When: Friday, November 1st, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Well, that certainly was the opposite of pleasant, now wasn’t it? In their first meaningful game since getting destroyed by the Spurs in the Western Finals, the Grizzlies get destroyed by the Spurs in the season opener. Well, okay, they only lost by seven, but I’ll be having nightmares about that second quarter for months. The Grizzlies will try to get on the right track against the frisky young Pistons, who began their season with an encouraging victory over the Wizards, a team they’ll likely be fighting with for a playoff spot when spring rolls around.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Will Bynum:
With Brandon Jennings out for another game, the Pistons will turn to the electric, and often overlooked Will Bynum. Last year was a great season for him, if only because purely by default, he was the best Bynum in the NBA. We’ll see if he can defend his title with Andrew in Cleveland. In the mean time, he’ll go against Mike Conley, who has gotten better each year, and is looking to establish himself as one of the league’s premier point guards. In the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade, Conley stepped up his offensive game considerably, becoming the third option behind Marc and Z-Bo, as well as the key shooter amongst the starting five. While Bynum is a fun player to watch, he works better as a sixth man, where he can provide instant offense and energy. Against the more well-rounded Conley, he may be overmatched.
Tony Allen vs Chauncey Billups:
Chauncey Billups on the Pistons just feels right, doesn’t it? I mean, he’s like 50 years old now, and he’s playing a different position, but there’s just something logical about seeing Mr. Big Shot suit up in his Pistons digs. Billups got off to great start in the Pistons season opening victory over the Wizards, scoring 16 points, all of them coming off threes. Tonight, though, hell have his work cut out for him as he goes against one of the best defensive shooting guards in the league. Billups can still drain the three ball as well as anyone else, and if this Pistons team morphs into a legitimate contender, he’ll be one of their biggest role players. Still, he’s nowhere as quick as he used to be, and going against a perimeter defender as brilliant as TA, it seems unlikely that he’ll play a huge role in the Pistons offense tonight, unless he heats up from beyond the arc once again.
Tayshaun Prince vs Josh Smith:
Tayshaun Prince revenge game in store? Hey, you never know, right? Prince has been a reliable defender since coming to Memphis, but he’s rarely done a great deal on the offensive end. Smith, on the other end, is an excellent two-way player. A defensive beast who can also light up the scoreboard. People tend to dwell on the flaws in Smiths game, such as his tendency to jack up way too many jumpers, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. He’s an amazing athlete, a constant source of highlight-reel dunks, and he can play killer D. This was a great pickup for the Pistons, and, if we’re being honest, an enormous upgrade over Prince at the 3 position. Tayshaun gave the Pistons 10.5 seasons of outstanding service, ut with an All-Star like J-Smoove in town, it seems doubtful that the Pistons faithful will be missing him all that much.
I’m guessing all of the Grizzlies are thrilled about playing a team that isn’t the San Antonio Spurs, but perhaps none more so than poor Z-Bo, who could really use a break. He was held just two points against the Spurs on Wednesday, and he make take his frustrations out on Monroe (by scoring a lot of points of course, what did you think I meant). But if Z-Bo does light up the scoreboard, he’ll have to work equally hard to not give up just as many points on the other end. Monroe is one of the most talented young power forwards in the game, and he seems like a good candidate for a breakout season. With Smith now in tow, Monroe has become part of the Pistons’ “Big Three,” and who knows, we might seem him earning some recognition come All-Star time. This figures to be the most intense position battle of the night, as both players are adept at scoring as well as rebounding. Look for Z-Bo to make up for his weak performance against the Spurs with a strong bounceback game, but not without considerable push back from Monroe, who is not to be taken lightly.
Marc Gasol vs Andre Drummond:
In this situation, it comes down to established talent versus potenitl. Gasol is already one of the best centers in the league, while Drummond is is a highly intriguing player with the potential to become a superstar. With that said, if you were going to pick one of these players to go to war with just for this season, you would almost certainly take Gasol, unless you really think Drummond is making the leap to All-Star center at age 20. Marc is a better defender, and his offensive game is considerably more polished. Drummond might be the most explosive player in the league, but he’s still figuring out how to channel all of that energy. His thunderous dunks will blow your mind, but much like Blake Griffin three years ago, he’s still figuring out how to play basketball. Marc has the edge for now, but the tables may well have turned when 2015 rolls around.
As brutal as the Grizzlies loss to the Spurs was, at least the bench had some good moments. Quincy Pondexter and Mike Miller both hit double figures, which should come as a relief to anyone wondering how the team would operate with three small forwards vying for playing time. Ed Davis barely played (please not this again), and Kosta Koufos looked decent in the relatively small amount of time he was given. This is an area where the Grizzlies simply have a lot more depth than the Pistons, who are lacking in quality backup bigs, and are depleted at the guard spot now that they’ve been forced to start Bynum. If the combination of Smith-Monroe-Drummond allows the Pistons to take the early lead, look for the Grizzlies deep bench to even things up.
Sidenote: Yes, I gave the Grizz the edge in 5 out of 6 categories. If that seems to homer-ish, keep in mind that three of them (shooting guard, power forward, and center) were extremely close, while the Pistons have an enormous edge at the 3.