Who: Memphis Grizzlies (31-23) Charlotte Bobcats (25-30)
When: Saturday, February 22nd 7:00 PM CST
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
Watch and Listen: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
The days when the Bobcats were a team that could be easily mocked are long gone. Since acquiring Al Jefferson in the summer, the Bobcats have become a much scarier team, and a are currently fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot in a tight Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are within striking distance of the Top 8 in the West. they match up well against the Bobcats, but they can’t take this one lightly.
Mike Conley vs Kemba Walker
Walker was the hero for UConn three years ago, and since, he’s quietly developed into a quality starting point guard for the Bobcats. He’s not the best shooter in the world (currently at .413 for the season), but he can get to the hoop and put points on the board. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were happy to have Conley make a speedy recovery (though they went 4-3 without him), as his 22 points helped lead the Grizzlies past the Knicks in his first game. Walker is an entertaining player who has gotten better each year, but Conley is a more experienced, and more well-ronded player, and he should have the clear edge tonight.
Courtney Lee vs Gerald Henderson
Two years ago, Henderson was the lone bright spot on a dreadful Bobcats team that would go onto finish with the worst record in NBA history. Now, he’s putting up the same numbers on a much better team, illustrating that his success in 11-12 wasn’t simply the product of being the only semi-decent player on a generally dreadful team, but a reflection of genuine talent. Meanwhile, Lee continues to shine for the Grizzlies. As recently as three months ago, it would have been unthinkable to consider another player rendering Tony Allen expendable, but as Lee continues to shine, we’re veering closer and closer into that territory. Like many other Grizz fans, I’m glad the Allen and Prince to Minnesota deal fell through, but if Lee keeps this up, the idea of #9 leaving town will edge ever closer to becoming a reality.
Tayshaun Prince vs Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
After shining at Kentucky two years ago, MKG has struggled in the NBA He’s a solid defender, and the talent is clearly there, but the guy just cant shoot. More frighteningly, he’s realized that, and rarely ever even tries to score these days. NBA life has frustrated him, and turned him into a far more tentative player than he was in his lone season with the Wildcats. As much as Prince has been struggling, this could be a good match up for him. Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to figure out how to be an offensive player in the NBA, and Prince is still a quality defender. Look for Prince to either get in MKG’s face all night long, or be switched to Henderson if it becomes obvious that he’s a bigger concern.
Zach Randolph vs Josh McRoberts
McRoberts was a nice pickup off the scrap heap for the Bobcats last year. After a few decent years with the Pacers, he failed to make any significant impression with the Lakers and the Magic. it looked like his NBA career was on the outs, but late last season, the Bobcats took a chance on McBob, and he revitalized his career, becoming a key contributor down the stretch. Since then, he’s outworked lottery picks Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller and earned a permanent place for himself in the starting lineup. Unfortunately for McRoberts, he goes up against Z-Bo tonight, a one-man wrecking crew who can render the best power forwards powerless, and should have no problem manhandling the decent-but-unspectacular McRoberts.
Marc Gasol vs Al Jefferson
The Bobcats signing Al Jefferson was one of the better moves of last summer, but no one wanted to give them any credit for it at the time. rather than discussing how Jefferson’s brilliant offensive game would improve the team (he was replacing Byron Mullens!), critics of the deal focused merely on his poor defense and how he wouldn’t be good enough to push the Bobcats into the playoffs. Jefferson has made those people eat their words, since not only do the Bobcats currently sit in the 8th place in the Eastern Conference, but Jefferson’s defensive rating is a career-best 99, as he has thrived under Steve Clifford’s defense-friendly system. Marc’s return has been a huge help for the Grizzlies, but e’s still playing his way into shape, and could have some problems with Jefferson, who is playing the best basketball of his career.
Advantage: Charlotte (barely)
Ramon Sessions is one of the best backup point guards in the league, but the Bobcats had no problem giving him up in exchange for Gary Neal on Deadline Day. Neal shined with the Spurs, but his struggles in Milwaukee give the indication that he needs to be part of a quality system in order to thrive. Time will tell if he’ll be able to rekindle his previous success in Charlotte, but since Milwaukee is an absolute trainwreck that could bring anyone down, he certainly can’t be counted out. Bismack Biyombo still can’t shoot but he’s picking his spots mire wisely, and has seen his field goal percentage rank amongst the best in the league. Cody Zeller was supposed to be the most talented Zeller brother, but Tyler was doing better at this point in his rookie season last year. As for the Grizz, Mike Miller stepped it up against the Knicks with 19 points, reminding us he cant be ignored, while Nick Calathes continued his strong play with 11 points and five assists. The team is still struggling to find enough time for Ed Davis, but it’s hard not to like how deep they are at this point.