When: Friday, January 17th 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
We’re finally back to .500! And we’ve got Marc back! After a pretty brutal half-season, Grizzlies fans suddenly have a lot to be happy about. Now, the Grizzlies will try to get themselves to a winning record for the first time since Gasol’s injury, and wouldnt you know it, they’ll be doing it against Rudy Gay’s new team. Funny how things work out, eh? Well, it’s hard to say anything especially negative about Gay’s performance level in Sacramento – he’s picked up his game considerably, and stabilized what had been one of the league’s worst teams. Don’t let the Kings weak record fool you – this one won’t be easy.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Isaiah Thomas
Thomas has to be the best-case scenario for the final pick in the NBA draft – especially considering the draft he went in (2011) was generally conidered to be pretty weak. In his first two seasons, he played well, and managed to steal playing time from lottery pick Jimmer Fredette (who is slowly looking like a real NBA player), but no one was quite sure if he was a viable starting NBA point guard. This year, however, he’s really broken out. Thomas began the season coming off the bench while ex-Grizzly Greivis Vasquez was the starting 1, but Thomas out played Vasquez so thoroughly that the Kings were willing to part way with him in exchange for another, more prominent former Grizzly, Rudy Gay. Thomas is a solid candidate for ost Improved Player, and a valuable asset for the Kings, although his defense is still sorely lacking. Look for both players in this matchup to produce a lot of points.
Courtney Lee vs Ben McLemore
Courtney Lee really seems like a good pickup for the Grizzlies. Not only has he stabilized the starting lineup while Tony Allen recuperates, once #9 comes back, he figures to be a key scorer off the bench. Admittedly, letting go of Bayless has created an “oh no, we have to play Calathes now” problem, but remember, this team once earned the #4 seed with a backup point combo of Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby (and Gilbert Arenas for a few games), so it shouldn’t submarine them completely. McLemore has a ton of potential, and could become one of the better 2-guards in the league within a few years, but for now, he’s a bit raw, and the more experienced Lee should have the upper hand.
Tayshaun Prince vs Rudy Gay
It needs to be said: Rudy Gay has looked REALLY good in Sacramento. He’s averaging over 20 a game while shooting .526 from the field. The idea that a change of scenery could relaunch his career always had some validity to it, but who would have thought that team would be the Kings. This team has been so dysfunctional for so long that it was starting to feel like the place where talent goes to die (just look at how much better James Johnson is now that he’s out of Sacramento), but perhaps the new owner, as well as Mike Malone, know what they’re doing. Gay’s surprisingly high field goal percentage will likely regress to the mean over time, but he seems to have his groove back, and he might take some pleasure in lighting up the scoreboard against his former team tonight.
Zach Randolph vs Jason Thompson
I don’t think we can really give Z-Bo enough credit for keeping the team out of the abyss while Marc was gone. Don’t get me wrong, Conley was a huge part of that, too, but Z-Bo’s excellent play allowed the grizzlies to maintain their strong front court presence. Now, with #33 back, look for Z-Bo’s per-game averages to drop slightly, while his efficiency numbers skyrocket. He’ll have way more opportunities to core now, because opposing defenses have to worry about him and Marc. As for Thompson, it’s tough to say much about him – he’s a solid athlete who can be a decent starter, but won’t become anything more than that. Luckily, since the Kings post game relies so much around Boogie Cousins, they hardly need a dynamic duo like Marc and Z-Bo.
Marc Gasol vs DeMarcus Cousins
It’s time to stop talking smack about Cousins. yes, he has a history of not being the best teammate in the world, but he’s been the best center in the league this year (yes, better than Dwight). He’s averaging 23-11, and it weren’t for the Kings record, he’d be getting way more All-Star buzz (note: they’ve been about .500 since Rudy showed up). He’s been dominant near the basket this season, and appears to have finally harnessed his immense talents. So, this will be a tough matchup for Marc, and one will really test if he’s all the way back from his injury. If Boogie has a rough game, with #33 preventing him from getting any easy baskets, we’ll know our beloved Big Spain is truly his old self again.
Advantage: Sacramento (but only because I’m not sure how much Marc will play/if he’s all the way back yet)
The success of James Johnson in Memphis has to be perplexing for Kings fans. he was pretty damn terrible for Sacramento last year, producing a negative Win Shares total for the season (in other words, just having him on the court made them a worse team). Clearly, Sacramento was not the right situation for him, because he’s completely turned his career around with the Grizzlies, becoming a huge part of their second unit. Meanwhile, the Kings made a smart move taking a shot with psuedo-bust Derrick Williams, who has shown flashes of brilliance, but has yet to live up to the expectations of a #2 pick. He’s been the biggest contributor of Sacramento’s bench since coming to town, and he could easily still become a quality starter for an NBA team. The biggest question for this game will be Nick Calathes: will he play at all? If so, will he be any good? Is there any way the Grizzlies can avoid getting another point guard? He has to show something soon if he’s going to have any chance of staying in the league.
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