LOCATION: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA
MEDIA: Fox Sports South, Soul Classics 103.5 FM
TICKETS: StubHub, TICKETMASTER
Memphis(19-22) missed a golden opportunity Monday as the team seemed listless against a motivated and short-handed Chicago Bulls team. In front of a packed house of, if not pro-Grizzlies at least neutral, fans. Zach Randolph continued his strong play with 21 points and 13 rebounds however Rudy Gay was horrible shooting 1-10 from field while his counterpart scored 28 points. O J Mayo was the only reason the game wasn’t a bigger blowout as he stepped up in the 2nd half to score 15 points on 7-14 shooting. Tonight’s game is vital for the Grizzlies as Houston is up next and the Grizzlies don’t play Houston well. A loss in this game would put the Grizzlies a long way from the last playoff spot.
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsChris Paul
Paul isn’t having a super year butat 16.2 ppg, 9.6 apg and2.7 spg. Conley has to protect the ball and that isn’t something he has been doing well lately. It’s inconceivable to fathom how the Grizzlies can lead the league in steals and still have the worst turnover ratio (turnovers forced to turnovers lost) in the league. Conley has an excuse with the stitches in the webbing of his right hand but no one wants to hear excuses. Conley said he wanted to be more of a leader this season andJanuary is the timeleaders stand up and take control of their team. Do far in January Conley has seen a decrease in scoring, assists and rebounds. Not exactly leading by example.
Advantage: New Orleans
Shooting Guards:Sam Young vsMarco Belinelli
Sam Young has filled in adequately at Shooting Guard in the absence of Xavier Henry and Tony Allen but the team can’t survive long withonly 10 active players ready to contribute.Belinelli is finally starting to show in the NBA what he exhibited in the summer league for years, a great outside shot and the ability to score. Regretably he also is showing why he hasn’t started most of his career. He’s not a great defender. That’s okay ona team with great defenders all around him. Youngneeds toplay solid defenseand hit the open shot when needed. The Grizzlies can’t rely on the zone to cover his defensive errorsfor long without being burned.
Advantage: New Orleans
Small Forwards:Rudy Gayvs Trevor Ariza
If Rudy felt Luol Deng was tough to score against wait until he mixes it up wth Ariza. Ariza is one of the finest defensive SF’s in the league but his scoring is streaky. When Ariza is on he can make New Orleans a very tough team. When he is off they are beatable. The question for Hornets fans is if he knows the difference. Memphis can’t win without Rudy Gay at least being efficient with the ball. The team can’t even be competitive really. Rudy is the most important player on the team next to Z-Bo and since he isn’t as consistent as Randolph he looms much larger in the team’s success. If Ariza focuses on stopping Rudy he can win the matchup simply by not letting Rudy have an average game. Rudy hasn’t had two bad games back to back this season however.
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsDavid West
David West is a one time All-Star who is having a very strong season and in most years would be among the leaders for a coach’s invitation to the All-Star game. Zach Randolph is a one time All-Star who is having a strong season and in most years would beamong the leaders for a coach’s invitationas well. This season it is doubtful either player will be invited. Randolph is becoming the vocal leader of the team, at least in the press after his comments following the Chicago game. Hopefully everyone took them to heart.
Centers:Marc Gasolvs Emeka Okafor
Okafor is doing exactly whatfans of the Grizzlies hoped Gasol would do this season.He isn’t forcing himself on the offensive end but he’s playing solid defense, averagingdouble figures in rebounds and scoring whenneeded. Okafor is playing solid basketball in the paint and thathelps their defense play tougheron theperimeter. Gasol has been slowed by an ankle injury but that was back in October. The team needsMarcto be a bigger force on offense in this game to prevent Okafor from cheating off himfor backsideblocks. The problem is Marc hasn’t been able to do that consistently all season.
Advantage: New Orleans
Benches:Memphisvs New Orleans
New Orleans bench has been up and down this season. It was expected that Marcus Thornton would provide a big kick in scoring but that hasn’t been thecase. An early season trade brought in JarrettJack and his presence has been a major force at both guard positions. However,as Hornets 24/7, the premierHornets blog, pointed out recently, the Hornets are not getting even average production from their bench. Aaron Gray, Jason Smith, Quincy Popindexter and WillieGreen have all had moments of strong play but overall the starting five (or should I say three)carry this Hornets team. Memphis’benchneeds healthy bodies. Xavier Henry and TonyAllen mean there isn’t a player to back up Rudy Gayexcept NBDL returnee DeMarre Carroll. Darrell Arthur and O JMayo have been solidat times butoverall the Grizzlies bench is like the Hornets, below average.