LOCATION: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
MEDIA: Fox Sports South, Soul Classics 103.5 FM
TICKETS: StubHub, TICKETMASTER
Memphis(36-29) is on a hot streak having defeated San Antonio, Dallas and Oklahoma City in the last week alone with the only blemish being a home loss to New Orleans.A win tonight against New York combined with a loss by New Orleans against Dallas would propel the Grizzlies into 7th place in the tough Western Conference playoff race. Memphis is now 5-3 since Rudy Gay went down with a shoulder injury. The team is being led by Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Mike Conley with great contributions off the bench from Mayo, Battier and Arthur.
New York (33-29) comes to town playing their 3rd road game in four days traveling from New York City to Atlanta to Salt Lake City and now to Memphis. That will take the breath away from any team but so far the Knicks have held their own rather well withconvincing wins in Atlanta and Utah. The Knicks are being led by All-Stars Carmello Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire in Mike D’Antoni’s high octane offense.
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsToney Douglas
Toney Douglas has played very well in Chauncey Billups absence. Over the last four games Douglas has averaged 16.2 ppg and 5.7 apg. Douglas’ speed is vital to the team’s getting out to run the ball and break down defenses before they can set up. Mike Conley is averaging 16.5 ppg, 5.6 apg and shooting 51% from the field in his last 10 games. This uptick in performance is nothing new for Conley who always seems to elevate his play after the all-star break.
Shooting Guards:Sam YoungvsLandry Fields
This could be the last game Young starts this season with Rudy Gay getting healthier by the day and Mayo outplaying Young in nearly every respect of late. However Young postponed the inevitable with a nice game against Oklahoma City where he scored 12 points on 5-9 shooting and shared defensive responsibilities in slowing down Kevin Durant. He has performed well overall as a starter focusing on defense while still averaging 9.4 ppg in 28 minutes. Landry Fields is the surprise rookie of the year. Averaging 10 ppg and nearly 7 rpg as well, Fields has started all 62 games for the Knicks and been a pleasant surprise.
Advantage: New York
Small Forwards:Tony AllenvsCarmelllo Anthony
Tony Allen always draws the mostdifficult assignments on defense and this is about as difficult as it comes.Allen pulled a new trick out of his hat against Kevn Durant when he played most of the game on defense with his handsbehind his back to avoid tough foul calls. It worked for the most part at Durant was held to5 points below his season average. Anthony is,like Durant, anexcellent mid-range shooter but he doesn’t have the 3 pt range that Durant does. Of courseAnthony also isn’t dealing with asore ankle like Durant was either.
Advantage: New York
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsAmare Stoudamire
New Yorkputs up one of the fastest power forwards in the league against one of the slower PFs in Zach Randolph. However Stoudamire is not particularly fond of playing defense or battling for rebounds.In fact this season Stoudamire is averaging the fewest rebounds in his career outside of the injury plagued season of 05-06. Zach Randolph is averaging a career high in rebounds but the average has been dropping lately as teams double teams have been moving their centers to cover him and double down with guards. Z-Bo has failed to reach double figures in rebounds in his last two games because of this. New York doesn’t have abig center to pound on Zach with so the responsibility will be on Stoudamire most likely. If Memphis can prevent new York from dominating the boards then and getting out to run then the points total won’t make that big of a difference. Memphis hasn’t been great on the boards lately however.
Centers:Marc Gasolvs Jared Jeffries
Jared Jeffries is not your typical NBA center. He’snot physically big, he doesn’t score much and he isn’t a particularly good rebounder. Jeffries is a fundamentally sound player who knows how to defend and does the job D’Antoni wants from his center. Jeffries does well against smaller centers especially. Marc Gasol is not a smaller center. At 7-1, 265 pounds Gasol is more bruiser than finesse and Jeffries will need to use all of his craftiness to prevent being run over by Gasol.
Benches:Memphisvs New York
Not many people are going to believe this but it looks like Shawne Williams has finally grown up. The former Tiger is actually playing well for the Knicks of lately including a nice 12 pt, 6 rebound game against Atlanta. Combining him with Sheldon Williams gives the Knicks a physical 2nd team that can run the court but defense is still lacking. Anthony Carter and Roger Mason provide the backcourt spark for the Knicks. Memphis will counter with Shane Battier, O J Mayo and Darrell Arthur but don’t be surprised to see Hamed Haddadi make an appearance against the short Knicks. His size could be a major boost in the game. Jason Williams back has given Ish Smith some court time but Jwill is still the primary back up PG.