Memphis is privileged to host the 6th annual Martin Luther King Jr Day game again. This year the team honors Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier. The events for the day include a symposium, a high school game and the main event with Chicago coming to town to play our Grizzlies. The game will be televised on TNT (the only national network broadcast of the Grizzlies this season) with Mike Fratello doing color commentary. The game will also be a Pepsi Value Night. This means fans can get 4 hotdogs, 3 Pepsi drinks and 4 tickets starting at only $48. The halftime show includes a performance from Boys II Men.
Memphis took a beating in Charlotte 87-105. Playing short-handed with Rudy Gay still suffering the effects of the flu and Mike Miller out with back spasms Memphis didn't have enough firepower to handle the Bobcats. Pau Gasol continued his strong play with 28 pts but only 7 rebounds as the Grizzlies went small to counter Charlotte's small lineup. Juan Carlos Navarro scored 21 pts and Rudy Gay 17 for the Grizzlies. 40 games into the season Coach Iavaroni made the first clear cut statement that the lineup may be changed when he stated "Not to make excuses, but we’ve got to find guys who are eager to score, guys who are going to run the floor." This is the Grizzlies 3rd game in 4 days so fatigue may play an issue.
Chicago is playing some of their best ball of the season as the Bulls defeated Detroit97-81 to remain undefeated against the Pistons. Luol Deng missed the game with a sore Achilles heal and is questionable for the game against the Grizzlies. Andres Nocioni, a player the Grizzlies recruited this summer before re-signing with the Bulls, scored 21 replacing Deng and Ben Gordon exploded for 33 points in the win. The only downside for Chicago was when backup PG Chris Duhon was carried off the court after injuring his keft ankle. He too is questionable for Monday's game. This is also Chicago's 3rd game in 4 days after traveling to Golden St on Friday before the Detroit game in Chicago Saturday night.
Interesting College Connections
--Rudy and Ben Gordon both attended UCONN.
--Miller and Joakim Noah both attended Florida.
--Stromile and Ty Thomas both attended LSU.
--Hak and Demetrius Nichols both attended Syracuse.
Did You Know - The Griz are 2-3 all-time in MLK games, with both wins coming against the Rockets.
Pau + Bulls + Trade Talk = Overwhelming Storyline of the Game
In case you haven't heard, Pau Gasol has been prominently mentioned in trade talks for the last year of more now, with 90% of the mindless chatter centered around Pau being traded to the Bulls, who need a legit low-post scorer and don't need any more offensively challenged energy guys (then why in the hell did Paxson not draft Aldridge instead of Tyrus freaking Thomas, why? I have yet to hear a good explanation for that draft day blunder). What makes this meeting even more interesting in this whole "I'm a Chicago columnist and I think the Bulls should trade Tyrus Thomas and PJ Brown for Gasol because the Grizzlies HAVE to save money and rebuild" nonsense is that last year after the MLK game against Phoenix was when Pau went to Heisley to talk about being traded, prompting Jerry West to get mad and leak the info of that meeting to which he wasn't involved in.
Must Read Link Before Tonight:
Trade Talk Involving Gasol on Back Burner (analysis by the Great Ron Tillery)
Zack's Key to Stomping a Mudhole in the Sam Smith Chicago Bulls:
Make this Game a Track Meet
This is my one and only key for this game, because it involves a few aspects that should favor the Griz. Behold:
--The Bulls have yet to win a game when the opponent scored over 100 points. The Griz have scored 100 points or more in 6 of the last 8 games and average 101.4 per game for the season.
--According to 82games, the Bulls have the most difficult time winning against teams that 1) Score a lot of points (see above), 2) Have a high FG%, and 3) Have a high pace. Sounds good to me because the Griz score a lot of points (101.4 per game, 9th overall), shoot a good percentage (46.2, 7th overall) and also are near the top in pace too.
I don't know if Miller will be available, but I'd bet my puny weekly wage he is. I would also bet that Navarro starts tonight in place of Darko. Miller and Navarro need to be ready to pull the trigger early and often (Navarro is averaging 22.7 points in his last 3 games while shooting over 50%). Conley and Lowry also need to look to push the ball as much as possible, regardless of the numbers in transition. Being our only national TV game, I think the Griz will be motivated and will be shooting just fine, so let's convince the Bulls they should run with us and make this game a track meet.
Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich will probably be back in the starting role after missing 3 games with an injury due to Duhon's injury. Hinrich has not played well this season scoring 11.3 ppg on 38.9% shooting from the field. Mike Conley has been steady since taking over the starting role in January averaging 10.4 ppg and 5.3 apg. More importantly Conley has shot 33.3% from the arc forcing teams to honor that shot. Keeping the opposing team's PG on the perimeter allows the Grizzlies more room to operate inside.
Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Ben Gordon
If Miller can go he has a distinct height advantage against the diminutive Gordon. Miller has been playing the most minutes of any Griz player this season but the emergence of Bobby Jones could give Mike some much needed time to rest. When playing Miller has been very efficient this season scoring 16.5 ppg on 51.8% from the field and 44% from the arc. He is also averaging a career high 6.8 rpg. Gordon, despite being the highest scoring Bull this season, has rotated in and out of the starting lineup. Like most of the Bulls, Gordon hasn't scored very efficiently hitting only 42.1% from the field but still shoots 38.1% from the arc.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Andres Nocioni
Andres Nocioni will likely start for the Bulls as Luol Deng injured his Achilles and those usually take more than a few days to recover from. Nocioni was the first player Wallace targeted for a FA signing this summer (ahead of Darko Milicic) but Nocioni made it clear he wanted to stay with Chicago. Nocioni is averaging 14.5 ppg on 43.8% shooting and 36.1% from the arc. Nocioni is a physical player and will drive the ball hard in an attempt to draw fouls. Rudy has been avoiding fouls but has sacrificed defensive intensity to do so. Rudy has athleticism over Nocioni but will need to keep Andres on the perimeter and not give up silly fouls. For the first time this season Rudy is not the highest scoring Grizzlies player as his 19.3 ppg is tied with Gasol for team lead.
Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Joe Smith
After a slow start Gasol is now averaging above his career averages in scoring and rebounding. His 19.3 ppg and 8.9 rpg are not career highs but his averages January are as good as they have ever been (24.2 pgg and 11.0 rpg). Containing Gasol will not lie solely on Smith but Smith will be given the first opportunity. Smith is averaging 10.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg in 22 minutes a night. Backing up Smith will be Jaokim Noah who is having a turmoil filled season. Gasol has been taking the lead in generating points lately and will have the opportunity to do more damage against the Bulls but will have to be aware of Chicago's tendency to shoot from outside when playing defense. It has been rumored that Gasol wants to play for Chicago if traded and this game would be a great time to impress the Bulls front office.
Centers: Darko Milicic vs Ben Wallace
The battle of the disappointing Free Agents. Ben Wallace was the biggest name in free agency in 2006. Darko Millicic was the biggest name last season. Neither player has lived up to the hype. Wallace was supposed to be the interior muscle the Bulls needed but has been more of a 33 yr old undersized center than the answer to the interior. Wallace has never developed an offensive go-to move and his rebounds, blocks and staals are all below his career averages despite being respectable. The real probably has been his less than stellar rebounding. Milicic has been battling injuries from his ankle to his back to his thumb but the team has been pleased with his defensive effort. What has been disappointing is the apparent inability for Darko to score with any shot outside of the left handed hook. Milicic needs to be injury free and show a greater array of moves to justify his contract.
Benches: Memphis vs Chicago
Normally one would look at the Bulls bench and assume they have a big advantage over the Girzlies. Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon as experienced bench players, Nocioni bring punch and energy and Noah is a lottery pick. Now with most of these producing players either in the starting lineup, injured themselves or in trouble with the team it is less certain. Thabo Sefolosha is starting to show some promise and Tyrus Thomas can explode at any time but the consistency is questionable. Memphis' bench has been getting great production from Lowry and Navarro while Hakim and Bobby Jones have been hot and cold.
Relevant Links and Game Previews