Who: Memphis Grizzlies (44-31) vs Denver Nuggets (32-42)
When: Friday, April 4th, 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
After receiving a vengeful spanking at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Grizzlies kicked their sneakers together and exclaimed “There’s no place like home,” as they longed to distance themselves as far away as possible from the dreadful five-game road trip that they just endured. They finished the trip with a 2-3 record over the span, but could have just as easily been swept throughout, as their victories – over Utah and tonight’s opponent, Denver – were anything but inspiring. Now, in front of their home crowd and ESPN’s national TV audience, it will be up to the Grizzlies to take charge and make strides to bring the playoff race back into their own hands with only seven games and an unforgiving schedule lying ahead.
Mike Conley vs Ty Lawson
Dating back to his tenure with the North Carolina Tar Heels and carrying forward to his NBA career, Ty Lawson is the prime example of a guy that has taken on a consistently expanding workload each and every season. In each of his three years at UNC, he saw his minutes played, percentage of team possessions, points per game among other things rise over the year before. Now, in his five seasons in the NBA, a similar trend has played itself out with regards to his usage rate and role in the Nuggets’ offense. Every year, Lawson has taken on the greater workload of a higher usage rate and has responded with systematic raises in points and assists per 40 min. The only thing that has been continually sacrificed as a result has been his true shooting percentage (as pictured below), which is difficult to sustain through a higher volume of shots and increased defensive pressure, but this season, he seems to have made steps in the direction of reversing the trend:
When these teams met in Denver earlier in the week, Lawson continued his string of uncharacteristic mediocrity against the Grizzlies with an 8 point, 6 assist line on 33% shooting, while allowing Mike Conley to shoot 60% from the floor to the tune of 19 points. I keep giving the edge to Denver at this matchup, but with history and the home crowd behind the Grizz, I’m going to sway and hopefully not jinx things.
Courtney Lee vs Randy Foye
Last time I previewed a Grizzlies/Nuggets game (4/2), I referenced my trashing of Randy Foye in the previous preview (12/28) for the downright awful stretch of basketball that he had put together leading up to that game. He responded with a very sound 11 points in 14 minutes. The next time out, less than a week later, he put up 13 points, with 2 threes and 7 rebounds. I then drew that parallel to Courtney Lee, and claimed that my lamenting his previous display of mediocrity could provide a similar splash of cold water on his face and get him going. Well, it did, and Courtney went off to the tune of 19 points with 3 three pointers. He then followed with 14 points going 2-2 from downtown against Minnesota. So, he might not need it, but here’s another splash of cold water for CLee. Stay aggressive, and keep it up offensively.
Tayshaun Prince vs Quincy Miller
Quincy Miller and Tayshaun Prince were basically at a standstill with regards to who could have a lesser offensive impact on the game the last time out. With Wilson Chandler still dealing with a questionable groin/hip issue and the Nuggets lacking all that much to play for, it’s conceivable that we get to see this colossal clash of titans at the small forward position again. The Grizzlies tried desperately to get Prince going at the onset of the Minnesota game to little avail (1-5 in the first 4 minutes), and his playing time suffered (14 minutes) dramatically as a result. Still, I have to give Prince the benefit of the doubt, here.
Zach Randolph vs Kenneth Faried
When these guys square off, it always figures on paper to be a compelling matchup on the glass, but in practice this has not always turned out to be the case. Dating back to last season, of the last seven matchups between the two, the outcome of the rebounding battle has been essentially one-sided, as shown below:
The graph from the Grizzlies/Nuggets preview earlier in the week was updated to include Monday night’s game, but the result has remained largely the same. Faried did what he could to narrow the gap between the production levels of these two glass-eaters, but the fact remains that Randolph, who had hands down his best game of the road trip against the Nuggets, takes the cake.
Marc Gasol vs Timofey Mozgov
On draft night last year, the Nuggets traded Kosta Koufos to the Grizzlies to free up some serious playing time for the mercurial and heavily invested in Javale McGee’s development at the center position. Well thanks to a stress fracture five games into the season, the true beneficiary of the deal was none other than Timofey Mozgov. After being the third wheel at the five spot for the Nuggets last year, Mozgov has suddenly pole vaulted into a solid 20 minutes per game role with over 22 starts on the season. Well against the Grizzlies on Monday night, Mozgov was anything but pedestrian. Cast aside his poor game managment in the closing minute, Mozgov had himself an incredible game, leading both teams in scoring with 23 points, and throwing in 10 rebounds to boot. Now, I’m not the biggest believer in unlikely outcomes and lightning striking twice in the same spot, but stranger things have certainly happened.
Off the Bench:
The Nuggets’ bench has been purged of the majority of its talent by either injury or the fact that guys have had to step up into the starting gig to compensate for injury. The remaining representatives for Denver’s bench minutes are Evan Fournier, Anthony Randolph, Aaron Brooks, Jan Vesely, and of course, our old friend and pick and pop connoisseur, Darrell Arthur. Not the most fear inducing bench unit in the league, but Denver’s reserves each played to their strengths and pitched something in to collectively put a hurt on the Grizzlies in Monday’s meeting. The Grizzlies’ bench carried them through some major stretches in the early period after the All-Star break, but has cooled down considerably. With the rotation in a state of flux, the abundance of depth on the Memphis sidelines has at times played to its detriment, as the lines of roles have become infinitely blurred for basically anybody not named Mike Miller (just let it fly, man). The Grizzlies’ reserves are talented enough to overcome the lack of true definition on most nights, but I’m not still sleeping on Denver’s beat-up bench any longer.