When: Monday, January 20th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
The Grizzlies are over .500, only a couple games out of the 8th spot, and they have yet to lose since Marc Gasol returned to the lineup. To put it simply, things are going really, ridiculously well for this team lately. The darkness that consumed so much of the first half of this season has gone away, and the Grizzlies appear primed to make a playoff run. Tonight, they take on a severely depleted Pelicans team, as they are missing Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and Tyreke Evans. While the Grizzlies are looking stronger than ever, the Pelicans are collapsing under the weight of massive injury problems. Folks, this could get ugly.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Brian Roberts
The Holiday injury was a really tough blow for this team. He was just beginning to really gel with his teammates, and his assist numbers were just shy of eight per game. Now, the Pelicans turn things over to Brian Roberts, who is a decent backup point guard, but doesn’t figure to be much more than a spot starter for the Pelicans. They keys for Roberts will be to avoid careless mistakes, and get the ball into the hands of the Pelicans main scorers (Gordon, Davis). Unfortunately for him, hes going against Mike Conley who is routinely among the leaders in steals. If Roberts isn’t ready for Conley’s strong perimeter defense (note: Conley may end up guarding Gordon, giving Roberts the easier Courtney Lee matchup), he’s going to be in for a long night.
Courtney Lee vs Eric Gordon
Like many, I was apprehensive about pulling the trigger on the Bayless trade. Sure, he had struggled up to that point, but wasn’t he are only viable backup point guard? Well, I’m still unsure about Calathes, but the excellent play the Grizzlies have gotten from Lee more than makes up for it. The Tony Allen injury could have been a serious blow to this team, but Lee has done a fine job in the starting lineup, and an extra bit of offensive potency. When the Grindfather returns, look for Lee to become the main scorer off the bench, or if the Joerger is really feeling frisky, looking for a starting lineup of Conley-Lee-Allen-Randolph-Gasol. Eric Gordon was supposed to be the Next Big Thing back in 2011, but injuries, and a general decline in performance have led to a serious decrease in the hype surrounding him. Still, he is a pretty guard offensive 2-guard, and he’s due for a big game. Hopefully, Lee – or Conley – can handle the task of guarding him, or this could be one of the games where the Grizzlies really miss TA.
Advantage: New Orleans
Tayshaun Prince vs Al-Farouq Aminu
Easily the least sexy liineup of the night. On one hand, Prince has actually looked decent a few times lately, but on the other hand it’s disheartening to think that anything we get from him is a gift at this point, because he was expected to contribute a lot more. He’s trying his best, and he’s still a solid defender, but it’s hard to deny the offensive possessions where he seems to have no presence whatsoever. As for Aminu, he’s a solid defender, and a great athlete who occasionally makes wait-how-the-hell-did-he-do-that sort of play. He’s unlikely to blossom into a multi-faceted offensive threat, but he’s a solid glue guy for the Pelicans who can have a big night once in awhile.
Advantage: New Orleans
Zach Randolph vs Anthony Davis
It’s so weird how people were underwhelmed by Davis’s rookie campaign. No, he didn’t average 20 points a game, but his PER and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes were both better than that of Kevin Durant and Lebron James’ rookie campaigns. Surprise, surprise, it’s year two, and he’s putting up 20-10 a night, and he’s only going to get better. The ‘Brow will be quite a challenge for Z-Bo, since he’s both extremely tall and incredibly athletic. Z-Bo’s craftiness will have out-perform Davis’ pure athleticism if he’s going to have a big game tonight. With Ryan Anderson out, and the Pelicans lacking any other truly threatening big men, look for there to be a few sequences when Gasol is given the task of guarding Davis.
Advantage: New Orleans
Marc Gasol vs Jason Smith
Jason Smith is one of the bigger sneaky-good players in the NBA. His numbers are never especially flashy, but whenever you watch him play, it seems like he could be a threat. Despite having one of the uglier shots in the league, Smith is one of the shooting centers from mid-range in the league. Still, it’s hard to be too worried about him when Marc is back in the lineup. Smith will have to rely on his jumper if he’s going to be effective tonight, because Gasol has a much stronger post presence.
While Holiday is the only injury among Pelicans starters, their second unit has been destroyed lately. Their two best bench players – Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans are both out, and Brian Roberts has been pushed into the starting lineup. This means struggling sophomore Austin Rivers is back in the rotation, and Monty Williams will likely be thrilled to get any kind of legitimate production out of him. As for the Grizzlies, relying on Calathes for anything is still a bit frightening, but beyond that, the Grizzlies bench looks pretty strong. Having Koufos come off the bench again does wonders for their depth, even if it also raises the question of how does Jon Leuer get minutes (so far, he hasn’t). James Johnson has cooled of slightly, but he’s still probably the best small forward on the roster, and we get at least one really fun Ed Davis thing per game