When: Saturday, March 22nd 7:00 PM CST
Where: Fed Ex Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis Grizzlies (41-27), Indiana Pacers (50-18)
Media: SportSouth, NBA League Pass, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB Twitter / Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
Man, talk about a gauntlet! With the Grizzlies in the midst of a brutal playoff race, they play the two best teams in the East on back-to-back nights. Although, if were being honest, the Pacers haven’t really been themselves lately. Their early-season swagger has faded, and they are desperately clinging to the 1-seed in the eastern Conference (a similar slump by the Heat has kept them there). Paul George has fallen into a shooting funk, while the team still hasn’t figured out how to integrate Evan Turner into the lineup. Also, Andrew Bynum just got hurt again, and no one knows what – if anything – to expect from him. The Pacers come into this game with the stronger record, but the Grizzlies ship has been sailing much more smoothly in recent weeks.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs George Hill
Ok, let’s be honest; we’re a little bit worried about that “75% healthy” quote from Conley, right? I mean, having him is always better than not having him, but he did have a few weak games lately, and the idea that he’s only threes quarters of his usual dynamic self is more than a little frightening with the playoffs on the horizon. We can only hope that Conley is either underestimating himself, or that he plays himself into better shape as the weeks roll along. Meanwhile, George Hill is probably the weak spot in the Pacers ultra-solid starting lineup at this point, but he’s still a quality starting point guard, and long ago eliminated the notion that he was simply a three-point weapon off the bench.
Back when TA was the starting 2-guard, we could make a comparison about how Stephenson is more or less the evolutionary Tony Allen – a similarly aggressive style of play, but with better shooting and passing. Now, with Lee in the starting five, it’s essentially a contrast between a low-usage, but solid shooting 2-guard, and a guy who pretty much does everything at this point. Stephenson didn’t quite make the All-Star squad, but he has a decent shot an earning Most Improved Player honors as the leap his game has taken this year is nothing short of astonishing. Meanwhile, Lee continues to take fewer shots with Allen back in the lineup. It’s hard not to get the sense that Allen is the team’s true #1 shooting guard, and that Lee is still starting nly because of the problems of going into a game with TA and Prince both on the court.
Paul George’s game has declined since the beginning of the season, which has been kind of a bummer for those who loved watching his stunning evolution is November, in which he looked like a potential MVP candidate. Mind you, he’s still an excellent young player, but he’s crashed down to earth lately, and we’re left with the realization that hes simply not on the level of LeBron and KD just yet. Still, this is by far the easiest match up to pick tonight, as one of the league’s best small forwards goes against a 12-year veteran who just isn’t anywhere near the player he used to be. Hopefully, Prince’s admittedly still good defense can prevent George from lighting up the scoreboard tonight – if not, this will be an extremely one-sided matchup.
It’s weird to think about how much these players have in common – each of the them have been in the league for over a decade, have made a handful of All-Star teams, and are an integral part of blue-collar defensive minded systems. At this point, though, Randolph is just producing at higher level than West. While Z-Bo isn’t averaging 20 a night anymore, he’s still a double-double machine, and he’s averaging more than four points a game more than West this season. It can be argued that some of this because West a low-usage player within Pacers system, but it seems hard to deny that Randolph’s skills are holding up just a bit better at this point.
Two of the three best defensive centers in the league (Joakim Noah would be the other one), this figures to be the marquee matchup of the night. After not totally looking like himself when initially returning to the lineup, Gasol appears to have gotten his groove back, and once again looks like one of the best bigs in the game. As for Hibbert, his defensive skills are undeniable, but he continues to be inconsistent on the offensive end. Some nights, he completely lights it up from the floor, like he did in last year’s playoffs, but other nights, he more or less disappears, and is rendered ineffective. Gasol is one of the few centers in the game who can match Hibbert in terms of defensive prowess, and at this point, he’s much more reliable on the opposite end of the floor.
As I mentioned earlier, the Pacers have struggled fitting Evan Turner into their lineup. When they acquired him from the Sixers at the trade deadline, it seemed like a great move – a quality sixth man for now, and great insurance for next season if the Pacers are unable to resign Stephenson. But while Turner has had his moments with the Pacers, he still doesn’t really fit into the Pacer system – they’re a slow, defense-first team, and he’s the kind of guy who struggles without the ball in his hands. Still, he’s certainly a talented player, and he could to some damage if the Pacers sort those bugs out come playoff time. Not much is new on the Grizzlies front; still super deep, still looking for minutes for JJ; still a nice problem to have.