No local coverage of tonights game. NBA League Pass will be covering it however.
Memphis faces the hardest part of their schedule down the 'Dark One' and their future point guard, having a pathetic 0-5 record in games decided by 3 points or less and with rumors swirling of discontent between Pau Gasol and Marc Iavaroni. All this after losing to a Portland team that the Grizzlies had down 7 points with 10 minutes to play and who had played the night before in San Antonio. Rudy Gay and Mike Miller played hard with a combined 60 pts and 15 rebounds between them. The injury to Darko meant Gasol (14 pts and 15 rebounds), Miller and Gay each played over 40 minutes in the game. Kyle Lowry seems to be struggling as you would expect a young PG in the league to do on some nights. A return to his early season excellence would be appreciated.
Houston hasn't had to play a game since Sacramento on Saturday night but that game ended a disappointing road trip where Houston dropped their last two games to head home 9-9 on the season. Not exactly the record most Houston people expected from this big name loaded roster. With no less than 7 players who have been stars on this or other teams, Houston is not happy to be a .500 ball club right now. With a three game east coast road trip followed by home games against Dallas, Orlando and Detroit looming after this Houston needs a win in this game.
Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Rafer Alston
If Damon continues to play in December the way he finished the month of November then the Grizzlies may not be looking to trade him after all. In his last 10 games Damon is averaging 7.9 ppg, 4.8 apg and hitting over 40% of his three point attempts. Not bad production for someone averaging only 20.3 mpg. Compare that to Alston who averages 8.2 ppg, 4.8 apg and only hits 26.9% of his three point attempts despite playing 29.4 mpg. Neither player is rock solid as a starter but Damon's play has been superior of late.
Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Tracy McGrady
If there is a bigger mismatch on paper in this game I don't know what it is. Tracy McGrady is a scoring machine who scored 41 points on 16-28 shooting against the Grizzlies in their first game. He basically did what he wanted the entire game. Memphis simply doesn't have an answer for a motivated McGrady. Miller is a good player. He shoots well from everywhere on the court, he rebounds better than any guard not named Jason Kidd and he can pass well for a 6-8 guard. However, when crunch time rolls around you know in your heart that Tracy will own Mike.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Shane Battier
I don't believe this is Shane Battier Poster night in Houston but it would sure be nice to see Rudy put a poster highlight dunk down in this game. Shane Battier has the size and strength to contain Rudy and that isn't good for Memphis. The Grizzlies need Rudy's all-court offensive game especially on the road where Rudy's production doesn't usually drop. Rudy has scored exactly the same amount of points on the road as he has at home through 16 games and that is including the disappointing East Coast trip where Rudy struggled so bad. Shane isn't a slasher and Darko is back. Both of these factors seem to favor Rudy who struggles against slashing offensive players and in games Darko doesn't play. Shane was able to contain Rudy in Memphis however and is playing in front of his real home crowd.
Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Chucky Hayes
Sam Smith says the story on the streets is that Pau Gasol is available. Nothing new there since Sam Smith has wanted Gasol in Chicago for the last two years. So far nothing has been done and I don't expect anything will be done any time soon. Gasol is playing the way the coaches want him to play, he has his best friend on the team and the Grizzlies are starting to win. Not a great recipe for a trade in my opinion. Chucky Hayes is severely outmatched in this battle. He doesn't have the height nor the physicality to deter Gasol from doing pretty much as he pleases. Gasol scored 26 pts in the first game and a similiar result should be expected in this one.
Centers: Darko Milicic vs Yao Ming
This titanic battle dictated the final result in the first meeting between these teams. The Dark One went toe-to-toe with the Great Wall of China and in the end the result was a draw, which was a big win for the Grizzlies. Yao did have some damage scoring 22 pts but only grabbed 7 boards while Darko went for 20 pts and 6 boards. Get a similiar result in the rematch and consider the Grizzlies lucky. Darko has shown the ability to defend just about any big in the game right now and at least be respectable. Ask Al Jefferson and Tim Duncan if Yao didn't convince you. The problem is with his left thumb. It didn't look fully healed against Minnesota and this could allow Yao to cheat off of him to assist on Gasol. Darko needs to be aggressive to the basket to neutralize the big man. Right now Darko may not be healthy enough to do that.
Benches: Memphis vs Houston
With the 8 man rotation in Memphis there are some players who aren't going to get the playing time they expected in most games. So far that hasn't resulted in any hard feelings but you one has to wonder how long that will continue. Houston doesn't have to wonder. Steve Francis has already gone public with his displeasure over playing time saying that if he realized he would be playing so little he would have signed with the Clippers instead. Nothing wrong with a little competition but doesn't it make more sense to earn playing time than crying about the lack of it? Houston's bench also has Mike James, Bonzi Wells, Luther Head, Dikembe Mutambo and Luis Scola who all have contributed in sporadic amounts. It is tough to keep 10 men happy on a basketball team after all. With Houston wanting more hustle and less star power from their bench these egos are having a tough time dealing with things.
Update I (from Zack): With Darko again hurt (ankle sprain), you can probably assume that Navarro will be back in the starting lineup and Rudy will be moved down to the 4. However, in the Commercial Appeal today, Darko talks like he is going to play. It will be an interesting situation to monitor before game time. My gut says he won't play, but we clearly need him to guard Yao. Here is what Darko said:
"That's how some ankles work," Milicic said. "It's really not that bad. I'll try it (today) in shootaround. But I'm sure I'll play."
Looks like he will be suiting up. And it was just said on the radio by Rudy Gay that it looks like Darko is going to play. Wow. That injury looked severe on Monday night. If Darko plays, he's got some big stones.
Update II: Today's Houston Chronicle has an article about Shane Battier and his shooting woes
Update III (from Zack): I didn't have time for my usual pregame contribution. So, I'll leave you with this. We aren't going to win this game playing the way the Rockets want to play. They have always had great transition defense and if we let them take away our fast break opportunities, we will be falling into their hands. We need to push the tempo and look to get the ball to JC and MM for those sweet transition 3-pointers. This is also Houston's only home game in an 8 game stretch that spans about 2 weeks. In the Rocket's mind, this is a must win. Go Griz!
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