ChipC3 and Zack bring you pregame commentary for the 11.16.07 Memphis vs New Orleans game. Leave your predictions for the final score in the comments.
Memphis lost a heart stopping game to the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night to finish the first back to back series of the week at 1-1. That was an expected outcome with two games against Houston and Milwaukee but not many people expected the Grizzlies to win the first game only to lose the 2nd. At 2-5 the Grizzlies are not the worst team in the league right now but they aren’t far from it. Rudy Gay continues to score seemingly at will but has yet to rebound or assist to the level of an elite player. Pau Gasol’s minutes are down, his shot attempts are down and there are rumors his motivation is down despite continued minutes for Juan Carlos Navarro, the player supposedly brought in to pick up his spirits. Mike Miller finally broke out of his season long slump at the end of the Milwaukee game, but one quarter doesn’t break a slump. He will need to be aggressive again to win back some non-believing fans.
New Orleans is hanging with the Texas Trio early in the season behind the strong play of Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and surprisingly Morris Peterson. Peja Stojakovic still has incredible range when healthy and David West is an up and coming player at the forward spot. Former Grizzlies player Byron Scott has the Hornets over achieving from some experts expectations but the players believe in the system and are working hard to implement it. The only drawback for the Hornets seems to be fragile health of some of their starters. If they get injured who knows what would happen. If the Hornets win tonight it will mark the best start in franchise history. I would hate to allow them to do that.
-- Shooting slump. Mike Miller is 1 for 14 on 3-point attempts in the last 4 games. Ouch.
-- Big 3, now Big 4? So far this season, the Hornets are trying to prove that the Southwest Division is not just about San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. At 7-2, New Orleans is sitting at 2nd place in the division. Maybe more telling is that Hollinger has the Hornets ranked #2 overall in his statistical-based power rankings. Only the Celtics are better. Lucky for the Griz is that they have played their best this year against Southwest Division foes at home. (Bonus trend...the Hornets beat the Grizzlies 3 out of the 4 games last year)
-- Winning streak. Not so surprising, the Grizzlies have yet to string together any wins this year. Last year, it took until the end of March (!) before the Grizzlies strung together multiple wins. How long will it be this year? After losing a heartbreaker to the Bucks, obviously tonight isn't the answer. Though maybe tonight will be win #1 in our first winning streak of the year (wait, who do we play tomorrow night...ugh!)
-- Lottery point guards. Chris Paul is playing at an MVP level in only his third year. Micheal Conley is having a hard time getting on the floor. Still, the fact that 2 top-5 PG's are playing against each other is noteworthy.
-- Making the Southwest Division the best in the NBA. I mentioned in the Trends section that so far this year, the Hornets are every bit as good as the Texas Trio. Of course that is only taking into account the first 10 games of the season. However, stepping back a little farther, both the Hornets and Grizzlies are young, up-and-coming teams trying to force their way into the elite of the Western Conference. Both still have a ways to go (winning a single playoff game would be a good start), but this year the gap certainly looks to be closing.
-- Rudy Gay for All-Star? I've talked about it previously in this space, the emergence of Rudy Gay is certainly the top story of the year for the Grizzlies regardless of the matchup. Not many expected him to be averaging 20 ppg (double from his rookie campaign) and forcing his way into a primary offensive weapon. Foul trouble has kept him from making a big impact on the defensive end, but that will soon come.
-- Downtown Memphis Pick and Roll Blues. It is only the early part of the season, and I am already beating a dead horse with the "we have to defend the pick and roll better" theme. I'm tired of it. I want to move on, but first either the Grizzlies have to move on or we have to play a team that doesn't excel at the P-n-R. Chris Paul and David West should be licking their chops right now. I predict David West to keep nailing that elbow jumper of his. I'd love Iavaroni to get more aggressive in P-n-R defense, but I expect him to keep it passive so to avoid foul trouble.
-- Easy Rider. Before last game, I went on and on about the superb job the Griz have done this year at getting easy buckets (i.e., getting lots of FT attempts and points in the paint). Against the Bucks those easy buckets were not nearly as plentiful. With Memphis signing the jump shooting blues more times than not, continuing to attack the rim and force feed Pau/Rudy/Darko will go along way tonight. (Bonus Key...Keep Chandler from setting a career high in rebounds)
-- Get on your feet, Memphis and stand up! This Grizzlies team is hungry. They are also a bit fragile. A good cure to prevent lags in intensity and effort is for the crowd to stay pumped. It is nearly impossible to keep a loud and lively atmosphere for 48 minutes in the NBA, however, having an energized crowd at the right moments throughout all 4 quarters will help this team. I'm sure Rudy Gay will do his best to get the crowd involved with a few sick dunks (Julian Wright, you have been warned).
Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs. Chris Paul
This is an ugly match up for the Grizzlies. Chris Paul is lightning fast player who can score and dish. Damon has been solid this season in extremely limited minutes (15 a game) but still that is too many according to some fans. Chris Paul is playing at a pace that has garnered some talk of MVP awards this season. He leads the Hornets in scoring (18.6 ppg) and assists (10.6 apg) in only 34.1 mpg. His 51.2 FG% and 44.4 3pt% makes him very efficient for a point guard and throw in 4.7 rpg and you can understand why he is being discussed for MVP.
Advantage: New Orleans
Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Peja Stojakovic
I wonder how many people will boo Peja in memory of the Slam in Sacramento? Peja was the most hated player in Memphis at one time. Time heals all wounds probably and that can be said for Peja as well as he attempts to rebound after missing last season with a bad back. His 10 3 pt shots against the Lakers seems to imply he is back. Now if Mike Miller can only build on his finishing effort in Milwaukee for the Grizzlies. Mike has been hesitant to take shots this season but he took over late against Milwaukee and made some clutch shots. Hopefully this is the start of good things. Until it is confirmed however...
Advantage: New Orleans
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Morris Peterson
Mo Pete found his shooting touch in the last game hitting 6-9 bombs on the way to 27 points against Philly. It's not likely that he will find it quite so easy in Memphis against Rudy Gay. Unfortunately Peterson is a better defender than he gets credit for so it won't be easy for Rudy to get his points either. Neither player hits the boards that hard. For Peterson that isn't a big problem with Chandler and West cleaning the glass. For Rudy that may be a bigger concern. Miller has been filling in nicely but Rudy has to contribute more in the all-around game to be considered a dominant NBA player and not just a scorer. It seems weird that Rudy is actually averaging more blocks and more steals than assists. Great players make players around them great. That is Rudy's next step in his development.
Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs David West
Power vs finesse in this atypical match up at power forward. Pau Gasol has the height but is more a finesse player. David West has the bulk and uses it to his advantage to gain leverage in rebounding. West has range nearly to the 3 pt line (he's actually 3-5 this season from beyond the arc). This is a test for Gasol's back (some would say spine). If Gasol allows West to push him around the Grizzlies will be in trouble. Gasol must use his height to go over West on offense while blocking out to grab boards on defense. New Orleans misses shots so controlling the glass is vital. West just seems to be the type of player who intimidates Gasol. If Gasol checks for blood more often than he grabs a board you will know who won the match up.
Advantage: New Orleans
Centers: Darko Milicic vs Tyson Chandler
You want to read something incredible? Tyson Chandler is learning how to score outside of dunking the ball. I realize most people didn't think this would happen but his 11.2 ppg implies something different is going on with the Big Easy's biggest player. Tyson always could rebound but his shot was suspect (7.6 career ppg, 60.4 career FT%). Tyson poses unique challenges for Darko in the post because of his speed and agility. Darko does better with slower centers like Yao. However Darko has been surprising everyone so far this season. His 11.1 ppg and 8.4 rpg are great and he should only continue to improve. The question is can be adapt in time for this game?
Advantage: New Orleans
Benches: Former Grizz Bobby Jackson leads the scoring off of New Orleans bench averaging 8.1 ppg but his shooting isn't exactly accurate. Rasual Butler had some big games against Memphis last season, Janero Pargo and Hilton Armstrong provide most of the bench play but don't overlook promising rookie Julian Wright who is buried on the depth chart but has some serious talent once he develops. Memphis' bench finally matched Kyle Lowry's intensity in Milwaukee as Casey Jacobsen, Brian Cardinal, Juan Carlos Navarro and Michael Conley all contributed in bringing Memphis back in the first and second halves. Hopefully this is the start of some decent play from the back ups because the team needs more contribution from it's bench. While the bench overall improved, Stromile Swift had a poor night against Milwaukee and needs to rebound against New Orleans. Where have you gone TK and Hak?
Advantage: New Orleans
Coaches: Byron Scott exercised one demon already this season when he defeated New Jersey for the first time on their court since he was fired from the Nets job. Scott's resume includes trips to 2 NBA finals as a head coach in New Jersey and 3 NBA titles as a Laker player so he gets respect from his team. With only Mo Pete as a new player among the top 8 on the roster Scott has a group of players who know what is expected of them. That chemistry should continue to improve this season unless injuries take another significant toll. Marc Iavaroni is still experimenting with different lineups while trying to figure out who is going to run the point. It isn't easy but the tinkering now should produce results later in the season.
Advantage: New Orleans
Other Game Previews
-- Today's must read game preview from a Hornets blogger is from Ryan over at THE New Orleans Hornets Fan blog. Probably the best game preview from an 'enemy' blogger that we have linked to this year. Please, click the link and read the whole thing. For now, I want to highlight one of Ryan's on-point observation/prediction.
In the end, the Grizzlies are going to have to hound Paul and defend the perimeter closely or the Hornets are going to crush them under three point shots and dribble penetration like they've done to 7 other teams to start this season.
-- Chris Herrington's preview at Beyond the Arc.
-- Big Easy Buzz Blog
-- Hornets 24-7
-- The Sports Network