Friday, January 18, 2008

Memphis vs Seattle - 1.18.08

Memphis has lost 5 consecutive games but two were on the last possession and one more was in OT so their record is a bit deceiving. Expect the Grizzlies to play small ball tonight despite Seattle's tall team as Darko Milicic is experiencing knee pain and said he felt popping in the knee prior to the Cleveland game. Doesn't sound promising but what else would you expect from the Grizzlies? Pau Gasol has been on fire of late but Mike Miller has struggled finishing games since he rarely is allowed to leave the court. Rudy Gay broke out of his two game slump with a 30 pt effort against Cleveland. Mike Conley set a career high in points against Cleveland and Juan Carlos Navarro integrated himself back into the rotation with a strong game against Cleveland as well.

Seattle is struggling worse than the Grizzlies and are even younger. Kevin Durant leads the team in shot attempts as well as scoring but he has struggled this season doing either against former Baltimore childhood friend Rudy Gay. Durant is averaging 20.1 ppg on 41% shooting from the field and 30.5% from the arc. In other words he is scoring by putting up a lot of shots. The other rookie Jeff Green is only scoring 9 ppg but is hitting on 44.2% of his FG attempts. His rebounding is acceptable for a SF and he is producing in all areas. The duo is raising expectations in Oklahoma City as the owner has stated he wants to move the team but Seattle is still trying to keep the team as well. Perhaps getting on the road and ignoring the soap opera will be good for the team.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Earl Watson
Some people say that Earl Watson can't shoot but he is hitting shots as well as Kevin Durant who is supposed to be the next super scorer in the NBA. Earl is clipping along at 40.8% from the field and an eye-popping 35.2% from the arc this season More importantly he is averaging 6.1 apg while splitting time with Luke Ridnour. Earl is known for his defense but that will be tested against the lightning fast Mike Conley. Conley is getting more and more comfortable running the offense as the team has eclipsed 100 pts in 5 pf the last 6 games while failing to hit for 100 in 6 of the previous 7. He must be doing something right. His shot is still not respected but that may be changing as Mike is hitting 45.5% of his FG attempts and 34.6% of his long range attempts. Conley leads all rookies in assists at 4.6 a game but has averaged 5.4 apg as a starter. A classic confrontation between a talented rookie and a crafty veteran. Remember what the last crafty veteran PG did to Mike and he never played for the Grizzlies.
Advantage: Seattle

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Jeff Green

I know this is not the true SG match up but everyone knows Rudy is going to be guarding Durant and I am not going to waste a great match up simply because some people get hung up on terms. Miller has increased his scoring in January to 18.1 ppg which just happens to correlate with Conley being the PG. Is there a connection? For the month Mike is hitting 55.7% of his FG attempts, 43.2% of his long balls and grabbing 7 boards a game. Naturally local fans are calling for him to be traded. Green has been developing slowly but solidly. He isn't a flashy ESPN highlight real type of player but more of a blue collar worker who gives great effort every night. He is now playing 32 mpg and but his percentages are starting to drop as his minutes increase. The rookie wall may be rising up to claim another player as Green starts hitting new barriers for games played in a season.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Kevin Durant

I've already discussed how poorly KD is shooting this season. To put it in perspective however Rudy shot 42% from the field as a rookie. I haven't heard too many people complain about his sophomore season lately. There is no reason not to expect KD to not improve similarly next year. Rookies struggle to get their shots in line with the pace of the game and once it slows down for Durant he should be long as he isn't playing against Rudy Gay who knows every move KD has. The players are so similar physically it is scary. One is 6-8, 222 lbs with limitless range and awesome ability to get shots off in traffic. The other is 6-9, 215 pounds with awesome range and an awesome ability to get shots off in traffic. Rudy is more experienced right now and has given Durant fits in their first two match ups. KD has scored 28 pts total in those two games hitting 5-25 from the floor. Rudy is playing the best basketball of his career right now including putting up 30 against LeBron James on Tuesday night.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Chris Wilcox

Most people realize that Gasol is the #2 scorer on the Grizzlies. What most people may not realize Chris Wilcox is the #2 scorer on the Sonics. The 6th yr player out of Maryland has never materialized into the player many people thought he would coming out of Maryland but he is a fine player who uses intimidation as one of his best attributes. Gasol has been known to be intimidated by players such as Wilcox. Gasol is only averaging 12.5 ppg against Seattle this season but that was the November Gasol and the January Gasol is a far different creature. Gasol has been putting up huge numbers in January and Wilcox won't be able to just give him a scowl and a scream and expect Gasol to roll over. With Pau averaging 22 pts and 11 boards it may take every big Seattle has to slow him down. Wilcox is also on the mend after he suffered an injury so another advantage for Gasol.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Kurt Thomas

I know it may sound silly but this could be the most important matchup in the game. Will Darko be able to go? What will the MRI say? If not Darko who will play center? Will Hakim move to PF and Gasol to C? Will Stromile make an appearance after not playing since January 8th? It seems obvious that Darko won't be 100% but the team doesn't need Darko 100% in the game. They do need his bulk in the game. Behind Thomas is Johan Petro, Saer Sene and Nick Collison so you can count on Seattle playing every big they have to to dominate the boards and Memphis will need to find a way to counter this. Thomas is averaging almost 10 rebounds a night, partially because the backcourt throws up so many bricks everyone has a chance to grab boards. Thomas isn't a great shot blocker however so he shouldn't be effective trying to cheat away from his man to help out. Still a healthy Thomas vs an injured Milicic is no contest.
Advantage: Seattle

Benches: Memphis vs Seattle

Memphis bench has been getting solid production from Navarro lately and Lowry and Hak seemed to have solidified their bench roles as well but that was with a healthy Darko. If Darko can't go then Swift, Brown and maybe even Cardinal re-enter the picture. Navarro may also start but it is pretty spooky to think of Navarro guarding either Green or Durant. It is pretty scary to think of Navarro matched up against Wally Szczerbiak or Damian Wilkens for that matter who are the main bench scorers for Seattle. Delonte West and Luke Ridnour are battling for backup PG duty and right now it seems a toss up. West being more active defensively and Ridnour better offensively.
Advantage: Seattle

Update at Game Time:
No Rudy Gay tonight. Out sick via Chip from the game.

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