Who: Memphis Grizzlies (29-23) New York Knicks (20-32)
When: Tuesday, February 18th 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
No team – not even the Cavs – has been more disappointing than the Knicks this season. The Grizzlies have struggled with injury problems but remained competitive. The Knicks, on the other hand, have been a complete and utter train wreck. In the offseason, they went after Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace, both of whom have been unmitigated disasters. If the Knicks played in the West, their playoff hopes would be dead and buried. But since they’re in the ridiculously soft east, they’re just two games behind the 8th seeded Bobcats for the final spot. So, both teams are just barely on the outside looking in in their respective playoff races, making this game immensely important for each of them.
Mike Conley vs Raymond Felton
So, as of now, Conley and Marc Gasol are both listed as Questionable. When choosing which player photo to use, I decided to err on the side of the optimism in both instances. If Conley’s plays, even if he’s not all the way back yet, this is an obvious edge for the Grizzlies. While Conley is having a career year, Felton has struggled, making his solid 2012-13 campaign seem more and more like a fluke. Felton is a slash-and-kick type player who is occasionally good at getting to the basket, but he’s inconsistent, and uninspiring. If Conley’s out, the surprisingly solid Calathes can benefit from going against some relatively weak competition.
Courtney Lee vs Pablo Prigioni
It’s worth noting that because the Knicks are such a dysfunctional mess, their starting five changes on a regular basis, both due to injuries, and Mike Woodson’s ongoing struggle to make anything work. Before the All-Star break, Prigioni was starting at the 2-guard spot, so that’s what we’re going with. The 36-year-old is a quietly effective player who distributes the ball well, and is solid from beyond the arc. Still, he’s playing too much, and his status as the team’s starting 2-guard is a strong indicator of this team’s inability to find any successful formula. Meanwhile, Lee continues to be an extremely pleasant surprise from the field, hitting better than half of his shots, and averaging 13.9 points a game. Lee may regress at some point, but against this struggling Knicks back court, he has a damn good chance of being able to let the good times roll tonight.
Tayshaun Prince vs Iman Shumpert
How hilarious would it be if both of these guys scored zero points? Based on how their respective seasons are going, it’s ahrdly out of the realm of possibility. While Prince’s main problem is simply aging, Shumpert has been terribly inconsistent this year. Everyone know what a good defender he is, and on a given night, he can be effective on offense (he’s not a great a shooter, but his aggressiveness can make up for that), but his lack of offensive production has been a problem. Basically, he’s the opposite of his teammate J.R. Smith, in that he’s far too tentative to fire up a shot, while Smith jacks up every jumper in sight. Still, Shumpert is loaded with potential, and if he shows up tonight, this is a big edge for the Knicks.
Advantage: New York
Zach Randolph vs Carmelo Anthony
The most bizarre thing about the Knicks disaster of a season s that their best player is actually having a great year. Melo has 27 points and nine rebounds a game. It’s easy to pigeonhole Melo as “selfish” (his reputation precedes him), but really the problem has been a lack of support from his teammates more than any failings on his part. Melo has been hot lately, and he’s coming off a scorching performance in the All-Star game, so his confidence is probably near his peak. If 1-2 tandem of Z-Bo and Marc can knock Melo off his stride tonight, the Grizzlies have a good chance. Meanwhile, if Marc isn’t playing, look for Z-Bo to stretch himself to the limit. When Marc was out earlier this year, Z-Bo increased is production at the expense of his efficiency. Look to see that phenomenon re-surface if he has to carry the load tonight.
Advantage: New York
Marc Gasol vs Tyson Chandler
Chandler has struggled with injury problems for the past year or so, and there was a rather lengthy period of time where he just wasn’t his usual self. It was enough to make you wonder if age and injuries had finally taken their toll, and the Tyson Chandler who was the 2nd-best player on the 2011 Mavericks championship team, and won Defensive Player Of the Year the following year was gone forever. Well, not so fast. Chandler has his groove back. His field goal percentage is back over 60% and inching closer to his average over the past three years, and he’s displaying the athleticism in the paint that he bases his entire game around. Meanwhile, we don’t know if Marc is going to play, and when he has played, he’s had his share of issues lately. In short, Chandler is rejuvenated, and he may have a big night in store tonight.
Advantage: New York
The one good thing about Marc potentially missing this game is that it would free up some playing time for Jon Leuer, who proved himself in Gasol’s absence, yet still can’t get minutes now that Marc is back. If Conley is out, the team will once again turn to Darius Morris, which would be a frightening thought if we weren’t so used to the Grizzlies starting highly questionable players at the backup point guard spot. As for the Knicks, Bargnani’s inefficiency keeps from being particularly attractive player, but he is a solid scorer who can be quite frightening when he gets hot, so he works as a quality asset off the bench. Meanwhile, Tim Hardaway, Jr. has been a pleasant for both a disappointing Knicks team and a disappointing rookie class. It’s not a stretch to think that Hardaway, Jr. is the future for the Knicks at the 2-guard spot, and as J.R. Smith continues to fall out of favor in new York, look for Tim, Jr. to get more and more playing time..