of play matches up well and both are elite-level defensive teams.

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Memphis will give the Spurs all kinds of problems with their physicality and late-game execution. Then again, it will take more than what they have to beat this Spurs team.

Spurs in six games.

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