Who: Memphis Grizzlies (38-26) Toronto Raptors (36-27)
When: Friday, March 14th, 6:00 PM CST
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontraio
Watch and Listen: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
All throughout this season, we’ve heard comments about how if (insert Western Conference Team here) played in the eastern Conference, they’d be the three-seed, and yes, that does currently hold true for the Grizzlies. Well, tonight, they’ll be going against the actual third place team in the East, as they take on the surprising Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. the Raptors began the season looking like their usual perpetually mediocre selves, but kicked things into gear in December after trading former Grizzly Rudy Gay. The Gay trade gave them a deeper bench, allowed them to insert Terrence Ross into the starting lineup, and eliminated the severe logic loop of having Gay and DeMar DeRozan playing at the same time. Simply put, this Raptors team is really good, and will likely push the Grizzlies to their limit tonight.
Mike Conley vs Kyle Lowry
Conley vs. his former teammate Kyle Lowry, and both of whom are having career seasons. Could you imagine going back 5-6 years ago and trying to convince a Grizzlies fan that in the future, Conley and Lowry would BOTH rank among the ten best point guards in the league? I mean, sure, they always had a lot of potential, but this has been a best case scenario for each of them. Each player was left off the All-Star rosters in their respective conferences, but there was a great case to be made for either of them, especially Lowry, who somehow lost out to Joe Johnson, who was coasting on name recognition. Their styles are fairly different – Lowry is an aggressive, rebound-grabbing guard, while Conley is more subtle, but they are both excellent team leaders, and this figures to be the matchup of the night.
Courtney Lee vs DeMar DeRozan
When DeRozan was selected to the All-Star game, it wasn’t met a huge outrage (not as much as the Joe Johnson pick, anyway), but it was mildly surprising that he was chosen as the Raptors representative because many thought that Lowry was the more logical pick, as he acts more or less the leader of the team. There was some validity to that, but DeRozan is having a breakout year, averaging nearly 23 a game, and establishing himself as the second best shooting guard in the east behind Dwyane Wade. DeRozan is often written off as merely a volume shooter, but while there is some truth to that, his shots have been falling this year, and he’s one of the best scorers in the league. Look to see Allen get a fair amount of minutes guarding DeRozan tonight, while Lee may take on Ross at various points.
Tayshaun Prince vs Terrence Ross
Ross’s per-game numbers arent particularly eye-popping, but when he gets in the zone, he’s one of the hardest scorers to stop, as evidenced by his 50-point explosion earlier this year. In Monday’s lost to the Nets, Ross had 12 points in the first quarter, and looked like he was about to go off. Sadly, we didn’t much from him for the rest of the game, but his early burst of points was a fine example of just how deadly a scorer he can be when he gets into his groove. It’ll be interesting to see if Prince – still a pretty solid defender despite all the other stuff – can keep him in check tonight.
Zach Randolph vs Amir Johnson
Amir Johnson has been a hero of the analytics community for years, always putting up advanced stats that are considerably stronger than his per game averages. This year, the rest of the world is finally seeing what the hype is about in his first full season as a starter. He’s averaging a solid 10 points and six boards a game, but more importantly, he’s shooting above .55 from the field, and continues to be one of the more efficient big men i the game. He’s a low usage big man who can be counted on to hit a high-percentage of shots year-after-year. Johnson is a great post-scorer, as well as a solid mid-range shooter, and Z-Bo will face a difficult task tonight. Still, #50 gets the edge, because on a given night, he has a much bigger chance of being the primary reason why his team won.
Marc Gasol vs Jonas Valanciunas
There’s been a lot of hype about Jonas, and this year we’ve begun to see more and more why it may be justified. As with Johnson, he’s not a high-volume scorer, but he’s efficient, and can be difficult to contain in the post. Still, it’s hard to picture this being an exceptionally difficult matchup for Gasol, who is gradually looking more and more like his old, unstoppable self. Valanciunas is a fairly physical player, but it remains to be seen if he can handle the relentlessness of a player like Gasol. Look for Marc to test Valanciunas early and often, and if Jonas can handle the challenge, it’ll show that the hype surrounding him has been justified.
Advantage: Memphis. Every night.
An interesting matchup between two VERY deep benches. Greivis Vasquez is the second ex-Grizzly to play the point for Toronto, and while his shooting has fallen off this year, he’s still a great passer, and one of the best backup point guards in the game. John Salmons is older, and his game is fairly limited, but he can still heat up from downtown. As for the Grizzlies, they continue to suffer from the convenient-but-still-mildly-troubling of having too many quality bench players to get all of them in the game. Lately, James Johnson has been the odd man out, but Jon Leuer and Ed Davis are also talented players struggling to get minutes in Joerger’s new shorter rotation, and with Mike Miller on fire night after night, it’s going to be hard for all them to get minutes. Right now, the Grizzlies should be thrilled to have so many legitimate contributors off the bench, and worry later about which ones will play the biggest roles in the playoff.