Who: Memphis Grizzlies (24-20) Minnesota Timberwolves (23-22)
When: Friday, January 31th 7:00 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
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is a huge one. The Grizzlies have been on fire this week, taking down the surprising Blazers on Monday, and taking care of businesses against Rudy Gay and the Kings on Wednesday. Now, they take on the Timberwolves, whoa re just 1.5 games behind them in the West, and are also fighting for a limited number of spots in the playoffs. Like the Grizzlies, there’s reason to believe the Wolves are better than their record. In Minnesota’s case, it’s because of their eternal struggle to win close games, which they may have cured in recent weeks. This will not be an easy win for either team, but if the Grizzlies can pulloff yet another win, their playoff chances will be looking as strong as they’ve looked since the beginning of the season.
Mike Conley vs Ricky Rubio
Conley ripped it up once again against the Kings, putting up 27 points and 10 assists. His All-Star snub may bother some fans, but no one denies his talents at this point. Tonight, he’ll be going against Ricky Rubio, who is historically bad at shooting, but really good in just about every other area. The fact that he is still a viable starting point guard despite a total inability to hit shots from the field speaks to his excellent abilities as a ball distributor. Still, his jumpers rarely go on, and Conley figures to have a relatively easy time defending him. It’ll be up to the rest of the defense to preent Rubio from finding his teammates wide open for easy assists.
Courtney Lee vs Kevin Martin
Martin is a consistently overlooked player, despite proving his value on dozens of occasions. When the Wolves signed him in the offseason, it barely registered any hype at all, and now he’s averaging 20 a game, and you rarely hear about it. Still, as anyone who watched Martin in Game 1 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series last year knows, Martin is a scoring machine. Lee has been playing extremely well since arriving in Memphis, but if Martin heats up, Grizzlies fans could find themselves really, really wishing the Grindfather was back in the lineup. Look for Lee to guard Rubio, while Conley – a strong perimeter defender - handles Martin the majority of the time.
Tayshaun Prince vs Corey Brewer
At this point, I want Joerger to put James Johnson in the lineup over Prince not because of any specific aversion I have to Prince, but because it’s harder and harder to think of things to say about him when I write these. He had a decade-long stretch as a quality starter for the Pistons, then he put a Grizzlies jersey on and immediately became washed up. Sorry, but that’s just how it is. As for Brewer’s, he’s what every initial lottery bust hopes to become: a solid fourth option. After playing a very minor role in Dallas’s 2011 title, Brewer pent two years as a solid rotation piece for the Nuggets before heading to Minnesota and doing a solid job as the starting small forward. he’s still a great athlete, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he put a few moves on the aging Prince tonight.
Zach Randolph vs Kevin Love
If all we’re going on is numbers, Kevin Love is easily the best power forward in the game. Between his incredible rebounding skill, and his ability to stretch the floor, if you were going to build around one big man, he’d be your best bet. I had no problem with him starting over Aldridge in the All-Star game even though the Blazers have the better record, because when its All-Star time, it’s about selecting the best players – when the MVP vote goes on, we can consider the success of their team a bit more. Anyway, Love wins this won in a landslide, but anyone going against Z-Bo is going to have his hands full in one way or another.
Marc Gasol vs Nikola Pekovic
Two European centers who are known for excellent defense, but only one of them scares the living daylights out of me. But while Pekovic would have the slight edge in a barfight, Gasol is clearly the superior center. We knew the Grizzlies would be better once Marc came back, but the 7-1 mark they’ve put up is astonishing. When Marc Gasol is healthy, this team is clearly capable of beating anyone else in the league. As for this individual matchup, looking for a lot of banging bodies, and a fair amount of frustration over controversial calls against both players. This will be the matchup of the night, and if you enjoyed watching the Bad Boy Pistons of the late 80s, you wont want to miss it.
Nick Calathes continues to surprise and inspire us by looking more and more like competent basketball player with each passing game. While his early struggles were frustrating for obvious reasons, it is worth considering that he may have just had a rough time getting used to the NBA that he’s used to it now. For the Wolves, J.J. Barea is a high-energy backup guard who could wreak havoc for the Grizzlies if they aren’t able to contain him. He’s not the most efficient or consistent guard in the league, but when he’s on, look out. Former Grizzly Dante Cunningham continues to be sneakily effective – you don’t think about him going into the game, but then he hits a few shots and you think “oh, right, this guy’s not bad.” If you read Danny Chau’s piece on James Johnson for Grantland, do it now because its awesome. Long live Bloodsport!
Assessing The Enemy