Friday, January 25, 2008

Memphis at Washington - 1.25.08

Memphis was playing some of their best basketball of the season before getting buzz-sawed by the Orlando Magic at home on Wednesday night. It is one thing to be flat on the 2nd game of a back to back series. It is quite another to lay an egg in front of the home crowd after a night off and no travel in 5 days. This is the 2nd game of another 3 games in 4 nights stretch and the Grizzlies are facing another Eastern Conference team playing very well right now. Rudy Gay continues to be among the best of the Sophomore class of players. The invitation to compete in the Slam Dunk Contest All-Star weekend is a nice additional feather in his cap but Rudy needs to focus right now on playing basketball and not dunking the ball. Pau Gasol is one of only 4 players in the league averaging at least 20 pts and 10 rebounds a game in December but his play in the last two games, against some seriously powerful inside players, has been less than impressive. Mike Miller's back has raised some concerns about the amount of minutes he has logged this season as he was nearly invisible against the Magic. Mike Conley has been playing extremely solid basketball and is starting to look to score more as teams drop off him to double Gasol. He will be challenged this way for the rest of the season if he doesn't start to punish teams doing that.

Washington is playing extremely solid basketball right highlighted by back to back wins over the Boston Celtics, but they too let their foot off the gas pedal in their last game when Cleveland snuck up and beat them 121-85. Washington has been tough to beat at home with wins not only over the Celtics but the Mavericks and Rockets as well this month. Overall the Wizards appear to be a team that beats the teams they are supposed to beat. Led by Caron Butler (21.5 ppg and 6.9 rpg) and Antawn Jamison (21.3 ppg and 10.4 rpg) the Wizards have righted their ship after losing all-star Gilbert Arenas for the season. Brendan Haywood has improved his play this season and is averaging 10.3 ppg and 7.7 rpg. Former Grizz player Antonio Daniels is playing well replacing Arenas as the starting point guard and has done a better job of distributing the shots than Arenas. Also contributing are DeShawn Stevenson, Andray Blatche, Roger Mason and rookie Nick Young.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Antonio Daniels
Antonio Daniels is a 6-4 swing guard who has done an acceptable job as the starter for the Wizards. Averaging 10.6 ppg and 6.3 apg as the starter, Daniels obviously isn't an offensive replacement for Arenas but his superior effort on defense has improved the teams ability to stop other teams from scoring. his 1.2 spg is more than respectable as well. Conley is starting to realize what his role is going to be on the Grizzlies. He has led the team in assists in 5 of the last 6 games. However, Conley performances on the road have been less than stellar outside of his first start in Indiana. On the road Mike averages 7.4 ppg and 3.9 apg on 42.1% shooting (27.3% from the arc). Daniel's size will force Conley to play tough defensively but Mike's speed should give Daniels troubles as well as Daniels knee has been giving him troubles of late.
Advantage: Washington

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs DeShawn Stevenson

Everything comes back to Miller's back in this match up. After sitting out the Charlotte game with back spasms Miller looked rested and sharp against Chicago but stiff and in pain against Orlando. Miller needs to be aggressive for the Grizzlies to have a chance against the Wizards. When Miller fails to reach 10 attempts the Grizzlies lose. It is that simple. The problem is that Stevenson is a very good defensive player and will not be lulled into allowing Miller easy looks at the basket nor easy to drive against. Like Conley Miller also sees a noticeable drop in production on the road averaging only 14.7 ppg and 6.3 rpg. Stevenson replaced Miller in Orlando after Miller was traded but didn't really find his spot in the NBA until signing with Washington. The back issue, Stevenson's defense and Miller's road woes makes this difficult for the Grizzlies and all Stevenson needs to do to win the battle is to limit Mike's shot attempts but Mike has bounced back well from bad games this year.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Caron Butler

The battle for UConn bragging rights as the two former Huskies go head to head in this battle. While they play the same position and come from the same school they are very different players. Butler is a mature player who knows when to impose himself on the game and when to let the game come to him. Averaging 21.5 ppg and 6.9 rpg Butler is more of a strength player than an attacker. Butler is averaging career highs in points and assists while having his 2nd best season rebounding the ball. Rudy, more of an athlete than Butler is breaking out this season leading the Grizzlies in scoring and third in rebounding, 4th in blocks and leading in steals. He has shot more 3 pt shots (and hit a higher percent) but also is a slasher who can finish very well. Experience and home court advantage go to Butler however and that should make the difference.
Advantage: Washington

Power Forward: Pau Gasol vs Antwan Jamison

Another excellent match up with Gasol vs Jamison. For the season Jamison is outperforming Gasol averaging 21.3 ppg and 10.4 rpg while Gasol isn't cracking the 20 ppg or 10 rpg mark. For the month of January it is Gasol averaging 22.6 ppg and 10.9 rpg while Jamison is averaging below 20 and 10. Jamison gives more powerful PF's fits with his all court game forcing the bangers away from the hoop. Gasol has shown an ability to use his length and yes even his speed to get out on perimeter shooters and Jamison doesn't have the power to keep Gasol outside of the paint on offense. In the first match up Jamison dominated scoring 41 pts (on 18-22 shooting) and grabbing 11 boards while holding Gasol to only 21 and 9 but this isn't the same Gasol that was playing in November and no one can post numbers like that twice. Still the game is in Washington.
Advantage: Washington

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Brendan Haywood

Haywood probably won't receive any votes but he should be considered for most improved player in the league this season. The 7th year pro from North Carolina is averaging career highs in points (10.3 ppg), rebounds (7.6 rpg) and blocks (1.7 bpg) while only increasing his average play by 5 minutes a game. That is pretty impressive. Darko showed some of the early season promise against Orlando with 8 pts on 4-5 shooting but only grabbing 1 board, even if he did hold Howard below his season average, isn't good and this is not against his former team. Haywood represents the only interior scoring threat on the Bullets and Gasol should be able to contain him so I expect Swift and Hakim to eat into Darko's minutes in this game.
Advantage: Washington

Benches: Memphis vs Washington

Juan Carlos Navarro was drafted by the Wizards but they never seriously attempted to sign him and finally traded him for maybe a mid to late 1st rd pick sometime in the future for the Grizzlies. If Navarro can get motivated by something other than playing in the NBA this would be a good time to show his stuff to the team that didn't want him. In the first match up JCN scored a career high 28 pts so maybe there is something to the revenge factor with him. Memphis will need that kind of performance from Navarro if they go with the small lineup since Bobby Jones is playing terrible since his big game against Seattle. Lowry has worked his way out of a mid-season slump but hasn't really shown the flair that he exhibited earlier in the season. The biggest surprise off the bench has been Stromile Swift who emerged from the DNP doghouse to have some impressive performances and with Washington's perimeter based big men may continue to see more PT. Hakim is still scoring off the bench but not doing enough other things to increase his playing time. Washington's bench is adequate with Songalia and Blatche as the bigs and NBA Journeyman Roger Mason on the perimeter but rookie Nick Young looks very promising. His battle with Navarro should be fun to watch.
Advantage: Memphis

Relevant Links:
(nice piece on Rod Strickland, Memphsi Tigers coach, by the way)
Bullets Forever(Pray they mention Brendan Haywood in a good light tonight. Just trust me on this!)
Lez Bullets
Washington Post: This Grizzly Could Have Been A Wizard (Juan Carlos Navarro article)

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