Who: Memphis Grizzlies (32-25) Cleveland Cavaliers (22-37)
When: Saturday, March 1st, 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
The Cavaliers have been looking pretty good lately. After being woefully disappointing in the first half of the season, they’ve gained serious steam in recent weeks, and appear to have a legitimate shot at taking one of the final playoff sports in the east. The acquisition of Luol Deng brought a huge improvement to the previously weak small forward spot, while acquiring Spencer Hawes at the deadline can make up for the absence of Anderson Varejao. In short, if you’re expecting in easy Grizzlies win based on the Cavs record or early season performance, you may want to reconsider.
Mike Conley vs Kyrie Irving
Conley vs. Uncle Drew. After non-stop praise in his first two seasons, the question of when Irving’s Cavs are going to start winning is beginning to haunt him a little bit. Guiding the Cavs to the 8-seed in the last six weeks of the season would do wonders for his reputation, as fellow #1 pick John Wall is starting surpass his in terms of respectability. Irving is shooting a career low from the field, and his stats don’t look particularly different from his rookie season. He’s obviously a talented player, but we haven’t seen any real growth him. Conley is the exact opposite; a decidedly un-flashy player who nonetheless improves each year. If Irving can gradually improve his game the way Conley has, he could eventually become the best point guard in the league.
Courtney Lee vs Dion Waiters
When people think of Waiters, they tend to focus on his limitations rather than his strengths. This is somewhat understandable because when he was taken 4th overall in the 2012, in was considered to be a bit of a reach. Still, the guy can definitely play, and he recently had something of a coming out party in the Rising Stars game, where the fourth quarter turned into an epic duel between Waiters and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Waiters is not the most efficient shooter, or the best defender, but he can be pretty scary when he gets hot, and his skills should improve over time. Meanwhile, Lee continues to be the best acquisition of the year for the Grizzlies, and he should continue to get minutes with Tony Allen back in the lineup. Seeing how well – and how often – they play together should be fascinating over the coming weeks.
Tayshaun Prince vs Luol Deng
Luol Deng has struggled since coming to Cleveland in December, but he’s still been a huge upgrade at the position, simply due to how dreadful it was before he arrival. Earl Clark, Anthony Bennett, and Alonzo Gee all tried and failed to be even a little bit productive from the 3 for Cleveland, and Deng has been a great stabilizer, even if he’s shooting below 40% from the field while in Cleveland. These next few weeks will likely be where Deng decides if his future is in Cleveland or not. Phoenix would be a good option for him, and a move back to Chicago can’t be ruled out. If the Cavs fall back into a tailspin, expect to see him hit the market. Prince’s one definitely strong skill is his defense, which is also a bi part of Deng’s game, so if these two guard each other, don’t look for a lot of scoring.
Zach Randolph vs Tristan Thompson
Thompson is quietly having a solid season, averaging 12.2 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. His much-hyped switch to the left hand hasn’t done much to help or hinder his game, at least from a statistical perspective. Just as Waiters lives in the shadow of Andre Drummond, Thompson lives in the shadow of Jonas Valanciunas, who the Cavs could have selected when they took Thompson (Valanciunas went to the Raptors one pick later). But while Valanciunas (yeah, I’m getting sick of typing that name, why did I bring this up?) may have a higher ceiling, Thompson has been more productive this year, and was hardly a bad pick. Of course, tonight he goes against Z-Bo, who is much larger, and physically intimidating, so this may be tough night for Thompson and his rebounding process.
Marc Gasol vs Spencer Hawes
Acquiring Hawes at the deadline was a smart move for the Cavaliers, especially because it coincided with Anderson Varejao’s injury, and allowed them to work through that while maintaining a strong physical presence. Being on the under-manned Sixers lead to Hawes playing a larger role, and provided him with a fantastic opportunity to definitively show the league what he’s capable of. He can hit the three-ball, and unlike Byron Mullens (who the Sixers are stuck with now), he’s actually pretty good at it. Unlike the last former Sixer (sort of) to play for the Cavs, Hawes was a fine acquisition, and should make the team much better down the stretch. Not much to say about Marc…I mean, he’s Marc. Put him against just about any center in the game and he has the edge. No exception tonight.
Advantage: Memphis. Every night.
Jarrett Jack’s season is a fine example of the Cavs just being flat out unlucky. After a brilliant season in Golden State where he nearly won sixth man of the year honors, Jack’s game has fallen off big time in Cleveland, as he’s hitting below 40% from the field, and has lacked the strong scoring that propelled the Warriors last season. On the plus side, Anthony Bennett is not terrible anymore, and he’s actually become one of the better contributors to the Cavs second unit. As for the Grizzlies, the addition of Beno Udrih is interesting – is the recently productive Nick Calathes banished out of the rotation? Will Udrih play better in Memphis than in New York? It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out down the stretch.