Memphis is struggling with a front office 'retirement', Darko's injured leg, and a 5 game losing streak. Only the 5 game losing streak really matters to most Grizz fans since everything else is just symptomatic of the losing streak and the overall poor record of the team. Outside of the first loss at home to Portland Memphis can be excused for every loss in this streak. Houston is a tough team at home, the New Orleans game could have gone either way, the Atlanta game was the 3rd road game in four days and Detroit is an elite team. This game is different. LA has nearly as bad a record as Memphis and is without their star player, this is a home game after three weeks off and everyone is going to be as rested as possible during an NBA season. The team has had time to work on defensive switches as well so this is about as close to a statement game as the team is going to have.
The Clippers have to view this game as a statement game as well. They are in the midst of a 4 game road trip (if you count a road game against the Lakers that is) and the third game in four days. They began the trip with a win against New Jersey and a loss the next night against Charlotte the next night. They will be fighting to finish with a winning road trip. The Clippers were the popular choice to be the worst team in the Western Conference after a season ending injury to Elton Brand, but Coach Mike Dunleavy wouldn't stand for that and surprised a lot of teams early in the season. However they have struggled of late.
Trampled Underfoot. Will Pau play? He hurt his toe in practice and his status currently is uncertain.
UPDATE: Paugasol.com is reporting in spanish that Pau will miss the game and could be out for up to one week.
Dazed and Confused. One thing to pay attention to tonight is the Grizzlies body language. Owning one of the 5 worst records in the NBA and in the midst of a 5 game losing streak (and losing 6 out of 7), one has to wonder how the Grizzlies are handling things mentally. There's no room to dwell on misfortune and feel sorry for ones self in the NBA. Just gotta have a short memory, forget about the last game, and concentrate on the "next" game (or next shot, for you Tiger's fans).
Communication Breakdown. Obviously, a huge key tonight will be if the Griz can play solid team oriented man-to-man defense, something that hasn't been done through the 1st quarter of the season. There is a strong argument to be made that our players just can't play good defense. Though surely there is improvement to be made with our current roster if the players execute what Coach Iavaroni is telling them to do and the players start communicating with each other on the court better. Of course, this isn't breaking news to anyone on the team. Take it away Marc:
"Our communication has to be better. It takes all five guys."
Could you elaborate on what Coach just said, Rudy?
"We have to be more aware of what's going on. On certain possessions people are wide-open. It's just not one person's fault. It's the whole team's fault. We have to do a better job of rotating and it's a team effort."
What Is and What Should Never Be. In the last 2 games, Mike Miller attempted 9 total shots. I think it is frustratingly obvious that our starting shooting guard needs to be able to get more than 9 combined shots up in 2 games.
The Battle of Evermore. The matchup I am most excited to watch tonight is Kaman vs Darko. This season, Kaman is everything we want Darko to be. I hope to see Darko come out with the same intensity he had during the start of the Pistons game and attack Kaman in the post. Early foul trouble for the Clipper center would be a huge Grizzlies advantage.
Matchups by Chip
Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Brevin Knight
Adopted son Brevin Knight returns home in this game. BK, a former Grizz who's wife has a business in Memphis where they call home during the off-season, was involved in possibly the funniest play of the day against Charlotte. The diminutive PG was called for charging after colliding with 7-1 ft Primoz Brezac. Brezac had to leave the game for medical attention while 5-10 BK was uninjured. Damon has struggled since his bout with the flu but should be ready for this game. When on top of his game Damon has deadly accuracy from outside and a nice passing game.
Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Quinton Ross
SMU grad Quinton Ross was unable to go against Charlotte with back problems but when healthy he has been the type of perimeter defender Memphis have been crying for. If Ross can't go then 32 yr old Cuttino Mobley will likely start. The 6-4 Mobley has managed to get off his shot for 10 seasons in the NBA so Mike Miller will need to watch the old man. Miller's offense has been sporadic of late from a 26 pt game against New Orleans but only 8 pts in the next two games combined. Miller will need to be aggressive with his shot (and hopefully attempt more than one 3 pt shot like he did against Detroit).
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Corey Maggette
This is the money ball match up of the night. Maggette is a slashing SF who loves contact and getting to the line. Rudy is not known for defending slashers very well and early foul trouble for Rudy could be a bad sign for the Grizzlies. However Rudy hasn't been so foul prone (i.e. the refs are giving him more respect) of late. Maggette is an up and down scorer. Never a great perimeter scorer Maggette's offensive output depends on his ability to get to the hoop or the line. Rudy will need to be conscious of this tendency all game.
Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Tim Thomas
Tim Thomas struggled his first season in LA but when Elton Brand went down with a season ending Achilles injury was thrust into the starting lineup. Thomas has started to improve lately having scored in double figures in 14 of the last 15 games. Thomas poses a tough match up problem for Gasol as he likes to play away from the basket hitting 34% of this 3 pt attempts this season. Gasol has been getting adjusted to the new offensive system under Iavaroni but has not been very good on defense this season. He will have to impose his game on Thomas to make him work on defense to take away his outside shot.
Centers: Darko Milicic vs Chris Kaman
Chris Kaman is one of the leading candidates for Comeback Player of the Year. Kaman has nearly doubled his output in scoring (18.4 vs 10.1) and rebounding (13.8 vs 7.8). His rebounding total ranks him 3rd in the league this season. Darko has struggled to remain healthy this season but when healthy he has been very effective. Darko is the only Grizz who can body up with Kaman who is a load at 7-0 and 265 pounds. Hopefully the three days off will help Darko regain his stamina.
Benches: Memphis vs Los Angeles
LA has to hope that Ross can go in this game because without him the Clippers bench is rather thin. Sam Cassell has been out since Nov. 26th and the next best scorer off the bench is rookie Al Thornton who averages 6.1 ppg. Reuben Patterson and Dan Dickau are the only other contributing bench players for the Clippers. Kyle Lowry has put behind his shooting woes of late to score in double figures in 3 straight games to raise his season scoring average to 10.0 ppg. Juan Carlos Navarro is struggling to get his long range shot to fall of late but is still averaging 10 points off the bench as well. Stromile Swift has struggled returning from his recent illness and may have lost his job as first big off the bench to offensive minded Hakim Warrick.
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