Who: Memphis Grizzlies at Chicago Bulls
When: Saturday, January 19th – 7:00 PM CST
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
Records: Memphis (25-13), Chicago (23-15)
Media: Sports South, NBA TV, WGN, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Memphis has to be glad that they are off the skid that had resulted in 3 straight losses by 20+ points with last night’s win over the Sacramento Kings. Even without the services of Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies were able to establish an early lead and then build on it throughout the game. In fact, even though the lead dwindled down to single digits at one point in the 4th quarter, a quick look at the box score shows that Memphis outscored the visiting team in every single quarter. That’s certainly encouraging after having blown some late leads this season. Now, they travel to the Windy City to play a team that they beat in an ugly 80-71 contest just over a month ago in Memphis. Z-Bo’s status is still uncertain, but the last report was that he was going to try to play after suffering a back strain against the Spurs that kept him out of last night’s win. The victory over the Kings resembled Memphis’s play earlier this season, where they shot better percentages from everywhere, rebounded, got out in transition, and made good passes that led to assists (21 on 34 baskets).
Chicago is a team that has played much better this season than many expected, given the absence of Derrick Rose. They have won 4 of their last 5, including last night’s overtime victory over the Celtics in Boston to go along with wins over playoff contenders, Atlanta and New York. Even though the Bulls have been known as a defensive team under Tom Thibodeau, they’ve been scoring really well since New Year’s with their loss to Phoenix last week being the only time this calendar year that they have failed to reach 96 points. The Bulls will probably be without Luol Deng tonight, as he appeared to re-injure his right hamstring in the third quarter last night. Chicago’s big men logged big minutes last night, so they’ll need the backcourt to help pick up the slack, even if Zach Randolph doesn’t wind up facing them in the frontcourt.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Kirk Hinrich:
Conley had a solid game last night, posting 19 points to go with 4 assists and 5 rebounds, proving once again that a good game from him nearly always results in a Memphis win. He was more aggressive on offense, looking for his own shot, which made the Kings’ defense treat him as a bigger threat, opening things up for everyone else. Hinrich had a tough assignment last night, as Rajon Rondo went for 30 points with a rare scoring outburst. Capt. Kirk has always been a smart, savvy player, but he seems to have lost a step after suffering a multitude of injuries over his career, including a few nagging ones that have plagued him this season. If Conley continues to be aggressive, it could be another quiet night for Hinrich.
Tony Allen vs Richard Hamilton:
Tony Allen was having fun last night. He was smothering Tyreke Evans from the opening tip, making plays on both ends of the floor (including game-highs with 6 assists and 3 blocks), and just generally being the Grindfather. When he is hitting his shots (6 of 11 for 14 points), the defense has to respect him, which opens up the post for the big men to work. Rip Hamilton had a solid scoring night against the Celtics, putting up 20 points on 7 for 15 shooting, but also had an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers as well. If he doesn’t take better care of the ball tonight, TA and Co. will surely make him pay for it.
Rudy Gay vs Jimmy Butler:
Rudy had an understated, but solid game against Sacto. He got out in transition when needed, played solid defense on John Salmons, and just let the game come to him instead of forcing things last night. There were very few of the ISO plays we’ve seen in the past where he cradled the ball on the perimeter before attempting a drive into the teeth of the defense. That’s another encouraging sign for Grizz fans. Jimmy Butler came off the bench to provide some scoring and energy last night, and will probably have to fill the starter’s role tonight with the injury to Deng. Butler is an underrated player who is very efficient, so it will be important for Gay to stick close to him on defense.
Marreese Speights vs Carlos Boozer:
These are two very similar players. Both of them are big, strong, love the mid-range jumper, and rebound well. Speights had a good game with a near double-double against Sacto (10 & 9 in 27 minutes) and might be the starter again tonight, given the uncertainty over Z-Bo’s lower back strain. Boozer logged heavy minutes last night (43) and put up monster stats to go with it (19 pts, 20 reb). Which guy do you think is more likely to be tired tonight?
Marc Gasol vs Joakim Noah:
Noah also stayed on the floor most of the night, playing 45 minutes against Boston while putting up another double-double (14 & 13). He continues to be a defensive force, gobbling up rebounds while racking up steals and blocks on a nightly basis. This was his first game in awhile where he actually shot the ball well though, so it will be interesting to see how he does against another solid defender in Gasol. The Spanish Bear had his 5th double-double of the season last night. Not so coincidentally, the Grizzlies are 5-0 in those games. He started off slowly in terms of shooting (1-5), but then finished 6-14 as he began to look for his own shot more than being the facilitator he’s known as.
Just like the last time these two teams faced off, Chicago is experiencing some depth issues due to injuries. (Sound familiar Memphis fans?) They’ll be relying on Taj Gibson, Nate Robinson, and last night’s hero, Marco Belinelli to provide most of their reserve minutes. Similarly, the Grizzlies will look to Bayless, Ellington, and Arthur for theirs. It’s like a doppelganger matchup. Guess who played well against the Bulls a month ago…. That’s right, Wayne Ellington did. Look for the former Tar Heel to get some favorable looks against the somewhat lax defensive efforts of Belinelli and a tired Hamilton. If he knocks down a few shots while keeping his counterpart from doing the same, it could alter the balance in this game and result in a Memphis win.
By the Horns