Sunday, January 27, 2008

Memphis vs Dallas - 1.28.08

International Night

Memphis is coming off a satisfying overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night. That makes 5 wins for the month so far, with two games remaining. The Grizzlies would love to avenge their close loss to the Mavs earlier this season, as the 108-105 defeat is one of the notches in their 1-10 record in games decided by 3 points or fewer. The Grizzlies are banged up, with Pau Gasol, Mike Conley and Stromile Swift all missing games recently due to injury. The others should be rested though, as Memphis has finally gotten past its steady diet of back-to-backs to play a more balanced schedule. Last time, Juan Carlos Navarro missed two open 3's that would have sent the game to overtime. Don't expect him to make the same mistake again, if given a chance to redeem himself.

Dallas is on the second night of a back-to-back after battling the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night on ESPN. They are 10-2 in January while averaging 103 ppg. The Mavs are currently in 2nd place of the Southwest Division, a mere 1 game behind the surprising New Orleans Hornets. Their "Big Three" of Nowitzki/Howard/Terry lead the team in scoring (58 ppg combined) as they attempt to erase the memory of their early postseason flameout from last spring. Much has been made of Howard's elevation that has challenged Nowitzki's title/role as "best player" on the team, but there hasn't been any conflict come up as a result of this so far.


Point Guards: Kyle Lowry vs Devin Harris
Filling in for injured starter Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry was an integral part of the victory over the Clippers as he muscled in a career high 21 points. Lowry brings unbridled intensity every single game, but his decision making can still be suspect, as would be expected with any rookie PG. On the other end of the philosophical spectrum, steady Devin Harris is enjoying the best season of his young career, posting all-time highs with 14.6 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.5 spg and .362 3PT%. He's a tough matchup for anyone in the league, although I expect Lowry's physical play to bother him somewhat.
Advantage: Dallas

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Eddie Jones
Mike Miller is evolving as a player this year with career highs in rebounds (6.8 rpg) and shooting (.517 FG% and .440 3PT%) and is even showing some improvement on the defensive end, although no one will ever confuse him with Bruce Bowen. The Grizzlies have yet to win a game when he doesn't score at least 17 points. Since Eddie Jones returned from missing 17 games due to injury and was reinserted into the starting lineup, the Mavs are 13-4. Jones doesn't provide much scoring, but his defensive ability is what gets him playing time for this title contender. It should be an interesting matchup between these two former teammates who undoubtedly battled through many practices here in Memphis.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Josh Howard
With all due respect to Pau and Dirk, this is the new marquee matchup in the Mavs-Grizzlies series. Both Rudy Gay and Josh Howard are making strong charges to be considered the best player on their teams. Rudy is pretty close averaging over 20 pts a game and being the go-to player down the stretch in close games. Howard is playing great but still defers to Dirk Diggler as the team leader. Rudy is still young, but is learning how to be a complete player (6.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.0 bpg) as he continues his amazing leap forward. Howard is averaging 2008 ppg on 48% FG shooting), 7.6 rpg and 2.0 apg but fewer steals and blocks than Gay. Both are among the best young SF's in the league and their battle should be fun to watch if Rudy can avoid early foul trouble.
Advantage: Dallas

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Dirk Nowitzki
Even with the attention being paid to the SF battle, this matchup is still key to the end result of the game. Gasol is battling back pain, having missed the Clippers' game and playing tentatively against both the Bulls and Wizards prior to that. That's too bad, as the Spaniard was on quite a roll in the month of January, averaging 24.2 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.9 bpg on .542 FG% through the first 10 games of the new year. Dirk has fallen off statistically from his MVP season of a year ago, with lower PPG, RPG, FG%, 3PT%, FT% and higher TO's. Perhaps on that walkabout through the outback of Australia he lost a little of his game? It doesn't seem to have affected the team much though, as they continue to win far more often than they lose.
Advantage: Dallas

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Erick Dampier
The battle of the big uglies was one matchup that the Grizzlies used to always lose. Dampier could have credited his big games against Memphis for the massive contract that he signed a few years ago. Well, with Darko manning the paint, that has changed dramatically for the boys in Beale Street Blue. Darko's offense is still wildly inconsistent, but his defense has been tremendous this year, as he has kept most post players from having any significant success as long as he avoids foul trouble. Dampier started off the season recovering from injury, but has bounced back to regain his usual form.
Advantage: Memphis

Benches: Dallas has one of the most productive benches in the NBA with Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse and DeSagana Diop off the bench. Brandon Bass and Jose Barea round out the substitution pattern and both have provided quality minutes when on the court so far this season. Dallas isn't afraid of going to their bench which allows the starters to put out maximum effort without having to hold something back for extended minutes. Memphis' bench was supposed to be a strength of the team going into the season but that hasn't been the case so far. Juan Carlos Navarro has been exciting but erratic and has played far better as a starter than off the pine. Hakim Warrick provides solid scoring and some rebounding, but not much else to this point. Bobby Jones and Casey Jacobsen are the defensive stoppers off the bench, although both have left a lot to be desired lately. Stromile Swift has been inconsistent which is as shocking as the sun coming up each morning. Andre Brown is merely a fill-in for the frontcourt. This matchup really isn't even close.
Advantage: Dallas

Relevant blogs/websites:

UPDATE: Devin Harris did not travel to Memphis after injuring his ankle against Denver.

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