Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Atlanta Hawks
When: Saturday, December 8th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (14-3), Atlanta (11-5)
Media: SportSouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis takes a quick trip back to the forum on the tail end of a back to back to face the Atlanta Hawks, who have also been hot to start the year. It hasn’t been pretty lately, but the Grizz have been getting the job done, nonetheless. The last two games, the clearly inferior opposition has stayed within an arm’s reach of the Grizzlies throughout, but the blue bears have been able to strong-arm them through the finish line. Tonight, the opponent is not so clearly inferior, so the Grizz will have to get up for this one. Tony Allen returned last night against the Pelicans, adding a solid three steals to the mix, but the night was really owned by Rudy Gay’s 28 points and “newfound sharpshooter,” Quincy Pondexter, who rained 4-4 from the land of plenty. The Grizzlies do so many things right, that when they drop the three ball in addition, they are nearly unbeatable. That being said, tired legs tend to struggle from the perimeter, so we’ll see what they bring to the table tonight.
Atlanta comes into Memphis also on the second half of a back-to back. The Hawks have been a pleasant surprise this season. They have completely revamped their lineup after years of being good but just not quite great in the Eastern Conference. Gone are Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Kirk Hinrich and many others as the Hawks brought in 9 new faces this year. Devin Harris, Kyle Korver and Louis Williams are part of the new faces driving the Hawks this season. They traded their top scorer, but have revamped their firepower, by using their new faces to hyper-drive the team as the Hawks lead the league in fast break points. However, despite the addition of so many new faces, the Hawks haven’t addressed their need at center. While successful in the slot, Al Horford has been playing out of position for years.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Jeff Teague:
This offseason, with Teague entering his 4th season in the league, Hawks’ GM Danny Ferry stated, “It will be more of Jeff’s team than it has ever been.” The 24 year old point guard is not dissimilar to our own Mike Conley, seeing his production increase incrementally with each year of experience under his belt. The two are players in the similar vein, but currently Mike excells moreso at attacking the basket, shooting from beyond the arc, and forcing turnovers. Teague’s on his way to catch up, though.
Tony Allen vs Devin Harris:
Devin Harris is an interesting type of player, as he was a young player on the rise in Dallas, got traded for Jason Kidd, and showed some promise of breaking out in New Jersey, even making the all-star game in ’09. Unfortunately for Harris, his development was derailed by injuries, and he never reached the point of full maturation as a player. Having peaked way too early in his career, Harris’ play shows the degradation of a guy sticking around too deep into his thirties, at only 29 years of age. His scoring average has dipped below double digits for the first time since his second year in the league. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tony sees some time guarding the more-explosive Teague, when Harris is in the game.
Rudy Gay vs Deshawn Stevenson:
With Kyle Korver expected to miss this game due to a combination of a back injury and the birth of his first child, it seems likely that Deshawn Stevenson will get the nod. Stevenson has become somewhat of a valued journeyman after his off-the-bench awesomeness in the Mavericks’ championship run. He’s a tough, never-back-down type guy, who can knock down a 3 at any given moment. I worry about Rudy Gay in this matchup, and expect Stevenson to get in his head, but Rudy’s got a considerable size and talent advantage, here.
Zach Randolph vs Josh Smith:
In what is likely to be the most interesting matchup of the night, Zach Randolph takes on Josh Smith. Prior to acquiring Zbo, Josh Smith was a preferred target of the Grizzlies, who once upon a time signed him to an offer sheet, which was ultimately matched by Atlanta. This will be a typical matchup of a classic banger and a new-age stretch four. J-Smoove has beared the weight of perpetual trade rumors for years now, but his play has been solid. This year his stats are down slightly across the board, with the exception of blocks, but he’s finally learning that he’s not a 3pt gunner, getting his attempts back down to around 1 a game. I could go either way on this one, so I went back to the last time the two squared off: Zach went for 19 pts 19 boards, where Smoove was a quiet 13-8.
Marc Gasol vs Al Horford:
The same way we’re ecstatic to have Randolph effective again, Hawks fans have got to be happy to have Al Horford back this season. Horford is a very good player. A bit undersized for the position, Horford is a strong, physical player in the Alonzo Mourning mold, who manages to hold his own in the paint. That being said, Marc Gasol knows how to use his size, and possesses a considerable advantage in that department. Marc is a great passer, but hasn’t eclipsed 5+ assists since the Lakers game. I would expect him to use his ability to see over Horford to do so tonight.
The Hawks bench is incredibly well-rounded and illustrative of their identity as a run and gun team. Headlined by free agent acquisition, and perennial 6th man of the year candidate, Lou Williams, I expect them to give the Grizzlies some problems tonight. Lou Williams may be one of the most underrated players in the league, as he possesses fantastic athleticism, an electric jumper, defensive intensity, and most importantly, a fearless offensive approach. I had the privilege to watch this guy in person in Philly a handful of times last year, and he is a spark-plug off the bench in the truest sense. In addition, the Hawks bench has the sharpshooting specialist of specialists, Anthony Morrow, stable long-time vet, Zaza Pachulia, and the animal/grimy grinder known as Ivan Johnson. On the Grizzlies’ front, I’d expect to see much of what has been the trend lately, coupled with a few extra minutes for Darrell Arthur to keep up with Josh Smith.