Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Memphis vs Phoenix - 4.8.08

Memphis recovered from an off night against Golden St to get their 2nd win of the season at Minnesota on Sunday evening. Led by the resurgent Mike Miller who broke threw the 20 pt barrier for the first time in 9 games, the longest such drought of the season, Memphis pulled away in the 4th quarter to continue their .500 play over the last 12 games of the season. Rudy Gay continues his strong play that has him among the leading candidates for Most Improved Player in the league averaging over 20 ppg for the season. If he continues this pace he will be the 3rd player in Grizzlies history to pass that barrier.

Phoenix lost a tough game to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday to fall 2 games behind the Lakers for the Pacific Division lead. The Suns also dropped to 6th in the Western Conference race despite clinching a playoff birth. Shaquille O'Neal has regained some of the moxie that at one time made him the most feared player in the league averaging 12.6 ppg and 10.6 rpg as a Sun. Grant Hill has returned from injury to give Phoenix another experienced scorer to pair with 2 time MVP Steve Nash. Phoenix still has to take every game seriously despite clinching a playoff spot to prevent a 1st rd match up against one of the elite teams in the West.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Steve Nash
Phoenix has wanted to get 34 yr old Steve Nash more rest during the regular season for a long time. Once again they failed this year as he is averaging 34.6 mpg this season, less than one minute off his career high. Still Nash is a bit more rested this season as the Suns aren't running as hard as they used to do. Hash is still averaging 17.4 ppg and 11.2 apg but that is still below the pace he set the last few years. Mike Conley is young enough to play a lot more minutes but he isn't experienced enough and he has more than just a fill in behind him in Kyle Lowry. Still two heads aren't better than one in this instance.
Advantage: Phoenix

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Raja Bell

Mike busted out of a mini-eight game slump to explode for 34 points against Minnesota. Throw in 10 rebounds and 6 assists and Miller had one of his best games of the year. Raja Bell isn't likely to allow a repeat. The 31 yr old veteran is known as a defensive specialist with a long range shot of his own (39.8%). The difference is Bell has almost no shot inside the arc (41.9%). Miller's shooting is more well-rounded but can he get his shot off against the defensive minded Bell?
Advantage: Phoenix

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Grant Hill

Rudy Gay is having a breakout sophomore season. The 21 yr old has improved in almost every statistical category this year and has been getting better at the end of the year. Grant Hill has been healthy now for two straight seasons after battling numerous injuries previously. Hill is coming back from a slight injury however and isn't 100% right now. Hill hasn't been the force he was earlier in his career but is still a solid veteran who knows how to help his team win. He just doesn't have the skills capable of containing Rudy for a full game anymore to stay with a player like Rudy.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Amare Stoudamire

Stoudamire toiled for his first few years out of position in Phoenix. Finally Phoenix acquired a true center allowing Stoudamire to move to his more natural power forward position. If the last 10 games are any indication he likes the move as he is averaging over 30 ppg during that span. Warrick got his opportunity to play with the trade of Pau Gasol and has made the most of the chance by averaging 16.6 ppg and 7.0 rpg as the starter. Not quite Gasol numbers but not the drop off many expected either. Warrick is very thin for a PG however and Stoudamire might be the most physically intimidating PF in the league.
Advantage: Phoenix

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Shaquille O'Neal

Shaq is no longer the most feared center in the league but he isn't the overweight old man he was in Miami earlier this season either. Shaq has adapted to his diminished role offensively by focusing on rebounding raising his season average almost 3 boards a game since the trade. Darko has been inconsistent all season but his best games have come against the bigger slower centers. Shaq fits that description to a tee. Darko needs to step up again in this game but his play of late doesn't suggest he will.
Advantage: Phoenix

Benches: Memphis vs Phoenix

Phoenix' bench is led by the Brazilian lightning bolt, Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa is 3rd on the team in scoring averaging over 15 ppg and when he is on the court Phoenix can outrun anyone in the league. The Suns have never been big on using bench players, preferring to run their starters longer minutes but age has taken its toll. Boris Diaw, Gordon Giricek and even Brian Skinner have averaged serious minutes this season. Memphis' bench is spearheaded by 3 rookies and a big man. Kyle Lowry is the main spark off the bench but Javaris Crittenton and Juan Carlos Navarro are capable of putting on fireworks shows at any time as well. Unsung here Jason Collins allows the rookies to play more aggressively on the perimeter with his physical interior defense but offers little in the way of offense.
Advantage: Phoenix

INJURY UPDATE: Shaquille O'Neal is out for tonight's game with a bruised leg.

Javaris Crittenton, sprained right thumb, is expected to play tonight.

Relevant Blogs/Commentary:
Born and Raised
Brigth Side of the Sun
The Rising Suns

BallHype: hype it up!

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