Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pregame: Grizzlies vs Wizards

Memphis enters the game against Washington in an unenviable position. The team is 2-4 at home with a disinterested fan base who seem to prefer watching the local college team beat weak opponents than watch the Grizzlies lose against quality opponents. Home court advantage needs to be regained to draw back these fans who just want to see the home team win. The loss to Toronto was a major step backwards in that regard. Top pick Michael Conley is sidelined with a shoulder injury which takes some luster off the curious about the speedy rookie. Rudy Gay needs to respond to teams focusing on him as a leader as his points per game has dropped off significantly from earlier in the season.

Washington is more cursed than the Grizzlies. Not only has the team lost Gilbert Arenas, one of the most prolific scoring PG's in the game, but Monday Brendan Haywood, the Wizards starting center, twisted his ankle on Andrey Blatche's foot and is questionable for the game against the Grizzlies. Washington's loss of Arenas may not be so tragic as it allows other players to step up. Caron Butler, Antwan Jamison, Andrey Blatche, DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels all are solid players who can step it up when called on. It is quite possible that Washington will be a better team without Arenas' individual brilliance dominating the offensive end. The Wizards will be much better with Daniels on defense.

Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Antonio Daniels
Daniels, a former first round draft by the Grizzlies, has stepped into the starting role after the injury to Arenas and performed well so far. Daniels doesn't provide the offensive impact of Arenas but he distributes the ball well, plays solid defense and gets others involved. Damon has been performing well in limited minutes for a starter. Some untimely turnovers really hurt the Grizzlies against Toronto however. Damon has improved his shooting however and is a dangerous 3 pt specialist right now hitting 50% of his attempts so far this season. Damon's 4.1 apg is amazing considering he averages fewer than 20 mpg. The big problem for Damon will be Antonio's size in this match up.
Advantage: Washington

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs DeShawn Stevenson

Mike Miller has been accused of not being clutch, not being able to create his own shot and not being very athletic. No one has questioned his motivation however. DeShawn Stevenson's motivation has been questioned as well as his courage to take a shot. Both impressions are wrong however. Miller takes high risk shots (mostly long-range bombs) that aren't hit as often as other shots. Stevenson focuses on team play and especially defense which are not rewarded with highlight reels on ESPN. Lucky for the players their coaches do appreciate their contributions. Lately Miller has become more aggressive with his shot but is still the #3 option offensively on this team. Stevenson will be called upon to do more offensively now that Arenas is out and my guess is that he will fit in fine with his new role.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Caron Butler

A classic battle between former Huskies. Rudy Gay is supposed to be the leading scorer on the Grizzlies team. Sometime in the future he may be comfortable in that role but not yet. Right now Rudy is still hesitant to take clutch shots (despite his success so far in that role) and he is not the assist man nor rebounder to be a complete player but he is still growing into that role. Caron Butler will never be considered a #1 option but he is a solid player who can score, rebound and log long minutes. His 39+ minutes per game seems questionable considering his history of injury but it is what it is. Rudy will not have to fight to get his shot off as often as usual but he will have to work harder on defense. Don't be surprised if Rudy defends Stevenson at first to avoid early foul trouble.
Advantage: Washington

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Antawn Jamison

Neither player has peformed at the level their team's expected so far this season. Jamison is shooting below 40% from the field, not grabbing 10 boards a game and not averaging 20 ppg. He is averaging close to 20 ppg and 10 rpg. Gasol is shooting a better percentage from the floor but isn't close to 20 ppg or 10 rpg. Part of the explanation is that Gasol is playing the high post offensively instead of the low post and he has moved backt to PF but Gasol isn't rebounding like he did as a PF in the past. Memphis needs to control the boards so whoever outrebounds in this game could determine the outcome overall.
Advantage: Washington

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Brendan Haywood

I've hinted at this already but I am not sure either player will be active in this game much less starting. Darco is still trying to recover from a sprained right thumb and Haywood is decovering from a sprained ankle. However, since the option was talking about Darius Songalia and Stromile Swift I am going with Darko and Brendan. Brendan could be the surprise player of the year averaging nearly 10 ppg and 10 rpg and close to 2 bpg. Apparently the battle with Eton Thomas finally lit a fire under Haywood that has been missing for so long. Darko finally got the opportunity he has wanted for so long and was making the most of it prior to the injured thumb. Getting Darko back should help shore up the rebounding issue that has been missing since Darko went down.
Advantage: Washington

: Washington's bench has been stretched with the loss of Arenas. Putting Daniels at the point leaves Roger Mason as the primary PG backup for the Wizards. If Haywood can't go then Darius Songalia will likely move into the starting 5. That leaves only Andrey Blatche off the bench and this is the first season he has seen any noticeable action although he has shown incredible talent when given the opportunity. Memphis' bench is still led by Kyle Lowry with Hakim Warrick working his way into the rotation along side Stromile Swift. Casey Jacobsen and Tarence Kinsey are mixing up minutes at the wing position as well. This game reminds me of the season opener in 2005-06 when Washington came to town with a three man bench and handed it to the Grizzlies. Hopefully a repeat isn't in order.
Advantage: Memphis

Coaches: Eddie Jordan led the Wizards to the best record in the Eastern Conference last year and the honor of coaching the All-Star game. He is supposedly on the hot seat this season as the team started very slow but it seems difficult to comprehend that he will be let go after losing Arenas for 3 months. Marc Iavaroni is safe in his job despite the disappointing start of the season. The Grizzlies however need to start winning home jobs or the fans will completely abandon the team. The lack-luster effort against the Raptors can't be repeated.
Advantage: Washington

Other Previews
Bullets Forever
The Sports Network
Miami Herald

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