LOCATION:Madison Square Garden, New York City
Memphis(37-31) manhandled the L A Clippers and Blake Griffin Monday night after being humiliated in Miami two nights earlier. The Grizzlies resiliency has been amazing this season. Despite losing key players for long stretches of the season and making changes to the starting lineup unlike any needed last season the Grizzlies continue to win games. No lead is too insurmountable for this season’s team and that makes for entertaining basketball. If the Grizzlies plan on moving up from 8th place in playoffs this is an important game for them to win.
New York(34-31) has struggled with chemistry since the big trade. On some nights the Knicks look like serious challengers to the Eastern Conference title but then there are the inexplicable losses. The Knicks are 6-6 since Carmelo joing the team with wins over Miami, Atlanta, Utah and Memphis but also losses to Cleveland and Indiana twice each. The Knicks will be looking to get back on track after losing back to back to the Pacers who the Grizzlies have to play Saturday night.
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsChauncey Billups
Chauncey Billups is a former All-Star and NBA Finals MVP so if anyone is going to right the Knicks ship and get the team playing together Billups is the likely person for the job. However Billups is shooting just 35% from the field with New York and only 29% from the arc. His 4-14 performance against the Pacers Tuesday night hasn’t helped either. Mike Conley is playing with a lot of confidence right now and despite rather sedentary numbers is leading the team the way the team wants from their point guard. Conley had a bad shooting night in Miami but rebounded with a 5-12 shooting performance against the Clippers and has averaged 7 apg in his last three games.
Shooting Guards:Tony AllenvsLandry Fields
Landry Fields has been the most surprising rookie of the season. The 2nd rd pick out of Stanford is shooting 51% from the field and 40% from the arc with both percentages likely to rise in the future with the Knicks loading up on talent around him. Fields has grabbed just under 7 rebounds a game as well. Tony Allen is having a surprising season. His defense has not only been individually excellent but he has led the team to improve on defense overall. Allen has no outside shot to mention but he can score in transition and with the turnovers created by the team there are plenty of opportunities for transition baskets. The problem arises when Allen cheats off of Fields to help on others leaving Fields open for easy long balls.
Advantage: New York
Small Forwards:Sam YoungvsCarmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony looked unstoppable in Memphis last week but has been much more human in he games since shooting 23-57 in the last three games. If the human Melo shows up then the Grizzlies stand a very good chance in this game. The problem is Melo hasn’t been human against Memphis often this season. Sam Young is a solid player who would be an excellent 7th or 8th man on a roster but is overmatched in the starting lineup. Melo has a better shot, better height and just good enough as a defender to make Young work for every point.
Advantage: New York
Zach Randolph had something to prove to the world against the Clippers and his old fashioned beat down of Blake Griffin did the trick. Z-Bo up 30 pts and 12 boards while holding his rookie opponent to a mere 8 pts and 9 boards. Amare is no rookie. Amare made shots with ease against Memphis in the first meeting and unless the team puts the defensive effort over the entire game it is likely he will have another big number game. Amare is faster, taller and has a wider range on his shots than Z-Bo and with all the help Amare gets on the boards the Knicks take away Z-Bo’s best asset on the offensive glass.
Advantage: New York
Centers:Marc GasolvsJared Jeffries
If Marc Gasol is healthy enough to go against Jeffries then his size should once again make a big impact on the game. However he’s twisted the same ankle that he injured in October and he is day to day right now on being able to play. If he can’t go then Darrell Arthur looks to move into the lineup. Jared Jeffries is the best man on man defender on the Knicks frontline but offers little in the way of offense.
Toney Douglas has returned to the Knicks bench with Chauncey Billups back from injury but one has to wonder why. Douglas isn’t as effective coming off the bench as he was starting. Shawne Williams continues to play well coming off the bench however. His 13 points Tuesday night equaled every one else on the Knicks bench. Memphis’ bench received a nice boost from Greivis Vasquez against the Clippers but it is not likely he will see much court time against the Knicks. Hollins likes defensive matchups and Douglas is too fast for Greivis. Leon Powe should see more action in this game especially if Arthur starts. O J Mayo was scoreless against the Clippers but always plays big in big situations and MSG is about as big as they come. Battier and Arthur bring the defensive intensity off the bench.