Who: Memphis Grizzlies (25-20) Milwaukee Bucks (8-36)
When: Wednesday, January 29th 9:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Watch and Listen: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
Boy oh boy. When we previewed the Milwaukee Bucks this summer as part of the Assessing the Enemy series (linked below), I wrote that I expected them to be video game good, and real life bad. Little did I know that there would be almost nothing redeeming about this team, realistically or virtually speaking. The thought was that the Bucks were the team that was making decisions over the summer that would propel them to the lower-middle of the pack, when they were in prime position to blow the season in favor of some alluring 2014 ping pong balls. Well, if the season were to end today, they’d find themselves in pole position for a 25% chance at the number one pick. It’d be tough to get mad with the Grizzlies in any instance given how well they’ve played of late, but I’d be pretty darn peeved if they dropped this one against the least successful team in the league this year… even without Conley in the lineup.
Nick Calathes vs Nate Wolters
Tears. All of the tears will be shed. At this juncture there’s no telling what Mike Conley’s status will be going forward, but after he left last night’s game on crutches, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll be missing this one. The next question is then who starts in his place? Down the stretch last night, Coach Joerger opted to shift Courtney Lee down to the one spot with Miller on the floor at the two and the rest of the starters filling out the frontcourt. I see it unlikely that he goes with this lineup to begin the game tonight, so I expect Calathes to get the nod, but with a short leash. Lining up on the other side is probably going to be Nate Wolters, a rookie point guard who logged his eighth start of the season last night against the Magic, playing 40 minutes and coming up 2 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist shy of a trip-dub.
Advantage: Milwaukee :(
Courtney Lee vs Brandon Knight
“C-Lee for three” continues to outplay basically whomever the Grizzlies have tossed him out there against, since putting on a Memphis blue uniform. Now that I’ve issued the kiss of death, let’s see if he keeps it up tonight. He’s most likely to find himself matched up against Brandon Knight, who pretty much went nuts the last time the Grizzlies played the Bucks.
Tayshaun Prince vs Khris Middleton
I was all ready to make some obnoxiously en vouge joke about how stoked I was to finally be able to spell, “Antetokounmpo,” when I saw that the Bucks held him out of the starting lineup last night vs. Orlando. Pity. Well, it’s probably for the best. Anywho, Khris Middleton will be starting for Milwaukee across from Tayshaun Prince, and though he may not be a household name, he’s definitely not a player you want to sleep on. The second year forward went awfully cold to start the month of January, but is getting back into rhythm, and is shooting 42% from the arc as a starter. However, Tayshaun delivered one of the more memorable moments of the season with his elegantly elongated post-three pose last night, and has been really clutch in the past few games, so I’m going to be nice to him here.
Zach Randolph vs Ersan Ilyasova
This season has been nothing short of an NBA rendition of the movie Twister for Ersan Ilyasova. For you baseball fans, he reminds me of the enigmatic New York Mets’ first baseman Ike Davis. Two years ago, Ike opened up the season in one of the nastiest batting slumps I’ve ever seen, only to rip 27 home runs (for you non-baseball fans, that’s damn good) in the second half. The following season, he started off slow yet again, but this time around failed to redeem himself. Ilyasova’s season ain’t over yet and he has had his moments, but the big picture is not looking pretty, and stuck in the paint bruising with the scorching Zach Randolph doesn’t project to be a friendly opportunity to create an point of inflection. The one caveat here will be Randolph’s ability to chase him out on the perimeter.
Marc Gasol vs Larry Sanders
Speaking of embattled players, how about Larry Sanders? The guy was on the cusp of Defensive Player of the Year consideration last year, earning himself a pretty contract in the summer. Then he went and tore a thumb ligament in a barfight and has been all over the place on the court ever since making his return to the court. Last night was one of the high points on Larry’s roller coaster, as he emphatically stated to Orlando that he does not believe in magic, with his 4 block, 4 steal defensive exhibition. Marc is grinding his way back into form, and looked a little bit worn out last night, so I’d look to see a lot of a fresh Kosta Koufos, who racked up a DNP-CD last night, in this one.
As fun as James Johnson has been, the enthusiasm with which he has played since putting on a Grizzlies jersey has been both a blessing and a curse, as much like the beloved Grindfather Tony Allen, he sort of makes you live with the bad to enjoy all the good. Take last night for example: he may have gone 1-4 from the field, including a nasty air-mailed three point attempt, but he still managed to put up two blocks in just over 12 minutes of play — one of which was of the ever-popular “block a three point attempt” brand. In terms of guard depth, the Grizz are in trouble with Conley out, having only Jamaal Franklin and Mike Miller to turn to in that regard. While the Bucks’ roster is not much to write home about, they actually have some weapons off the bench with the way their recent starting lineup has been constructed. Even without John Henson (sprained wrist) or OJ Mayo (not with team – illness) likely to be available for the game, they still have Caron Butler, Giannis, and Luke Ridnour if he doesn’t rack up another DNP-CD.