LOCATION:FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
MEDIA:Fox Sports South,Soul Classics 103.5 FM
Memphis(38-32) has been struggling with better teams on the road in the last few weeks with blowout losses to Miami and New York but has been a tough team to play at home and this game is at the FedEx Forum. The Grizzlies are 24-10 at home this season tying Portland and Oklahoma City for the 4th best home record in the Western Conference. This is a huge game for the Grizzlies who are looking to maintain some distance between themselves and Houston, Phoenix and Utah for the final playoff space in the Western Conference.
Utah(36-34) is playing the second game of a back to back series after losing at Houston Sunday night 110-108 and have lost their last three road games. However teams can never relax with leads against the Jazz as Utah has 14 comeback wins including 7 when trailing by 15 or more points in the second half. Utah is in a stretch of games that could decide their playoff situation with the next three games being at Oklahoma City, vs New Orleans and vs Dallas.
Point Guards:Mike Conleyvs Devin Harris
A lot of people assumed that Utah was throwing in the towel on the season after Jerry Sloan retired and Devin Williams was traded to New Jersey. Apparently someone forgot to tell the Jazz as the team has begun to rally behind Devin Harris as the new PG on the team. Harris has helped the Jazz by bringing speed to the court enabling the Jazz to run the ball much better. His shot hasn’t been very good but he does distribute the ball well. Mike Conley has had success against Harris this season, holding him to just 34.8% shooting but Harris’ team has won both games.
Shooting Guards:Tony Allenvs C J Miles
C J Miles has only played against Memphis twice this season and was rather pedestrian in both games averaging 10 ppg but that was before March hit. Miles in March is averagingover 6 ppg above his season average. His 19.4 ppg this month (21.2 ppg over his last 5 games) has helped the Jazz get their feet underneath them. Miles exploded against Minnesota for 40 pts and has reached double figures in the month. Tony Allen was expected to be a defensive force for Memphis but his offense has been a shock. Allenhas only averaged 2.0 ppg against Utahthis season buthe wasn’t starting in any of those games. As a starter Allen is averaging 13.5 ppg. Still it is defense that drives Allen and his defense has him in the league’s elite.
Small Forwards:Sam YoungvsAndre Kirilenko
AK- 47 looked like he was one step away from retiring under Jerry Sloan. Not much has changed since Ty Corbin took over either. The Russian Rifle has actually seen a decrease in performance under the new regime. Kirilenko was once a triple double nightly threat now he seems content to play a diminishing role. Sam Young has performed his role well in Rudy Gay’s absence but his role doesn’t ask for much. The 5th option on offense, Young is expected to defend well and hit open shots. Young is probably a career bench player in the NBA but he does hit nearly 48% of his FG attempts and works hard on defense. His lack of size however will bea distinct disadvantage in this matchup.
Power Forwards:Zach Randolphvs Paul Millsap
Grizz fans have pleaded and the Front Office has promised but nothing was being written about Zach Randolph getting an extension until today when the Commercial Appeal announced thatZ-Bo and the Grizzlies were close to signing an extension. The news couldn’t come at a better time as the Grizzlies will need Randolph more than ever against Paul Millsap who returned to the starting lineup for Utah against the Jazz with a big game (38 points, 10 boards, 4 dimes and 3 blocks). Of course that was against a depleted front line in Houston. It shouldn’t be so easy against a healthy, rested and motivated Z-Bo.
Centers:Marc Gasolvs Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson has become the main offensive figure for the Jazz lately. Averaging 25.7 ppg in March, Jefferson is the leading scorer in the NBA since the All-Star break. Jefferson and Millsap are a formidable duo down low and when both players are contributing on offense the Jazz are a very respectable 32-22. When one or the other is shut down the Jazz struggle. Marc Gasol has struggled all season. It started bad when he twisted his anklepriorto opening night andwhile showing flashes ofgood play has never really been able to consistently play well this season. Gasolis averaging a rather tepid 10.9 ppg in Marchand a disturbing 6.1 rpg but his play overall has been superior to his opponent.Gasol has held Jefferson to just 13.0 ppgin their three previous matchup for example.Still Jefferson is peaking right now and Gasolirritated his ankle a few games ago.
Utah’s bench were expected to play specific roles under Jerry Sloan and seem to be struggling to figure out their roles under Ty Corbin. Raja Bell leads the bench but is more of a defensive thorn than an offensive spark off the bench. Derrick Favors and Gordon Heyward are interesting looking rookies but rookies just the same. Backup PG Earl Watson, a former Grizz, is adequate but not exceptional. Ronnie Price has the ability to be a spark off the bench but is inconsistent in that role. Memphis’ bench continues to improve and produce led by Shane Battier, Darrell Arthur and O J Mayo.