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How about our Grizzlies, eh? Winners of nine out of their last ten games, and sitting just a half a game behind Dallas looking into the playoff picture. With a back-to-back set to tip off tonight, the 3 Shades of Blue team busted out the new “Friday Morning Chalkboard 3000,” and took some time to shoot off a few quick heat check questions.

1. Team MVP for the month of January goes to:

January MVP

Phillip Dean: MVP has to be the new Grizzlies Double-Double King Zach Randolph. He has been an absolute force in the paint and now he has his tag team partner Marc Gasol is back with him. The only double-doubles he didn’t get this month was against the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings. As Marshawn Lynch would say he is in “beast mode.”

Zach Thomas: Mike Conley. I almost put Marc Gasol though.

Matt Noe: Easy answer, but it’s Gasol. No, he’s not himself. Yet. No, he is not quite as efficient patrolling the perimeter of the painted area as he will be. But his return has elevated the Grizzlies’ defense to where it has to be, and his elbow offense is coming around nicely.

Carl Chaplin: Who has the highest average of points per game, assists per game and minutes per game? Who will push the team when they are not playing well and push himself to play better? Who is the clear leader and one of the two go-to-men on the Grizzlies, when you need a basket? Who has a stat line for January of GP-14, MPG-35.5, FG%-.488, RPG-3.1, APG-6.4, BLKPG-0.2, STPG-1.5, PFPG-1.7, PPG-20.0? That’s the Grizzlies MVP for January. Mike Conley is the MAN.

Steve Danziger: Mike Conley. Marc Gasol has been paramount as a catalyst to help this team establish its footing, but it’s important to note that the Grizz were already 4-2 in January when he rejoined the lineup. Conley has been steering this ship upstream since well before Gasol’s return, and his stats for January are remarkable: 20.0 ppg, 48.8% from the field, and wait for it… 45.3% from downtown!

2. The Grizz are destroying the rest of the league in Defensive Efficiency (93.2) since Gasol’s return. Can they keep up this level of defense?

Phillip: No but it won’t be as much of a change IMO. You may see the Defensive Efficiency change from somewhere between (93-97) but I think now that Joerger has his DPOY (Gasol) back, the Grizzlies will once again be a team that no one wants to play in the first round.

Zach: Which is why I almost put Marc Gasol for number 1. Yes, I do think they can keep up this level of defense. Maybe they do not maintain 93.2, but they can easily be the best in the league over the remaining games. Tony Allen isn’t even back yet either.

Matt: Yes. When TA comes back, starter or bench, the defense won’t exactly get worse, now will it? It’s going to at least maintain its current level, which is, finally, we can say it, elite. It might hurt a bit if Allen plays fast and loose immediately, as Gasol still isn’t quite ready to soak up all the slack-especially in light of the fact that Courtney Lee has played a bit more conservatively-but the defense is sustainable.

Carl: I do think they can keep it under 93. They have 18 games left against East Conf teams. They have 21 games left to play against teams that are at or under 500 at this time. That 55% of the remaining 38 games against 500 or under teams. Yes, they can keep the level of defense they’ve been playing up for the rest of the season, even if it ends up being a little higher.

Steve: I’m not going to get carried away and say their defense will be this good for the rest of the season, but I see the aggregate on the year creeping into permanent position in the top 10, for sure. What worries me a bit, however, is the lack of improvement in offensive efficiency (102.4 vs. 102.9 on the year) over this span, but hey wins are wins.

3. Is Nick Calathes coming around? Do you feel confident with him as the #2 point guard?

NC

Phillip: Every time I’ve talked to him after games since the Bayless trade he has said his confidence is growing more and more each game. He understands that he needs to be a facilitator to guys like Davis, Miller, Johnson, and Koufos. I do feel like he is coming around as long as he doesn’t shoot as much and works more on being the facilitator. I’m confident right now but don’t be shocked if the Grizzlies look for another PG for the roster.

Zach: I believed Nick Calathes was the right guy from the beginning. I had some doubts at times, but mainly about his decision making and not his ability. I still doubt the decision making at times, but as he has become more comfortable with the NBA game flow, he has gained confidence. Now we see a more confident shooter and passer and his defense is even surprising me at times. While I do think we need a 3rd PG just in case, I believe that Calathes can play well enough and will continue to develop into the guy we all want him to be.

Matt: As the #2 right now, it’s getting much better, although that choke job at the end of the second quarter of the game at SAC was unpleasant to say the least. However, if the playoffs become an even more realistic possibility, a third PG will be a necessity and not just because of Calathes. Post-deadline, there will be guys cut/waived/etc., and there could be a vet-min guy around just to soak up any minutes that might be needed.

Carl: Nick is getting better and has shown that he’s willing to shoot more than he did at first. He isn’t making as many bad passes and his defense has improved. He seems more comfortable with the team, the plays and his role than at first. However, unless he improves, like Conley has by a lot of hard work, he shouldn’t be the Grizzlies future #2 guard.

Steve: Confident enough that I am nowhere near willing to surrender any of our frontcourt depth in order to acquire another point guard at this point. I’m content with the keys to the second unit in Nick’s hands, but I do think that it’d be best for the front office to make a move on signing a more scoring-oriented guard to provide a change of pace on nights in which he or Conley cannot get it going.

4. Eight games left before the All-Star break. How many do the Grizzlies win?

Phillip: I see the Grizzlies going 6-2. Need these wins badly especially against a division rival the Dallas Mavericks. The OKC road game on February 3rd will be a great match up.

Zach: Let’s unpack this a bit: @Min- W, vs MIL- W, @OKC- L, vs DAL- W, @ATL- W, @CLE- W, vs WAS- W, @ORL- W. So 7-1? That’s 8 games in 13 days. 3 back to backs. Fortunately the 3 teams we get on the second of the back to back are lesser teams (MIL, CLE, ORL). However, this is the NBA and we can’t take anybody lightly.

Matt: Five, maybe six. And that’s just fine. As long as the air doesn’t fully leave the balloon before the long weekend, the Grizzlies’ confidence will still be super high headed into the home stretch. The ATL/CLE back-to-back will be surprisingly tough, and OKC and Dallas are anything but easy outs.

Carl: 7 wins and 1 loss:
W – Jan., Fri 31 @ Minnesota
W – Feb., Sat 1 vs Milwaukee
L – Feb., Mon 3 @ Oklahoma City
W – Feb., Wed 5 vs Dallas
W – Feb., Sat 8 @ Atlanta
W -Feb., Sun 9 @ Cleveland
W – Feb., Tue 11 vs Washington
W – Feb., Wed 12 @ Orlando

Steve: Arrogance ensues, as I’m getting greedy and calling seven of ‘em falling in Memphis’s favor. The Grizzlies storm into the break plowing through some Eastern Conference bottom-feeders, before logging some much needed rest. You may say I’m a dreamer…

5. Curveball in the 5 slot: Broncos /Seahawks, who you got?

Phillip: Seahawks.

Zach: I respect Peyton Manning’s game and recognize his talent as one of the best ever — and I recognize he and his wife are minority owners of our Grizzlies, but I just can’t get over his whiny tude on the field. He reminds me of Tim Duncan. One of the greatest ever, but “never makes a mistake” and always blames someone else. Therefore, I gotta say Seahawks.

Matt: Dangit, I was wondering why there were so few NBA games scheduled for this Sunday. Is there a football game or something?

Carl: Broncos by 10 points+.

Steve: Broncos. I owe the husband of Grizzlies part-owner Ashley Manning the deepest level of gratitude for my fantasy football season. Thus, I’ll be pulling for him to take home his second Super Bowl ring in a big way.

Have any questions for the 3 Shades of Blue staff to chew on? Feel free to send them our way via the comment section, e-mail, calling into 3SOB Radio on Sports56 every Saturday morning, sending smoke signals, or reaching out to the 3SOB team on Twitter with the hashtag #FridayMorningFive!

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