When: Saturday, February 8th 7:00 PM CST
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
Records: Memphis Grizzlies (26-22), Atlanta Hawks (25-23)
Media: NBA TV, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
After losses to the Thunder and Mavericks, it’s become quite clear that Life Without Conley is going to be rather difficult. The Grizzlies will try to set things right against a Hawks tea trying to cling to the 3-seed in the east despite the loss of Al Horford, and a surging Raptors team that has thrived since trading you-know-who.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Nick Calathes vs Jeff Teague Teague gets a little better every year. Three years ago, he was a backup with decent potential, two years ago, he was inserted into the starting lineup, and his production has continued to increase, to the point where Teague is a fringe All-Star candidate in an extremely weak Eastern Conference. He couldn’t beat out Kyrie Irving, or John Wall, both of whom are much bigger names, but he’ll be in the running year after year. Meanwhile, Calathes looks nothing like the frightened shell of a player we saw back in November, but he’s still figuring things out, and he may be overwhelmed here.
Courtney Lee vs Kyle Korver
Earlier this year, Korver achieved the biggest milestone of his career, when he broke the record for most consecutive games with a three-point field goal. Korver has been one of the best from downtown for years, but Atlanta has felt like his ideal destination, as he’s in the midst of his best career season, and seems to fit into this offense naturally. If nothing else, he’s a massive upgrade from DeShawn Stevenson who started at the 2 for Atlanta last year, while Korver came off the bench. Lee has been a huge pickup for the Grizzlies, to the point where we’ve actually begun to wonder what role Tony Allen has when he returns. The Grindfather of all people! Quite a first impression made by #5.
Tayshaun Prince vs DeMarre Carroll
For each of the past few years, Carroll – the former Grizzly – has slowly but surely demonstrated his worth as an NBA player. After quickly being traded by Memphis, he wound up in Denver, where he rarely saw the floor, but looked strong whenever given the opportunity Last year, he emerged as a decent rotation piece for the Jazz, before finally making the starting lineup in Atlanta. He’s not the most talented player in the world, but he’s efficient and intelligent, which should be enough to allow him to make some plays against Prince, who is hardly the defender he used to be.
Zach Randolph vs. Paul Millsap
The acquisition of Millsap was a much better move for the Hawks than it might have seemed at the time. On the surface, they were merely replacing Josh Smith with a slightly cheaper option, but Millsap has prove to be much better than the departed J-Smoove. While Smith has foundered within the floor-spacing nightmare that is the Detroit Pistons, Millsap is having a career season in Atlanta, and anyone who ignored or overlooked his perpetual strong numbers in Utah is surely feeling foolish now. With that said, he’ll be facing a serious challenge against Z-Bo, who matches him in points per game, and surpasses him in rebound. Millsap is better known for his offense than his defense, and his ability to defend in the post will be put to the test against a player with the craftiness of Z-Bo.
Marc Gasol vs Pero Antic
Both teams have suffered crippling injuries at the center position this season, but while Marc Gasol has returned to the fold for Memphis, the Hawks are till adjusting to life without Al Horford. Luckily, Antic has been an excellent stopgap, emerging as an unlikely rookie of the year candidate, and earning himself a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge. Marc has struggled this week, perhaps feeling the weight of a much larger load without Conley around. He’s the team’s unquestioned leader, and he’ll have to deal with a larger set of responsibilities, while also playing his way back to his old form. It won’t be easy.
With Antic forced into the starting lineup, the Hawks are seriously shallow in terms of their big men, while the Grizzlies may have the opposite problem, as Jon Leuer struggles to get minutes despite proving himself as a worthy rotation piece throughout Gasol’s absence. Lou Williams is probably the best player either team will have on their second unit. Williams was a big art of the Sixers team that made the second round two years ago, and he’s fit right on this Hawks squad, emerging as a frightening source of offense. Darius Morris has bounced the league, notably playing for both L.A. teams, but the responsibility will be on him to run the second unit, which has been a notorious weak spot for the Grizzlies ever since the departure of Greivis Vasquez in 2011.