LOCATION:New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA
MEDIA:Fox Sports South,Soul Classics 103.5 FM
Memphis(42-33) reached 9 games above .500 for the first time this season with a dominating 2nd half performance against Golden State at FedEx Forum.
New Orleans(43-32) pulled into 6th place in the Western Conference with a tense win over Portland. New Orleans owns the tie-breaker between the two teams. New Orleans is not a great offensive team but is among the best defensive ones. The Hornets give up only 93.5 ppg and held Portland to just 91 points Wednesday night.
Point Guards:Mike Conleyvs Chris Paul
Chris Paul appeared to be in a funk heading up to the point David West was injured. Since that time Paul has been on a tear. Since getting shut down in Boston going 0-9 shooting the ball, Paul has averaged nearly 17 ppg and 10 assists. Paul drives the ball into the lane and either scores himself, drops off to one of his interior players or out to one of his sharpshooting perimeter teammates. Conley has been running the offense the way it needs to be done with the Grizzlies. Against Golden State Conley scored 20 pts and dished out 7 assists but scoring and high assists aren’t needed for Conley to play well. Conley’s defense has improved over the last four games to elite level holding Rondo, Rose, Parker and Curry to a combined 18-68 from the field. It will take a similar effort against Paul to get the win.
Advantage: New Orleans
Shooting Guards:Tony AllenvsMarco Belinelli
Belinelli was only a summer league all-star for two seasons before finally leaving Golden State and getting new life in New Orleans. Belinelli is a deadly outside shooter hitting 40.8% from the three point line but doesn’t bring a lot more to the table. Belinelli can throw up big scoring games if not guarded closely however. Tony Allen is in the discussion for the all-NBA defensive team ranking 6th in the league in steals despite not averaging 20 mpg. Defense isn’t a big surprise for Allen but his scoring has been. Allen is averaging 14.5 ppg over the last 10 games and has provided the Grizzlies with big emotional lifts as well. Allen should be in the discussion for Most Improved Player of the Year as well.
Small Forwards:Sam YoungvsTrevor Ariza
Sam Young came back from what looked to be an ankle injury against San Antonio to score 8 points in the 1st quarter against Golden State. However he finished with only 11 pts. Young is not supposed to be a big scorer in the Grizzlies offense. Defense is where he is expected to be strong and he has so far as he develops a reputation as a tough defensive player. Young needs to develop an outside shot to go with his great pump fake and drive move which is first class. Trevor Ariza is not earning respect as a defender. He’s been respected for years and justifiably so. Ariza however has never developed his offensive game outside of slashing dunks. His 38.9 FG% and 30.0 3 pt% hurts his effectiveness. These two players are very similar but Ariza is more experienced and at home.
Advantage: New Orleans
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsCarl Landry
Carl Landry was trapped behind numerous big men in Sacramento but had room to play in New Orleans even before David West went down with a torn ACL. Now he is getting an opportunity he never had in Houston or Sacramento. Landry is averaging over 22 ppg since being inserted into the starting lineup and is shooting just under 50% from the field. Throw in over 7 rebounds and New Orleans has won 2 of the 3 games with Landry starting. Zach Randolph has been the beast for Memphis all season. Whenever Memphis has needed to get a basket it seems Z-Bo is the guy since Rudy Gay went down and he has always produced in that role. Z-Bo also has made a point of shutting down his opponent as well.
Centers:Marc GasolvsEmeka Okafor
It doesn’t happen often in the NBA where two old school big men go head to head. These guys aren’t interested in point guard or even perimeter skills. They use their bulk to bang around the basket and don’t care about anything but coming out ahead at the end. Okafor is the more defensive oriented player who benefits greatly from easy looks when Chris Paul dishes him the ball. Gasol is more offensive natured, befitting his European heritage, but is not afraid to throw his weight around and to let people know they enter the lane at their own risk. Gasol has a height advantage but Okafor may be a bit stronger to counter the size issue somewhat.
Advantage: New Orleans
O J Mayo failed to score against Golden State but he did what the team needed. The team is going to need him to score especially from the perimeter in this game. Mayo isn’t the only player who can score off of Memphis’ bench but he is the team’s best perimeter shooter and the Hornets will likely dare the Grizzlies to beat them from outside in this game. Darrell Arthur will need to continue to rebound well since New Orleans is a weak rebounding team. Powe, Battier and Vasquez will all need to fill their roles as well. New Orleans bench relies on veterans Willie Green and Jarret Jack for leadership and scoring. Aaron Gray and Jason Smith are not the most mobile bigs but will bang with the best.