Who: Memphis Grizzlies (41-28) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (34-34)
When: Monday, March 24th, 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
So the Grizzlies survived the nasty weekend by hanging with the Heat until the end, and following up with a rather convincing victory over the somewhat fading, but still more than formidable Pacers. In an incredibly dialed in defensive affair, they were able to hold the Eastern Conference leading Pacers to just 71 points Saturday night. They limited Paul George to just 8 points on 2-10 shooting, while offensively attacking Roy Hibbert into 5 fouls and just 20 minutes of play. Tonight they host 2008 draft pick (in title only, since he was traded for OJ Mayo) Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are reeling on the second game of a back to back after blowing a 22 point lead in their 7 point loss to the Suns yesterday afternoon.
Mike Conley vs Ricky Rubio
Young, naiive, and unaware of just how awesome Mike Conley would become, I had Blond Ricky as my far-and-away choice for the Grizzlies’ #2 overall selection in the 2009 draft (I guess this is turning into a draft-themed preview). While I’m not exactly glad with how that draft class ultimately turned out for the Grizz, I’m pretty satisfied with the direction that they chose to take the franchise in terms of the point guard position. Conley is gritting it out through a nagging ankle malady, but had a great game against Indiana (21 pts on 9-15 shooting) and has his PER floating upstream towards 20. Rubio on the other hand is becoming a fine NBA player in some respects, while falling short in others. His passing game is incredibly refined for this stage of his career, but when it comes to shooting the ball, Rubio is a mess. He’s at 37.5% from the floor on the year, with a surprisingly decent 3 point percentage, but a marked lack of success at the rim and a shot chart that rivals Tayshaun Prince’s.
Courtney Lee vs Kevin Martin
Courtney Lee continues to struggle in the month of March, and his minutes are starting to feel the burn as a result of it. If you take his 19 point, 5 long-ball outburst against Cleveland on March 1st out of the equation, his statistics have been horrendous. From the next game (March 3rd against the Wizards) forward, he’s been averaging just 8.2 points per contest, and shooting 14.8% from trey. Ouch. His counterpart for the evening, Kevin Martin has returned from injury bringing his trademarked marksmanship back to the Wolves, averaging 20.5 ppg since. Martin has long been a thorn in the Grizzlies’ side, and I’d be surprised not to see a lot of Tony Allen on his hip; especially given that Tayshaun Prince’s matchup is not too much of a devastating cover (since we can’t have much of Allen/Prince on the court together).
Tayshaun Prince vs Corey Brewer
If you blinked and missed it over the weekend, Sam Amick of USA Today Sports posted a great interview with Coach Joerger, which provides some insight into the Tayshaun Prince situation and the much maligned (from a fan perspective) “veteran leadership” that he provides. The fact of the matter is, as repulsive as Prince’s play has been aesthetically, and by and large numerically, his defense, both individual and within the team concept has been rock steady. Just look at the marquee matchups that Prince faced this weekend. By the law of seasonal averages, LeBron James and Paul George should have dropped a combined 48.6 points on the Grizz over the weekend. The actual result? 23 combined points, good for less than half. Surely there are a number of factors that played into this including but not limited to team defensive schemes, and to a lesser extent game pace, but it would be criminal to downplay Tayshaun’s central role as the primary man defender. His draw tonight is the far less daunting Corey Brewer, who is not much of a worry for Memphis, but did drop a nasty 5-three pointer 26 point game against the Grizz as a Nugget a few years back… for whatever reason, I can’t forget that game.
Advantage: Minny on paper, Memphis in reality
Zach Randolph vs Kevin Love
Love this matchup. No pun intended. There are a few guys that Zbo squares off against and takes pretty personally, and I believe that Kevin Love is one of them. Love is the 20-10 poster boy of the NBA, for good reason. His lower body strength and prowess in winning rebound battles before the ball comes off the rim is uncanny. Love also catches a lot of heat for his lack of team success, for not such great reason. When you look at what he’s doing in perspective, he’s truly one of the more remarkable offensive players in the NBA. As for his defense, there are certainly some shortcomings, but David Thorpe did a good job of discussing them with Henry Abbot on TrueHoop TV. Randolph has a tough assignment tonight, and we may end up seeing a lot of stretch four action in attempt to keep up with Love on the perimeter, be it with James Johnson or Jon Leuer.
Marc Gasol vs Gorgui Dieng
Dieng, the rookie out of reigning NCAA champion Louisville, who like Kevin Love was acquired by Minnesota in a draft day trade, has been absolutely sensational standing in for the once again injured Nikola Pekovic. Since slipping into the lineup, Dieng has laid down a 5 block game, a 100% from the field double-double, and a 22 point 21 rebound performance, with 4 assists to boot. With the small sample size backing him, I’m going to air on the side of longevity and give the nod to Marc, who is grinding through some ankle issues of his own thanks to the sprain at Miami, but this one could go either way with Dieng as hot as he his right now.
Off the Bench:
Reports were rampant all along the deadline that the Grizzlies were pushing for a deal to trade Tayshaun for Chase Budinger. Well, the front office may have dodged the bullet of taking on the extra year salary for a guy who’s averaging 4.3 points on 36.5% shooting, and 19.2% from the arc in March. The Grizzlies’ bench has been absolutely sensational since the break, employing a rotation of Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Nick Calathes, and Kosta Koufos, with periodic appearances from James Johnson, Jon Leuer, and elusive cameos out of Ed Davis. After the way the Grizz ended last season, never in my wildest dreams did I think they would turn out a bench this deep in such short order. Since his return from injury, the Grizzlies are on average outscoring opponents by 12.4 points per 100 possessions with sixth-man extraordinaire Tony Allen on the court. In fact, though highly correlated to the Allen stat, the same can be said of Koufos, Calathes, and even Leuer over the span. And heck, Miller’s shooting revelation (4 long balls against Indiana on Saturday) has been a much needed diversification to the team’s offensive attack. Since December 21st (arbitrary, but I look at the Dec. 21 game against the Knicks as the turning point of the season), the Grizzlies are 11-2 when Miller hits 2 or more three pointers.