Saturday, January 5, 2008

Memphis vs Miami - 1.6.08

Memphis is playing some of their best basketball to start the new year after playing some of their worst to end 2007. The only significant change has been the demotion of Damon Stoudamire and the promotion of Mike Conley. Suddenly Memphis' interior defense is improved, the offense is more effective and the results are far more encouraging. Conley has learned how to swim apparently to use Iavaroni's reference from the beginning of the season. Rudy Gay had a tooth knocked out against Boston but came back to lead the team in scoring against Boston and showed the type of fortitude that the Grizzlies have lacked in previous seasons taking big shot after big shot in the game. Juan Carlos Navarro came back to life to score 20 points after being shut out in the win at Indiana. Mike Miller started hot but faded late to finish with 16 points after scoring 11 after 14 minutes of the game.

Miami has been one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season. With Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Williams it seemed inconceivable that the Heat wouldn't be competitive for the playoffs in the East but Miami is not only not competing, they have the worst record in their conference. Injuries have played a major role as all three of their big name vets plus Alonzo Mourning have suffered through injuries which has torn team chemistry apart. Don't be surprised if health issues sideline Pat Riley pretty soon as his history is to lead championship teams but abandon bad teams. Miami is bad this season. The only bright spot has been the play of rookie Daequan Cook from Ohio St.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Chris Quinn
Miami has suffered at the point all season but seems to have found a keeper in the young Quinn. Quinn has started 8 games for the Heat and performed very well in that role. His 52% shooting has helped him average 7.4 points as well as dealing out 4.3 assists. Mike Conley has done even better starting. Conley is averaging 8.5 ppg, 6 assists and 2 steals while showing incredible poise running the team. With Conley finally in the regular rotation and starting no less it seems impossible that he won't make his home debut in this game.
Advantage: Memphis

Shooting Guards: vs Daequan Cook

Mike Miller has been most effective shooting the ball this season but struggles to get shots in the 2nd half and especially the 4th quarter of games. His rebounding (7.0 rpg) has been a needed aid to the Grizzlies offense but one has to wonder how long Miller can continue to be effective playing over 37 minutes a night. Cook, Conley's teammate at Ohio St, replaced Dwayne Wade in the starting lineup against Dallas as Wade sat out the game against Dallas. Cook is a mad bomber who can shoot his team to victory or defeat since he seems to have no concept of his shot being on or not. Cook will shoot either way.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Ricky Davis

Is there is any player who has broken the Grizzlies heart more than Ricky Davis? Davis could build an hour long highlight film simply on game winning shots against Memphis. Whether at Boston or Minnesota or Cleveland Davis has beaten the buzzer against the Grizzlies and now he gets another shot in a Miami uniform. Davis is struggling this season with Miami after being traded right before the start of the season but seems to be finding his game averaging nearly 20 ppg over the last 5 games. Rudy Gay has been the best player for the Grizzlies this year and has made people forget that he was traded for crowd favorite Shane Battier last year. Gay has shown the athletic ability to shoot over almost any player in the league yet still had the touch to be dangerous from 3 pt land. If Rudy has a weakness it is avoiding foul trouble against slashing players like Davis. Early foul trouble has given Rudy troubles in games this season.
Advantage: Miami

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Udonis Haslem

If there has been one player who consistently puts out the effort to win games for Miami this season it has been Udonis Haslem. The 5th yr pro out of Florida has averaged 12.9 ppg and 9.4 rpg and brought the interior power game that Miami needs with Shaq not playing. Gasol has been anything but consistent this season. He followed a 31 pt game against Philly with his first non-double figure scoring night the next game against New Orleans. He followed a 30 pt scoring night against Indiana with a 12 pt effort on 3-13 shooting from the field but did grab 8 rebounds, dish out 5 assists and block 3 shots but gave up a big offensive rebound and basket in the Boston loss. Gasol has never liked playing against physical players and Haslem is one of the more physical PF's in the league but Gasol has too much talent to not win this match up.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Mark Blount

Blount was the 2nd part of the pre-season trade with Minnesota but was not brought in to be the starter. In fact he really wasn't brought in to back Shaq. Blount made the salaries work and Minnesota wanted to be rid of him. Lucky for Miami that he was included as Shaq has looked terrible this season and Mourning's career is over after tearing his Patella Tendon. Blount has never been a hard working center and this season is no different but at least he is a big body for Miami to put on the court and when motivated can produce. He just isn't motivated very often. Milicic continues to improve with the support of Marc Iavaroni. Despite a painful thumb that makes rebounding and shooting difficult Darko's defense and physical presence allows Gasol to concentrate more on offense and that alone is a huge benefit. Darko may not be a great rebounder but he does a great job of keeping his man off the glass which enables Miller, Gay and Gasol to get to rebounds they didn't last year.
Advantage: Memphis

Benches: Memphis vs Miami

With Jason Williams, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwayne Wade injured the Miami bench is decimated. Against Dallas Miami played Luke Jackson, former Grizzly Alexander Johnson and Former Tiger Earl Barron but no one else. That can't be good for any team over a long season. Jackson has been a nicer NBDL pickup for Miami than Jeremy Richardson has been for the Grizzlies but that isn't saying a lot. Memphis' bench has been struggling along with the play of Kyle Lowry. The former spark plug seems to have hit the rookie wall and his minutes and production are way down from earlier in the season. Navarro has been hot and cold as most rookies are even if they are 27. Stromile Swift has been playing a lot like Navarro but he isn't a rookie and Casey Jacobsen has worked hard on defense but struggled with his shot. Still Memphis has depth and talent off their bench and any of the player can perform on any night.
Advantage: Memphis

Relevant blogs/websites:
Crazy from the Heat
Ira Winderman (Sun Sentinel)

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