Who: Memphis Grizzlies (49-32) at Dallas Mavericks (49-32)
When: Wednesday, April 16th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Watch and Listen: ESPN, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
So here we stand. One game left in this treacherously triumphant season with pockets of each attributed in between, and the Grizzlies stand locked into the Western Conference playoff picture on the heels of an emphatic fourth quarter victory over the Phoenix Suns to seal the deal. Now what’s left to play for? It’s simple, really: the right to avoid the San Antonio Spur-Robots in the first round of the postseason. The irony of all of it, however, is that the Dallas Mavericks come into town tonight with precisely the same aspirations on the line. In other words, we’re looking at the most consequential inconsequential game of the year, right?
Now, the bigger question is who wants it more, and just how much starter-rest they would be willing to sacrifice as a means to this end. For Dallas, there’s an additional wrinkle to this game: a victory solidifies that they will convey their 2014 draft selection to Oklahoma City as a result of a previous trade arrangement. While I don’t expect this to come to pass as part of Rick Carlisle’s decision making process, it’s an interesting factor to consider nonetheless. Lastly, it’s my birthday, and since previous meetings with Dallas this season have yielded 3SOB headlines like this one, I’d like to see the Grizzlies take the cake and avoid San Antonio.
Mike Conley vs Jose Calderon
If there is anything that Dallas has done exceptionally well against he Grizzlies this season, it is the way they have navigated the pick and roll. Jose Calderon’s numbers against the Grizz have been unimpressive, but this is not to say that he’s been invisible. Still, he’s a liability on the other end. Mike Conley has only been able to see the floor in one of the three matchups between these teams this year, and in that game he torched the enemy for 24 points, 8 assists, and ripped away possession to the tune of 3 steals. Conley is dealing with a minor (we hope) hamstring tweak from the game in Phoenix, but is still projected to play tonight, so one would have to wonder how much he’ll really be out there with the playoffs on the way. Also of note, if he plays his cards right tonight, Conley could become the first qualified Grizzly since 2010-11 Zach Randolph to finish a season with a PER of > 20.
Courtney Lee vs Monta Ellis
Much has been made of Monta Ellis as a revelation of sorts this season. What I’m not sure of is exactly the degree to which I buy it. Monta has always been a productive player no matter where you place him, and that certainly hasn’t changed in Dallas. His usage is down a bit, depriving us of the prolific scoring Monta that we saw in the Golden State system, but it has been for the better as his field goal percentage has leaped by just south of 4% from where it was last season with the Bucks. Still, I’m not sure how much different this Monta is stylistically, nor am I sure he really has or had to change. He’s hurt the Grizzlies on occasion, but if he’s going to shoot below 40% like he has in two out of the three meetings this year, then by all means fire away. For the Grizz, Courtney Lee has been like the guy down the hall in your freshman dorm with his high school girlfriend — he’s off again right now, but at any given moment the magic returns. Whatever the case may be, as long as he rediscovers how to make it work in the playoffs I don’t care what he does tonight.
Tayshaun Prince vs Shawn Marion
About five years ago this would have classified as a supremely compelling matchup between Swiss Army knife combo forwards. At this juncture, I wouldn’t feel confident in saying the same. Tayshaun made his return to the Grizzlies’ lineup Sunday night, and has played basically as you would expect him to based on his 2013-14 body of work. Shawn Marion is a sneaky darkhorse pick as one of my all-time favorite non-Grizzlies. While he’s no longer the Matrix that we knew and loved, he’s finding new ways to impact the game like enjoying his best 3 point shooting season (.358) since he was playing alongside Stephon Marbury in Phoenix (2002-03, .387).
Zach Randolph vs Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most prolific seven-footers the game has ever seen, and last season’s numbers be damned, he ain’t done yet. As a measure of production, his PER has catapulted back upwards to a measure of 23.64 — the highest it’s been since the 2007-08 season. Then looking at his on-court value, we see through the lens of ESPN’s new RPM stat that he ranks as the most impactful power forward in the league to not be named Nick Collison, this season (though we might want to revisit that at a later date). Dirk has always been a tough match for Zach Randolph, but the difficulty goes both ways, as Zach’s averaging a cool 20/10 against the Mavs this year.
Advantage: Just enjoy it
Marc Gasol vs Samuel Dalembert
Wendigo has really come alive, huh? In the month of April, Marc Gasol is averaging 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest on a commendable 52% from the field. It has been a trying stretch getting used to playing on his rehabbed knee, but the seven-foot Spaniard has hit stride just in time for the playoffs and is playing at a considerably better rate of production than he entered the postseason last year. Marc may spend more time being guarded by Nowitzki on the cross-match, especially outside the painted area, but for all intents and purposes, his matchup on paper is Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert, generally lauded for his defense, has cracked double-digit scoring in less than a quarter of his games this season, but two of them have come against the Grizzlies, with an 8 point outing rounding out the three-game sample.
Off the Bench:
The Mavericks remain in possession of one of the more explosive benches in the league in terms of scoring firepower, with a 35.4 point per game bench scoring average on the season. Their second unit may not be ridiculously rounded, but what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in concentrated skill, namely on the hands of Vince Carter and Devin Harris — both of which have been 20 ppg scorers during their NBA careers. The Grizzlies’ bench possesses arguably its most prolific wings at this point in the season in Tony Allen and Mike Miller, either of which could be the team’s X-factor on any given night. The Grizz could go 11 deep and reasonably expect decent production out of all parties involved. Depending on how willing these teams are to grind another regular season game out of their starters, I’m going to air on the side of (productive) quantity over quality.