Pregame commentary for the 11.10.07 Memphis at Utah game, by ChipC3 and Zack. Leave your predictions for the final score in the comments.
Memphis closes out the first road trip of the season with a tough match up in Salt Lake City against the Jazz. The trip started off on a strong note with a come from behind victory in Seattle before traveling to Portland on Friday. The back to back finish of the road trip makes it difficult to get up for a strong team like Utah but if the Grizzlies are serious about wanting to return to the playoffs this is the type of game they need to win or at least be competitive in. A good effort in this game should also put the team in a good frame of mind to return home to Memphis.
Utah has been strangely inconsistent so far this season. While their record is good they blew a big 1st half lead in LA in losing to the Lakers and blew a 5 pt lead with 30 seconds to play at home against Cleveland before incredibly hitting the winning shot with 1.4 seconds remaining. A veteran team like the Jazz (4 returning starters from last season’s conference finals team) should know how to close out games like those. The Jazz front line introduced themselves to the league last season when Okur, Boozer and Kirilenko became on of the best frontlines in the league. The maturity of Deron Williams continues but the shooting guard slot still is a gaping hole in their championship dreams. Until they fill that position Utah can not be considered a true challenger for the conference title much less the league.
--4th quarter woes. The fast paced Grizzlies offense has managed to score 19, 24, 18, and 22 in the 4th quarter in the first 4 games of the season, respectively. An average of ~20 points in the 4th quarter, for a team averaging over 100 points per game this season.
--Speedy backcourt. Surprisingly, Lowry and Conley have shared the court considerable minutes the last two games. The duo make for a small, but speedy backcourt, that puts pressure on the opposing defense, but allows opposing SG's a height advantage easily exploitable.
--Rudy has yet to experience a successful road trip. Last year the Grizzlies did not have a winning record during any multiple-game road trips. A win against the Jazz and that will change.
--Iavaroni and Sloan. Marc Iavaroni played for the Jazz under Coach Jerry Sloan in the mid 80's.
--World MVP's square off. Two summers ago, Pau was named MVP. Last summer, it was AK47. I'm also guessing that Pau and JC are still a little pissed at Russia's success this summer.
--Griz failing apart last night. Losing what looked like a winnable game by playing one of the worst halves of basketball possible, after playing a great half of basketball, is tough and probably hard to shake out of the consciousness of players, coaches and fans.
--48 minutes. This team isn't good enough right now to win playing only half the game. A still dynamic rotation is helping create the ups and downs, however the team as a whole still needs to learn to play more consistent throughout the entire game.
--Rebounding. I am always anxious about Utah's ability to dominate the boards. Darko, Rudy, Mike and Pau really have to be focused when on defense and limit Utah's second chance points.
--Pick and Roll defense. Thus far this season Memphis has shown to be weak against the Pick and Roll. Unfortunately, the Jazz are one of the best Pick and Roll teams in the NBA. It just doesn't look good for the Grizzlies defense, to be truthful.
Point Guard: Damon Stoudamire vs Deron Williams
The emotional Portland game being behind Damon he now has to face one of the best young PG’s in the league who is taller, stronger and a better passer than Damon. Questions were raised when Deron Williams was taken 3rd in the draft when Chris Paul and Raymond Felton were still on the board. Those questions became complaints when he struggled his first season and was benched by Jerry Sloan. However Deron learned from the bench and last year put all the concerns to rest with a dynamic season. He has continued his development this season and is now considered one of the top PG’s in the league. Damon will have to use his brain and his long range shot to keep up. Being the 2nd night of a back to back won’t help in that regard especially when you factor in the altitude.
Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Ronnie Brewer
Mike started the road trip with a big game in Seattle. That has been needed as Miller has been somewhat reticent to enforce himself in the offensive flow in the first 2 games at home. Every night you know Miller will bring his best effort but it isn’t always just shooting the ball. Miller has led the team in rebounding and assists so far this year but not scoring yet. Ronnie Brewer, the 2nd yr player from Arkansas, is struggling early in the season replacing Derek Fisher. The Jazz haven’t had a dependable SG really since Jeff Hornacek and the drafting of Morris Almond doesn’t send a strong message that they believe Brewer is the answer. Time will tell but he needs to play better or start expecting earlier and earlier calls to the bench. Sloan doesn’t put up with players learning on the court. That is what practice is for in his eyes.
Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Andrei Kirilenko
Rudy Gay may not play against a better defender this season than Kirilenko. The former PF can block steal and flat out shut down players while still having the energy to contribute on the offensive end. AK-47 made it known however that he isn’t happy with things in Utah this summer and even hinted at asking out of his contract so he could return to Europe to play. That may be true but don’t count on AK slacking off because of it. The consummate pro gives his all every night. Rudy has shown the talent that encouraged West to trade him last season for Battier when on the court. Unfortunately he hasn’t always been able to stay on the court because of foul trouble. When Rudy can avoid offensive fouls he is a tough match up but AK is a vet and we know how refs like to favor the old guys over youth.
Power Forwards: Darko Milicic vs Carlos Boozer
Okay, I know that Darko plays Center for the Grizzlies but it was either move Darko or Boozer because Gasol isn’t going to defend Carlos until Darko and Stro are already in foul trouble. It’s Boozer’s court so I moved Darko. In Memphis I will move Boozer. Carlos finally was pretty much injury free last season and earned the money he got when he shocked Cleveland by signing with the Jazz. Chosen for the All-Star (and replaced by Okur) Boozer has continued being a monster this season and Memphis will need to use everything they have to slow him down. Darko got his first double-double against Seattle but Nick Collison and Robert Swift are no Carlos Boozer.
Center: Pau Gasol vs Mehmet Okur
Gasol may have a chip on his shoulder in this game since AK-47 beat his Spanish national team in Spain to steal the European Championship. Hopefully Gasol will make the Jazz pay for the Russian teams insult. Mehmet Okur was a replacement choice for the all-star game last season combining ridiculous range for a 7 ft center with a nice knack for grabbing boards. Okur hasn’t been as effective this season but the capability is there. Okur’s range forces teams to play a big far away from the basket giving the Jazz space for their other big men inside. How the Grizzlies defend against this will ultimately decide the outcome. If Gasol takes charge on the offensive end while keeping Okur from hitting too many threes would be good but his back issues are worrying.
Benches: Kyle Lowry continues to be the main bright spot for the Grizzlies bench. Jacobsen, Navarro, Warrick and Swift have not played well yet and need to start showing why people expected the bench to be a strength for this team. Defensive breakdowns and poor shooting make it difficult for Iavaroni to give them many minutes. Utah has a stud on their bench in Paul Milsaps. An undersized PF who hits the boards and has been surprisingly effective scoring. However, like the Grizzlies he is basically the only producer off Utah’s bench. The loss of Derek Fisher is felt a lot when Deron Williams goes to the bench and could explain their struggles holding onto leads. That problem could be intensified with Kyle Lowry off the bench. If Stro and Hak can contain Milsaps then even the cold shooting bench of the Grizzlies can help keep the team in contention.
Coaches: Marc Iavaroni vs Jerry Sloan
This will be short. Jerry Sloan is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, has taken his team to the NBA finals, Conference finals and won his division _ times. Marc Iavaroni is coaching his 4th game as the top guy in Memphis.
Other Game Previews
--Check out Basketball John for a game preview with a Utah perspective. Here is a humorous excerpt:
Shouldn’t we swap nicknames? We already have a Grizzly for a mascot and there’s a lot more jazz in Memphis than Utah. Utah Grizzlies and Memphis Jazz. Plus, the team colors are similar enough we could just swap unis.
-- USA Today has their own game preview.
-- Grizzlies.com preview.