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LOCATION:Pepsi Center, Denver, Co
Memphis(31-26) enters the game one game behind Denver in the Western Conference playoff race and only 2 games out of 5th place in the Western Conference but still not in the top 8 and without one of their leaders in Rudy Gay. Just how the team responds to the loss of Gay has yet to be seen. Everyone on the team will need to step up to fill the void caused by Rudy’s injury but most eyes will fall on O J Mayo in his absence. While Mayo isn’t expected to start his play will likely go a long way in determining the team’s success over the next month.
Denver(32-25) limped into the al-star break losers in 7 of their last 10 games and is a team in turmoil. Carmelo Anthony has been openly requesting a trade to New York and the sweepstakes for his services has been a tremendous distraction to the team.Now that the deal is done one has to wonder what effect this will have on the team. Unlike the Pau Gasol trade,Denver received some significant assets in return for Carmelo and Billups. Raymond Felton was one of the more effective PGs in the league under D’Antoni, Wilson Chandler a very nice scorer, DanilloGalinari extends the team’s range even more but none of these players will be in uniform tonight. That puts Denverin a tough spot but teams like Memphis need to be careful of caged wild animals. Denver has a lot of talent on the team and will be relieved of a season long headache for the first time.
In their last matchup Mike Conley came up big scoring 17 points on 7-1 shooting while holding Billups to 5-11 shooting including 1-5 from the arc. The book on Conley has always been that he was weak defensively but Conley has quietly been playing excellent defense lately shitting down Westbrook, JRue Holliday and Billups heading into the break. If Billups isn’t distracted by the trade rumors he is a dominating force but the rumors of a trade have been distracting for the native Denver resident. If this is to be one of his last games in a Denver uniform expect Billups to come out strong.
Shooting Guards:Tony Allen vsArron Afflalo
Afflalo destroyed Xavier Henry in the first matchup against Memphis (25 pts) in Denver but struggled mightily against Allen in the rematch in Memphis (4 pts). Afflalo is a major factor for the Nuggets providing good defense and the ability to hit big shots. Allen is back in the starting lineup with Mayo out which means he needs to keep his high intensity defense working the whole game. Allen’s offense is uneven with most of his scoring coming off defensive effort. Allen feeds on intensity and being back in the starting lineup might just keep him motivated the whole game.
Small Forwards:Sam YoungvsCarmelo Anthony
Melo was one of the most sought after players during all-star weekend and it seemed to take a toll in the actual all-star game. Melo didn’t have a very good effort. His 8 points and 7 rebounds were the second lowest among the starters on the West and Tim Duncan was rested a lot by Coach Popovich. Anthony is likely playing his last season in Denver and possibly his last game which could motivate him. Sam Young has found his stride moving into the starting lineup but that has been as a SG not a SF. As a starter Young is averaging almost 10 ppg and that number has been rising. The last time Rudy Gay missed a game Young was solid scoring 14 pts, grabbing 3 boards and dishing out 3 assists.
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsKenyon Martin
No one on the Grizzlies roster needed the All-Star break more than Zach Randolph and no one felt more disrespected by not being there than Zach either. Zach was not 100% against Denver in Memphis and should be ready to give a better effort in this game. Kenyon has been a major disappointment since signing his huge contract and if Anthony gets moved it is highly likely Martin will be moved out as well as the Nuggets rebuild from scratch. Nene will likely be asked to cover Kmart on defense against Randolph.
Marc Gasol outplayed Nene in the last matchup as Nene was focused more on slowing down Randolph leaving KMart to try and stop the 7 ft Spaniard. Gasol will need to be even more of an impact for the Grizzlies in this game as his rebounding issues will be even more of an issue without Rudy around. Nene was considered for the All-Star spot vacated by Yao Ming but ultimately was passed over in favor of Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan. Nene has not been as big an impact on the boards as one would expect. Nene is very effective shooting the ball however. If allowed to get around the rim Nene is nearly unstoppable hitting almost 64% of his FG attempts.
Denver’s bench has plenty of offensive firepower as would be expected from the #1 offense in the league. LEd by Al Harrington and JR Smith Denver has tons of scoring punch. Ty Lawson’s speed makes him a very difficult guard at the point. Chris Anderson is one of the best help side defenders in the league but the Nuggets bench struggles defensively anyway. Memphis’ bench is improved with the return of O J Mayo but how improved is uncertain. Jason Williams return strengthens the backup PG position. Tony Allen is among the league leaders in steals despite only averaging 17 minutes a night and Darrell Arthur is a huge lift when his shot is falling. The Grizzlies are thin along the front line however and losing Rudy Gay only magnifies that issue. This will be the first game for former Memphis Tiger Rodney Carnet and his range and defensive ability could be a big lift.