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come to Sacramento with high hopes after blowing out Golden State at home Monday night. Led by the ‘Beast on the Bluff’ Marc Gasol (27 pts, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks) and a suddenly ferocious defense that is holding teams to below 38% from the field the Grizziles come to Arco Arena with a .500 record and optomism among their few fans as high as it has been since Shane Battier was in uniform. O J Mayo and Darrell Arthur complete the triumverate of rookies starting for the Grizzlies. The lack of history may benefit the Grizzlies in this game since Memphis has lost 17 consecutive games in Sacramento and never won there since the team moved to Memphis.

Sacramentoisn’t exactly rudderless right now. The rudder is just in reverse. Beno Udrih has been a disaster so far, and Mikki Moore is underperforming his meager expectations. Kevin Martin isn’t quite on track, those everyone has confidence he’ll be himself soon enough. But Sacramento fans can put up with the overall malaise so long as Jason Thompson impersonates Karl Malone and Spencer Hawes shows his remarkable talent. Thompson has received the bulk of the team’s power forward minutes, and he’s made the most of them. He’s a tenacious, Elton Brand-like rebounder with a littany of offensive moves. Few big men run the floor like him … he even leads the break on occasion. A home loss to a fellow cellar dweller might be too much, but Thompson has allowed us to forget our plight four times already. – Tom Ziller Sactown Royalty

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Beno Udrih

I want to give Udrih the advantage here after his breakout season last year but honestly he hasn’t earned it. He’s shooting 37.5% from the field, 20% from the arc and basically stinking up the court. Conley hasn’t been a lot better but there are signs of life here. Conley’s 7 assists against Golden State were a season high and the result of his pushing the ball on almost every possession in the 2nd half. As long as Conley continues to use his speed Udrih is in big trouble. If Conley is content to walk the ball up the court Udrih may escape this matchup relatively unscathed.
Advantage: Memphis

Shooting Guards: O J Mayo vs Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin doesn’t look like the KMart of old. His 38% from the field and 30% from arc shooting is not what people have come to expect from him. KMart should find his range soon however but it may be difficult againt the suddenly defensive minded Grizzlies and O J Mayo. Mayo is a rookie only in experience. His demeanor on the court is that of a classy veteran and his intensity on defense is amazing. He averages over a steal a game but more importantly hedoesn’t give up on defense. He worksvery hard, has great court vision and seems to know when to take shots and when not to shoot. Still a veteranstar athome almost always gets the nod over a rookie on the road.
Advantage: Sacramento

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs John Salmons
John Salmons was supposed to be the team’s up and coming star last season but never really found his niche until late in the season. Now with Artest gone Salmons can take over the SF position full time and he has responded well so far. It is uncertain whether or not Salmons can become a front line scorer and leader on a team but so far he is doing a fine imitation of one. Rudy Gay is starting to grow into his leadership role as well but there are few questions about his ability to man that role. Against Golden State Rudy showed his willingness to share the scoring load as he repeatedly fed Gasol for easy plays arount the hoop. Last year he would have taken the tougher shot instead. It’s basically a toss-up right now between the two players and Sacramento is at home.

Advantage: Sacramento
Power Forwards:Darrell Arthur vsMikki Moore

Mikki Moore is a thin but physical PF that Memphis has never really had (although we do have a physical center or Euro Thug in Gasol according to Houston broadcasters). Arthur isn’t as physical but he can hit the open shot, plays solid defense most of the time and is willing to hit the boards when needed. Moore is old however and I mean old for most Americans not just NBA players. Moore played basketball at Nebraska when their football team was good! Arthur is 20, fast for a PF and not afraid to take a shot if left open. Still an experienced vet in front of a supportive home crowd givesthat team a huge advantage.

Advantage: Sacramento
I can’t believe I am writing this but the center matchup should be the marguee battle of the game. Two of the youngest and brightest centers in the game face off for the first time ever in the battle of Hawes and the ‘Beast on the Bluff’ Gasol. Hawes opened the season off with 6 blocks while Gasol posted a double double against Yao Ming and the Rockets. Neither player has looked back since. Hawes is averaging 11.7 ppg and9.7 rpg while basically shouldering the entire inside game for the Kings until Brad Miller returns from his suspension. Gasol is averaging 13.0 ppg and 10.2 rpg. This could be a very interesting. Gasol’s got a bit more NBA experience so I am giving him the edge but it falls within the margin of error.
Advantage: Memphis

Benches: Memphis vs Sacramento

Memphis’ bench has been improving lately. Kyle Lowry has been motoring around the court creating mayhem. Hakim Warrick has refound his shooting touch while actually passing the ball some and playing defense. Darko is Darko but that is fine in limited minutes off the bench and Quinton Ross plays solid defense. Sacramento however has been bringing in a beast of their own in Jason Thompson who is averaging 13.3 ppg and 7.3 rpg. Not bad for the rookie from Ryder. The rest of Sacremento’s bench is a mix of old (Kenny Thomas and Bobby Jackson), flops (Sheldon Williams and Quincy Douby)and youth (Donte Green). The future looks bright but right now the team hasn’t bonded. The return of Brad Miller should really strengthen the team’s entire outlook.
Advantage: Memphis
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