Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Sacramento Kings
When: Friday, January 18th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (24-13), Sacramento (15-24)
Media: SportSouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss at: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis is having a mess of a time trying to snap out of the slump that has plagued them since the overtime triumph over the Spurs a week ago, today. To be fair, the schedule of late has not worked in favor of their cause, as following up the emotional victory over the Spurs with a road game in Dallas the next day really took the wind out of their sails. The next two were respectively against arguably the best team in the league, without Rudy, and that very same Spurs team, this time in their building. That being said, it’s hard to watch our Grizzlies get beaten this badly and say with a straight face that they’re a contender. It’s important to remind ourselves though, that this is the grind of an 82 game season. The Grizzlies are a not-so-deep team that has just gotten off playing seven games in ten days (up to the Mavs loss), five of which were on the road. Similar to the amount of travel miles in that span, a lot of miles have been logged on the legs of the starting five, especially with the bench leader in minutes missing time. The fatigue is showing, as the starters numbers are down across the board, and the bench is not really good enough to pick up the slack. Even on the bench, you can see Darrell Arthur getting stuck in the mud, as his body is surely not yet adjusted to giving the amount of minutes that the Grizzlies need from him over a sustained period of time.
Sacramento is a nice change of pace in terms of opponent. The Grizz could use a break from the heavyweights. Last time these two teams met, it was over at Sleep Train Arena, amidst the Grizzlies road trip that catapulted them with the momentum to take down the Spurs the other night. The Kings since that meeting lost two against Dallas and Miami, and most recently won two against Cleveland and Washington. Their victories were at the benefit of the continued excellence of play out of their mercurial young big man, Demarcus Cousins. Despite getting into foul trouble, he’s been effecting the game in all facets, averaging 23.5 points, 15 rebounds and 5.5 assists over the last two. Cousins has come into his own as a destroyer after his mini-suspension, as his numbers are up across the board. I’ve been most impressed with the way he’s passing the ball, illustrative of the possibility that he’s finally buying into the team concept there and may last through the move to Seattle.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Isiah Thomas:
Reaching back to the matchup against the Kings just over a week ago would recall a Mike Conley that posted a solid line of 15 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. We haven’t seen that well-rounded Conley in a while, which could really do wonders as the initiator of the offense. He has yet to amass more than 5 assists in a night since this game, which is cause for worry to some degree, but I expect him to get back on track in this one against a smaller Thomas. It isn’t often that Mike has a real size advantage on the court, so the ability to see over the defense should help his cause. I’m sounding like a dejected fantasy basketball player here, in part because I am, but in true Isiah Thomas fashion, he went off for 34 against the Heat, and followed it up with two duds against bigger point guards, Kyrie Irving and John Wall. I don’t expect Mike’s defense to be kind to him either.
Tony Allen vs Tyreke Evans:
Tyreke Evans made his return to the starting lineup for the Kings two games ago, against the Cavs, and not coincidentally, the Kings came out the victor of both battles. Tyreke’s play has been well improved of late, and on the year as a whole, thus far. His numbers are up, and his PER is back to where it was in his Rookie of the Year campaign, after slipping the past two seasons. Tony has been oftentimes seeming like a lone ranger out there in terms of his energy in the recent stretch. He’s going to be glued to his opponent tonight.
Rudy Gay vs John Salmons:
John Salmons has been putting up some pretty good numbers lately. Only tarnished by his 0-fer stinker against the Heat, he’s scored in double digits in six of his past seven games, one of which was a very solid performance against our Grizzlies. Salmons dropped three threes on the Grizzlies’ head, en route to a 17 point scoring output in our last go. Rudy Gay is playing with a heavy heart this week, but carried it well against the Spurs in his first game back. He did turn the ball over a disturbing six times, but he scored on 53% shooting and hauled in 8 rebounds. Last time against the Kings, he had a miserable game, but I don’t expect that to be the case again.
Zach Randolph vs Jason Thompson:
Jason Thompson may have the length to disturb Zbo, but his defense has never been his strong suit. In recent games, offense hasn’t been either. Thompson hasn’t scored in double digits since last meeting the Grizzlies, and has only done so on the boards once since New Year’s. Zbo hasn’t exactly been a force of late either, but is a much better overall player.
Marc Gasol vs DeMarcus Cousins:
*Matchup of the night* - I’m not sure how much more I could sing Cousins’ praises without coming off as some fanboy, but the guy has been playing fantastic basketball. Along with the rest of the Grizzlies team, Marc has struggled to find his shot lately. Maybe his finger injury is bothering him more than he’s letting on? His defense has still been very good, but nothing offensively has been clicking for him, and he’s been very pedestrian on the boards.
With Tyreke Evans coming back strong and moving into the starting lineup, their weaponry on the bench gets even stronger. That’s not all, though, as Marcus Thornton, a resident Grizzly killer, is back in the mix as well, after missing our last matchup with an ankle injury. Thornton is a threat to score the second he steps onto the court, and can really cook from deep when he gets going. Beyond that, Aaron Brooks and Jimmer Fredette are also viable options at either guard spot that can light up the scoreboard. They’ve also got long wing players in James Johnson and Travis Outlaw, to throw at Rudy, and tanks in the paint, in Thomas Robinson and Chuck Hayes. The Grizzlies bench will likely be overwhelmed with the Kings’ depth, especially without Quincy Pondexter, meaning the starters are going to have to go out and set the tone early. Wayne Ellington went nuts as he seems to do once every 20 games or so, in the last one, but I’m not holding my breath for a similar outburst in this one. Tony Wroten has been playing a bit in the past two, and I’d love to see him get a chance to get out there against the Kings’ electric backcourt, as he, like most of them can match up at either guard spot.