Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Memphis vs Cleveland - 1.15.08

Special Ticket Offer: For the Martin Luther King Game on January 21st, the Grizzlies are selling Plaza 5, Plaza 6 and Plaza 7 tickets for $25 a piece. Club level tickets are $50 each and all Terrace level seats are $10. Call 205-1445 to take advantage of this offer. This offer is only good for today.

Memphis returns from a difficult stretch of games against the Pacific Division having played the Lakers, at Sacramento, at Golden St and at the Lakers all within 6 days. So instead of getting a few days off to recuperate and maybe a game against the Knicks, TWolves or Sonics Memphis gets one day off and then the defending Eastern Conference champs. Thanks Stu Jackson. Memphis left town with their heads between their legs and players pointing fingers. The team lost all three road games but should feel a lot better about themselves. Two heart breaking losses and a game where they could have rolled over but didn't showed the team has a spine which has been questioned all season.

Cleveland rode LeBron James to the NBA finals where they got run over by a great team. This season Cleveland has struggled with contract issues (Varejao and Pavlovic), injuries (Hughes, James and now Varejao) and frankly a shocking lack of depth behind LeBron. It would seem that LeBron should be able to recruit veterans at a lower rate like the Celtics Big Three did but that hasn't been the case so far. Cleveland hasn't played a game since January 11th so any bumps or bruises they have will probably be healed up pretty well. Thanks again Stu Jackson! Maybe they will have a rest hangover. Winning 5 of their last 6 games, The Cavs are one game above .500 right now which puts them solidly in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With a healthy team riding LeBron's back they should make the playoffs and then anything is possible.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Larry Hughes

There aren't many point guards starting in the NBA taller than Larry Hughes. The 6-5 steal monster knows passing lanes as well as anyone in the league and uses his long arms to get to balls others simply can't. If he could shoot he'd be deadly. Lucky for opponents Hughes is only hitting 36% of his FG attempts and 30% of his 3 pt attempts and he isn't shy about shooting either. As Hughes goes so go the Cavs as he averages 12 ppg on 43% shooting in wins but only 7 ppg on 22% shooting in losses. Conley is struggling to adapt to the NBA but his composure implies a great future. His speed can be incredible and he can hit the open jumper on occasion. He will need to be careful with sloppy passes around Hughes however.
Advantage: Cleveland

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Aleksandar Pavlovic

A 6-7 Serbian national, Pavlovic has the size to give Miller trouble shooting over him and the hustle to surprise you if you take him for granted but he isn't really that strong of a player. Hitting only 33.8% of his FG attempts and 28.4% of his long range shots tend to make him forgettable when discussing SG's in the league. Pavlovic has hit for double figures twice since Dec 3rd. Miller is playing some of the best ball of the season right now including a team high 27 points against the Lakers when he shot 11-16 from the field. Miller's main weakness has been defense and that shouldn't be a huge problem against Pavlovic. However, if Rudy gets into early foul trouble don't be surprised to see Miller on James and Rudy on Pavlovic.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs LeBron James

Is there a better all-around player in the NBA than LeBron James? Back to back games against Kobe and LeBron will give Memphis fans a very real chance to compare these two great players. LeBron is 23 and seemingly bound for immortality. Rudy is 21 and listed as 30 pounds lighter than LeBron. Rudy has to stay out of foul trouble (and possibly ask his girlfriend and any cousins to miss the game) to hang with LeBron. LeBron averages 29.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 7.5 apg. He hits 48% of his FG attempts and if there is a weakness it is his 3 pt shot which he only hits 28.2% of the time but in crunch time I wouldn't bet against him. Rudy is a great player but LeBron is legendary.
Advantage: Cleveland

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Drew Gooden

Drew Gooden was drafted 5 years ago by the Memphis Grizzlies but was traded during his rookie season for Mike Miller. Drew struggled his first few years in the league trying to determine if he was a 3 or a 4 and if he was supposed to be a scorer or a role player. Rumor has it he finally realizes he is a role player and a power forward. This season he is averaging 12.1 ppg and 8.9 rpg but only shooting 43.6% from the field so maybe he still takes too many bad shots. Gasol called out the team after the first Laker loss and has been a beast ever since. In the last three games since his comments went public Gasol has averaged 27.67 ppg, 11.33 rpg and shot 61.4% from the field. His 8 assists against the Lakers were a season high and the four blocks tied a season high as well. In 18 games since the end of November Gasol is averaging 20.5 ppg, 10.11 rpg and shooting 3.28 apg while shooting 50.01% from the floor. Maybe there was something to the stories about him being injured to start the season.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Big Z is nearing the end of an up and down career. Having fought through numerous injuries and some terrible teams, Ilgauskas will turn 33 in June and one has to wonder how many years the big guy has left. Ilguaskas is averaging 13.1 ppg but that is on the lower end of his career average but his rebounding is at a career high. He's still able to block an occasional shot but he looks slower and slower every day. Darko is on the upside of his career. The 22 yr old finally has found a starting spot he can hold onto and is trying to make the most of his opportunity. He averages 2.7 bpg but still finds it difficult to score consistently and his free throw shooting is atrocious. Darko can not afford to get into early foul trouble either since Memphis has no one to match Ilgauskas inside outside of Darko.
Advantage: Cleveland

Benches: Memphis vs Cleveland

If there is one area that the Grizzlies could hold a decisive advantage it is off the bench. Daniel Gibson is the most reliable bench scorer for the Cavs but as a backup PG his 2.7 apg leave a lot to be desired and his strength matches up directly with Kyle Lowry's strength which is defense. Memphis looked hard at Anderson Varejao over the summer but felt the investment was too great for the upside potential. So far that has seemed to be a smart decision as Varejao wanted a lot more money than Darko signed for, missed all of training camp and part of the season holding out and hasn't progressed the way people expected this season. Still Varejao is a hustle player who's intensity will need to be matched. After those two the options dwindle fast with Shannon Brown, Devin Brown and Ira Newble being the main contributors. Memphis' bench has come back to life on the road trip with Lowry, Juan Carlos Navarro, Hakim Warrick all contributing at times and newly signed wingman Bobby Jones looking very good in limited minutes.
Advantage: Memphis

Relevant Storylines:
Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach Mike Brown was given a two year contract extension today.
Local reaction to LeBron's speeding ticket. (via TrueHoop)
LeBron speaks about his vehicular misdeeds. (Fanhouse)
Cleveland one of ten teams looking to trade? (TrueHoop)
LeBron's MVP candidacy. (via Yahoo! NBA Experts Blog)

Relevant blogs and previews:
Grizzlies.com Preview
Brian Windhorst
(Akron Beacon Journal)
Pete Pranica's Preview
Cleveland Sports Authority (Preview)

Cavalier Attitude
Cavaliers Corner
Cleveland Cavaliers Blog
Hoopsworld Preview

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