When: Friday, January 10th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Sprawled out on the sofa in my hotel room overlooking the Forum and Beale Street, I struggle to shake the lament of the heartbreak that was Tuesday night’s game. It was just another one of the brand against the San Antonio Spurs, but in my rookie appearance at the FedEx Forum, being present in the arena certainly magnified the experience ten-fold. Anywho, the show must go on as the boys in blue gear up for another round of action in front of the home crowd tonight as they face a familiar opponent in the Phoenix Suns, who are rallying off of a last-second victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Grizzlies played these guys in their first game of 2014 in what was without a doubt a throwback to the signature Grit n’ Grind victories of last season, and I’d expect no less of a showing to be projected on the court tonight.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Goran Dragic
It was a beastly effort from Goran Dragic that characterized the previous matchup from the Suns’ end as he shredded the Grizzlies’ defense at will to the tune of 33 points, 7 field goals worth of which came inside the paint. Mike Conley struggled mightily in that matchup having shot just 4-11 with 6 turnovers in that game, but has been executing quite nicely in the three games since, building up to his crunch time rampage against the Spurs. He has now registered three straight games with three three pointers made. That’s a mouthful. Dragic has always seemed to be a tough opponent for Conley, who is not alone in that regard. But since I advertise these “Advantage” analyses as nothing more or less than a product of my subjectivity, I’m going to bank on number 11 carrying the momentum over into this game, and figuring out how to force his Slovenian counterpart to his right hand.
Mike Miller vs Gerald Green
Who knows for sure what the matchup is going to be here? Mike Miller started for the Grizzlies in lieu of the injured Tony Allen in the last game, but newcomer Courney Lee finished it, and did so quite admirably. On the Suns’ radar at the two-guard spot is likely to be Gerald Green, as breakout stud Eric Bledsoe did not travel with the team on its road trip, and has now been ruled out indefinitely, in need of knee surgery. Stay tuned, but with Green coming in hot off his game-winning jumper in Minnesota, and Lee still learning the system, Phoenix takes this spot either way.
Tayshaun Prince vs PJ Tucker
I could preview these teams a hundred times, and still have trouble previewing this matchup. That is not meant in any way as a slight to Tayshaun or PJ Tucker — it’s just that “sexy” is not quite the word that I would use to describe their games. Tucker stands at a generously listed 6’6, short for the small forward spot, but let his height deceive you not — dude is a freight train out there on the court. Both parties are far more heralded for their defensive contributions, so it’s generally more interesting to watch these guys when they are cross-matched or up against more offensively dynamic counterparts. Lastly of note, Tucker has seriously stepped up his three point game this season, as he’s shooting a higher percentage from the arc (41.8%) than he is from the field as a whole (39.3%). So just don’t leave him open from the left corner (48.6%), Tay.
Zach Randolph vs Channing Frye
When these teams met last week, Zbo had another “vintage Zbo vs. the Suns” game, highlighted by his 20/15 night at 50% from the floor. His history of downright abusing the Phoenix franchise continues to grow like an eight-year-old’s Christmas list. On the other end of the floor, Channing Frye did all that he could to keep Zbo out of the paint and off the defensive glass, by launching ten three pointers, while connecting on a solid four of them. The Suns’ best defense against Randolph tonight will be to continue to try to keep him moving on the defensive end. So we’ll see how it all plays out.
Kosta Koufos vs Miles Plumlee
Playing time has been sporadic for Kosta Koufos on the Grizzlies’ crowded frontline, but in his limited time he has done a pretty good job of being productive whether or not his touch around the rim has been on his side at the given moment. That being said, there has been a lot of red on his shot chart, as seen below (especially at the rim), and defensively he needs to keep the fouls in check (3 in just 13 minutes of play against San Antonio, but the way the refs called that game, he might have just coughed a handful of times and gotten called for it).
Mr. Plumlee has continued his stretch of solid-not-spectacular play into the new year, doing basically all the things that you expect to see out of your team’s center, and per Synergy stats, opponents are shooting a mere 39.6% when matching up with him.
I just can’t get enough of James Johnson, and neither should you! If you went to bed early on Tuesday night and happened to miss the most audaciously awesome shot of the Grizzlies’ season, fear not for YouTube has you covered (around the 50 second mark). Additionally, his walking highlight reel of a night against San Antonio was completed with a double block of Manu Ginobili and a beautiful dunk through the lane. Beyond Mr. Johnson, it’s a bit disappointing that we will not get the chance to watch the evolution of the Jerryd Bayless/Goran Dragic tension unfold as discussed on 3SOB Radio last Saturday, but the newcomer in his place, Courtney Lee looked pretty good on both sides of the court Tuesday night for a guy that had less than 24 hours to prepare with his new team. Phoenix has just added ACL comeback story Leandro Barbosa in attempt to spell Ish Smith at the backup point, and beyond that the Morris twins are the extent of expectation to be trotted off the bench on the nightly.