LOCATION:FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Memphis(24-24) has finally reached the .500 level again after being below .500 since the 8th game of the season. The convincing victory over Washington brought the Grizzlies within a couple of games of catching Portland for the 8th playoff spot in the tough Western Conference as well. The Grizzlies have done well in one of the easiest stretches of the season winning 5 of their last six games. A win tonight against the Magic could put the Grizzlies on the doorstep to the playoffs.
Orlando (31-17) has been struggling of late. After opening the season 15-4 the Magic have struggled to a 16-13 record during which the team made a major roster move. Gone are Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus. In are Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas and Earl Clark. The change was made in an attempt to keep the Magic in the running in the Eastern Conference with Miami, Boston and Chicago but so far the results have been less than hoped for.
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsJameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson is a small point guard who plays with a big heart and is the leader of the team despite the presence of Dwight Howard in the middle. Nelson rushed back after spraining his knee against Chicago to play against Cleveland Saturday night. He didn’t play well but he was there for his team that needed him. Mike Conley has been up and down this season but more often up than down. Conley had 12 assists against Washington Saturday night to go with 15 points while committing only one turnover. Conley will actually have a size advantage in this game as well as an advantage in health.
Sam Young knows he isn’t supposed to be starting and likely wouldn’t be if not for injuries and other concerns but he has reached double figures in his last two starts and is starting to look more comfortable on the court. The second year player from Pittsburgh is on the court for defensive purposes but being able to score with limited shot opportunities is a big help for the Grizzlies. Jason Richardson was the major piece Orlando acquired in their big trade earlier this season and so far has done a decent job for Orlando. In 21 games with Orlando JRich is averaging 14 ppg while hitting 38.7% of his FG attempts.
Hedo Turkoglu is the other main component of the trade in December. Hedo returned to Orlando where he had the best seasons of his career before leaving for a big contract in Toronto. Hedo is back playing with Stan Van Gundy but he isn’t the same player at 31 that he was in his prime. Rudy Gay has been struggling of late including a season low four points against Washington. However, Rudy is still making his presence felt in games despite struggling with his shot. Rudy had four assists against Washington and leads the team in steals while scoring over 20 ppg.
The development of Brandon Bass is what allowed the Magic to make their big trade. Bass is undersized for a PF but what he lacks in height he makes up for in desire and effort. Bass is a banger who will not shy away from contact. His rebounding number is a bit misleading with Dwight Howard cleaning the boards at the center position. Zach Randolph is playing as well as any PF in the league right now as his 14 straight double-doubles can testify. Zach played against a strong but undersized PF in Trevor Buckman Saturday night and led the team with 24 points and 20 rebounds. Randolph leads the Grizzlies in scoring and rebounding and is attempting to reach the All-Star game for the second time this season.
Memphis’ frontline has a reputation of being one of the best in the league. So does Orlando and it has everything to do with Dwight Howard in the middle. Howard leads the Magic in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks. However Memphis has had some success against Howard in the past. He was in foul trouble both games last season which limited his effectiveness and this season the Grizzlies contained him to 18 points and 14 boards despite playing 39 minutes. With Lewis and Carter gone the Magic have looked to Howard much more this season and he has rewarded them with an MVP type of season. Marc Gasol celebrated his birthday with 14 pts, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. However Gasol did have five fouls and foul trouble has been a problem for Gasol all season.
Orlando’s bench is one of the top second teams in the league. Ryan Anderson and J J Reddick both average double figures off the bench. Gilbert Arenas is dealing with a sore knee but when able to play he has averaged 8.5 ppg as well. If there is a weakness on the Magic’s bench it is a lack of bulk. Anderson shoots nearly 5 long balls a game and isn’t considered a very physical force in the paint. Memphis’ bench has answered the call two games in a row without O J Mayo including Darrell Arthur scoring a career high 22 points against Washington. Tony Allen is playing with knee pain but still wrecking havoc on both ends of the court. Xavier Henry returned to the lineup at Philly and played okay since returning. Greivis Vasquez and Hasheem Thabeet are both up and down but lately their play has been improving.