Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Memphis at Indiana - 1.2.08

Memphis may be the happiest team in the league to see 2007 end. Riding a five game losing streak, 2nd longest in the league, and not being competitive in most of the games during that streak seemed a somewhat fitting end to a year that started with Tony Barone as coach and Pau Gasol asking for a trade. Not much went well in between either. Now the team has had some days off to recuperate and get focused on salvaging the 2nd half of the season. Rudy Gay has been struggling over the last 5 games hitting only 40% of his field goal attempts and a mere 52% from the line. Pau Gasol has been consistent only in failing to reach the level where people would be satisfied with his effort. Mike Miller failed to attempt a shot until midway through the 3rd quarter against San Antonio. Those are the Grizzlies top three scorers and explains why the team is struggling. Memphis needs to get their top players playing better as the role players feed off the big names. Mike Conley returns to his hometown in this game and could see significant minutes as he returns from his injured shoulder.

Indiana started the season 3-0 with a convincing rout of the Grizzlies in Memphis. Since that impressive start the team is 12-16 and struggling. Were the victories over Chicago, Miami and Memphis just fool's gold or what? One thing that should motivate Indiana in this game is that they have never lost to Memphis at home. Indiana is struggling with injuries and off court issues as Jamal Tinsley has been shot at outside a nightclub early one morning as well as suffering a hamstring injury. Jermaine O'Neal has missed 6 games this season do to injury and has dropped all the way down to third on the team in scoring. Leading the Pacers has been Danny Granger, who has developed into one of the league's best third year players which is saying a lot since that class included such players as Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Marvin Williams, and Mike Dunleavy who is not only leading the Pacers in scoring but providing the type of all-around excellence expected out of the former Duke star when he turned pro.

-- Indiana has lost 4 in a row.
-- Memphis has lost 5 in a row and 12 of their last 14.
-- Memphis has never won in Indiana.
-- Memphis averages 100 ppg, but has yet to crack 100 points in the last 6 games, and has averaged only 86.4 during the 5 game losing streak. On top of that, Memphis is 1-14 when scoring under 100 points.

Storyline of the Night -- Can the Grizzlies be competitive for 48 minutes?
During the last 3 games (all against divisional rivals), the Griz have not been competitive for long stretches of the game and almost seemed disinterested in playing. Most Memphis fans can't take much more of this putrid effort. Indiana has whipped the Grizzlies 3 times this year (twice in preseason, once in regular season). Another poor effort resulting in another double digit loss will only further the frustration of most fans.

Point of Emphasis for the Game -- Offensive production.
The Griz still seem to still be searching for an offensive identity. Success tonight will likely rest on the shoulders of the offense, not defense. Unfortunately, the offense may still be unsettled as another point guard (Conley) is now thrown into the mix fighting for minutes, which will probably lead to all 3 PG's splitting time evenly. I hope the offense doesn't suffer for it. Regardless, the Griz need to find some consistency on offense. 3-point shooting will need to be on tonight (calling Mike and JC). Assisted FG's will need to be plentiful (calling Damon, Kyle, and Micheal). Our offensive centerpieces will need to be efficient and forceful with the ball (calling Pau and Rudy).

Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Andre Owens
Andre Owens has replaced Jamal Tinsley at the point for Indiana and has played sufficiently well. The 2nd yr player from the University of Houston has size (6-4) to shoot over Damon but has not looked to score much in the starting role which may not be a bad thing since he is shooting only 29% from the field. Damon has continued to hold onto the starting role with Memphis despite shooting below 40% from the field himself. His threat of the long range shot forces teams to think twice about doubling down on Gasol and Gay which neither Lowry nor Conley can do at this point.
Advantage: Memphis

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Mike Dunleavy
If there are two more similar players than Mike Miller and Mike Dunleavy in the league I can't think of who they are. Both players are deadly from the arc, grab more rebounds than you would expect and possess a high basketball IQ. However both players are also are suspect defensively, are rumored to disappear at crunch time and don't take enough shot attempts to be considered big time scores. Mike Miller has failed to hit double figure attempts in 3 of the last 5 games despite shooting 50% from the field and 43% from the arc. Dunleavy has only attempted 18 shots total in his last 3 games despite shooting 48% of his FG attempts and 43% from the arc. When great shooters don't shoot it makes it difficult for the offense to perform at a high level. Dunleavy has done well against Miller this season and he is at home.
Advantage: Indiana

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Danny Granger
Danny Granger and Rudy Gay should be a marquee match for years to come. Both players are under 25 years old and possess amazing skills and the workmanlike effort needed to become elite players. Rudy has become the leading scorer on the Grizzlies this season averaging 19.1 ppg but has struggled of late. One reason for his struggles has been his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Averaging 4 fouls a game in the last four games have made minutes difficult for Gay and that has affected other parts of his game. Granger also struggled with foul calls earlier in December but has seemed to iron out those difficulties of late. The match up is pretty even otherwise as both players possess range out to the 3 pt line, hit the boards for 5-6 rebounds a game, make defensive plays with both averaging over a steal per game and Granger also getting over a block a game. Rudy has played a lot of the PF position and he doesn't seem as comfortable in that role which may be affecting his confidence.
Advantage: Indiana

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Jermaine O'Neal
Are their any more disappointing players in the league than Pau Gasol and Jermaine O'Neal. Both players demanded a trade in 2007 and neither player got what they asked for. Both players have new coaches leading the team and have struggled in the uptempo styles the coaches prefer. Both players have struggled with minor injuries early in the season that has slowed their absorption into the new system. Gasol seems to be picking up his role in the new system a bit as he has begun to put up consistently better numbers. Likewise O'Neal has begun to ring up numbers more consistent with expectations. The major difference between the two players would appear to be O'Neal's ability to bang with anyone and his defensive presence. In a battle such as this with both teams appearing even on paper (and both wanting to showcase their skills if a trade does occur) you have to expect the more physical player to control the action.
Advantage: Indiana

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Troy Murphy
The best battle between left handed centers people have seen so far this year. Okay it is the 1st game of the year but still two of the better outside shooting centers in the league battle here as Darko and Murphy face off. In a game seemingly even or close at every position Troy Murphy's superior rebounding and long range skill could make the difference. In many ways Murphy represents the type of player people hope Darko can become. He pounds the defensive boards to while spreading the court on offense with his long range shooting. Darko isn't as good a rebounder nor long range shooter but at 22 can still develop these skills. What he can't seem to do is get over a left thumb injury that makes it difficult to grab the ball be it on rebounds, passes or even taking shots. Defensively Darko is still learning how to make plays without picking up fouls but despite his 4 years of experience he is only 22 and hasn't played that many games. His upside could be greater than Murphy's but his present isn't there yet.
Advantage: Indiana

Benches: Memphis vs Indiana
Memphis' bench has been struggling to score of late. Kyle Lowry seems to be having difficulty adapting to the way teams are guarding him which entails playing off of him on the perimeter and surrounding him in the lane. While Kyle's outside shot is suspect he has to find a way to get more confidence in it or team's will simply clog the lanes preventing not only Lowry from driving but Gasol to operate in the lane. Juan Carlos Navarro continues to be a decent bench player but he obviously prefers starting averaging 16 ppg when starting compared to 7 ppg as a reserve. Stromile Swift is still one of the most perplexing players in the league seemingly looking fantastic in limited minutes but more minutes seems to result in the same statistics. It's as if Stro only plays hard for 18 minutes no matter how long he is on the court. Watch for Mike Conley to get on the court more in this game as the Pacers can't match his speed in the open court. Indiana's bench relies on former Memphis Tiger Shawn Williams to provide some punch as well as Ike Diogu and Marquis Daniels. These three players are erratic but can light up the scoreboard when they are on their game.
Advantage: Indiana

1 comment:

zack said...

i'm not very optimistic...

Indiana 111
Memphis 95