Memphisheads out on the road again after a successful three game home stand. The team made a non-injury related change in their starting lineup for the first time in two seasons when Xavier Henry was moved into the starting lineup and O J Mayo was asked to become the main scorer off of the bench. So far the team’s results have been encouraging even if Mayo hasn’t shown the scoring ability off the bench that was hoped for. Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph remain the leaders for the team and Mike Conley continues to be aggressive at the point. The bench has responded well to Mayo joining them as well setting team highs in scoring from the bench in each of the three games Mayo has come off the bench.
Clevelandwas the big loser in the summer free agent sweepstakes, losing their hometown hero to the beaches of South Florida. The Cavs have had to deal with an enormous amount of injuries to their key players this season from Mo Williams (thumb and groin) to Antawn Jamison (knee) to Daniel Gibson now (shoulder). If healthy the Cavs are in the second tier of Eastern Conference teams but if injuries continue to haunt the Cavs then they will struggle to make the playoffs. Jamison’s return with 22 points and 7 rebounds in Orlando makes things brighter the Cavs. Cleveland has to guard against looking past the Grizzlies and toward LeBron’s return early next week.
Mo Williams can be a devastating scoring guard. He can also be ice cold and he’s been even more hot and cold lately than usual. In his last five game Williams has reached 20 points three times. Twice he failed to reach double figures. Williams game depends on his scoring too. In the games he’s scored well he’s averaged over 6 assists as well. In the games he scored poorly he averaged fewer than two assists. Conley has continued to play well this season but is far off the pace he set early in the season. His clutch free throws at the end of the Golden State game should help his confidence. The problem is Conley isn’t known as a defensive stopper
Anthony Parker is a nice NBA veteran. At 35 his best days are behind him but he knows his role on a team and is a solid player who won’t make a big mistake. Xavier will be starting his fourth game of the season and has yet to lose an NBA game as a starter. Not that his starting has that much of an impact on the outcome. His own coach admitted Henry didn’t win the job. Still Henry has played under control and hit 66% of his field goal attempts since the move. Henry has much better size than Mayo which helps him on defense as does the knowledge he won’t be playing extended minutes. Henry has more promise but Parker is the better player at this point in their careers. OF course Parker is also 16 years older than Henry too.
Rudy Gay was given a near max contract deal this summer and he has played like nearly a NBA Superstar this season. So far he is earning his pay. He hit the game winning shot over LeBron James but perhaps his game against Golden State was better. Everytime Golden State went to make a run Rudy got the team back on track with a big basket. Joey Graham is a nice player but he looks worse following in the footsteps of LeBron James. Graham will hit the open J especially at the arc where he is hitting 40% of his attempts. Still Graham isn’t a double digit scorer and is more of a sub than a starter.
Hickson has not been playing up to expectation lately. In the last five games he’s failed to score in double figures and his rebounding has been sporadic. With Antawn Jamison appearing ready to retake the starters role after playing 30 minutes in Orlando it is only a matter of time before Hickson goes back to the bench. Zach Randolph had a rare off-night against Golden State with 14 pts and 7 rebounds. Z-Bo is known as a player who brings it every night and will need to go big against Cleveland to help the Grizzlies win in a tough road environment.
Marc Gasol’s ankle must still be bothering him. How else can you explain Andris Beidrins going to for 28 points and 22 boards? That makes things troublesome in this matchup since Varejao is a very similar player to Beidrins. Slightly undersized for a center Varejao gets by by out-leaping and out-hustling his opponents. Varejao has no offensive game other than cleaning up others mistakes but he will have a long career doing that. If Gasol just had an off night then his size and control should dominate Varejao but if he is still not 100% watch out for another big game for a player who normally doesn’t have big games.
Cleveland lost their prime-time player but this team is not decimated by his loss. Cleveland’s bench has Antawn Jamison who is a double-double player, Daniel Gibson, Ramon Sessions and Jamario Moon who all are veterans who can contribute. Memphis’ bench was one of the worst in the league for most of the season and that was an improvement over last season. However, with Mayo accepting his role as designated scorer, the bench has come to life. Darrell Arthur had 6 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks against Golden State. Greivis Vasquez had a career high 10 points. Tony Allen and Sam Young are playing valuable minutes but it is O J that has transformed this group. In the games since Mayo moved to the 6th man role Memphis’ bench has scored season highs in points in each game. Still a young bench is do for a down night and Cleveland’s bench is loaded with veterans.