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Bet on the NBAIf the San Antonio Spurs can stay healthy for the playoffs and Tim Duncan comes back strong from his ankle injury at some point, they will be the team to beat in the Western Conference.

They have both the skill and experience to go far in the 2011 playoffs. But their main weakness is that the leadership of the team is showing their age and they have suffered some worrisome late-season injuries.

In fact, the Spurs were almost in a position to lose their top seed in the Western Conference when they lost Tim Duncan to an ankle sprain. The team immediately started losing games and more of their starters to injury, and the Los Angeles Lakers were on fire at that point. However, the Spurs turned it around and kept a hold on the No. 1 spot in the West playoff race as the Lakers fell apart.

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With a 61-21 record, San Antonio sits comfortable atop the conference standings, with their nearest competitors – the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks – being four games behind. And the Spurs are stronger than any team in the league besides the Chicago Bulls in defending their home court. Both the Spurs and Bulls have 36-5 records at home. And with home-court advantage, the Spurs will be tough to beat throughout the playoffs.

The Spurs are not as strong on the road as some of the other teams in the Western Conference with only a 25-16 record. That is equal to the fourth-seed Oklahoma City Thunder, and a worse road record than the Lakers and Mavericks. If a team is lucky enough to get a win or two in San Antonio, there is a better chance that the Spurs will drop the games away.

But it is unlikely that the Memphis Grizzlies will be that lucky. The two teams did split the season series 2-2, though, so it is unlikely that the Spurs will sweep the playoff series. The Grizzlies and Spurs match up well, and Memphis will challenge San Antonio on defense. The key may be how well Tim Duncan plays, as the Spurs really need him to step up so as not to drag this series out to six or seven games.

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