Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Opening Night of the Season

Memphis at Houston - 10.29.08

Memphis enters Year 2 of the Iavaroni years with a far different perspective than the previous year. Gone are Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Stromile Swift, Damon Stoudamire, Andre Brown, Tarence Kinsey, Juan Carlos Navarro and Brian Cardinal. In are O J Mayo, Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur, Quinton Ross, Marco Jaric, Hamed Haddadi, Javaris Crittenton, Greg Buckner and Antoine Walker. Turnover on this scale rarely leads to quick starts for a team. The Grizzlies are also expected to start two rookies (Mayo and Gasol) to partner with Conley (one year), Rudy Gay (2 years) and Darko Milici (5 years). Experience isn't a strong point of this Grizzlies team but the team is building for three years down the road and if the bulk of this youth movement remains together the future is very bright.

Houston is going in the opposite direction and their fans couldn't be more pleased. The Rockets are considered serious challengers for the Division crown and possibly the Western Conference. Veteran teammates Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are joined by Ron Artest to give the Rockets an experienced core of players that rival the best in the league on paper. Combined with an experienced bench the Rockets are back in the mix of elite NBA teams assuming their stars can remain healthy and co-exist. However, there are questions about both of those issues. Tracy McGrady is questionable for this game with a sore knee that has hampered him all pre-season and Artest's issue with conforming to team needs is legendary.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Rafer Alston
Alston has struggled in the pre-season but that should be expected a bit from the veteran. His shooting percentage can't be expected however. Just above 30% from the field and the arc has to be distressing a bit to Adelman but that is an improvement from where these numbers were just a few weeks ago. Looks like Alston is roundng into shape. Conley has won the starting PG role despite a strong late challenge from Kyle Lowry. After seeing each other play twice already this season Alston will be prepared for Conley.
Advantage: Houston

Shooting Guards: O J Mayo vs Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady may not play tonight as his gimpy knee may force him out. I hear it is more mental than physical with the knee. T-Mac has never been one to push himself when the need isn't present. O J Mayo had an impressive pre-season and seems to be gaining confidence in his shot as well as his role on the team. If McGrady can't go then possibly Von Wafer will start. That is quite a change from expectations he wouldn't even make the team. Wafer had a great game in Memphis during the pre-season.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Ron Artest

With Shane Battier sidelined for at least the first few weeks of the season, Artest has been getting the lions minutes at SF. His shooting was off in the pre-season but who really thinks he was trying hard in pre-season. Artest is truly a two way player excelling offensively and defensively. Rudy Gay seems capable of turning it on at any moment to lead the Grizzlies. The staff infection that bothered him at the end of pre-season shouldn't be a problem now. Being able to turn it on is nice but what he needs to do is leave it on for the Grizzlies. Rudy is learning to do that but it doesn't come naturally for him.
Advantage: Houston

Power Forwards: Darko Milicic vs Luis Scola

Darko won the starting PF position in training camp by showing a bit more muscle at the PF position than Warrick was able to muster. Darko's shooting started to come around at the end and his rebounding was solid all pre-season. Most frequently noted this year has been the dramatic improvement in Darko's conditioning this summer. Scola will be a tough test. Luis is older, more experienced and more grounded mentally than Darko. However Darko can give Scola difficulty matching his size. Should be an interesting test but Scola's tougher mental attitude should make the difference.
Advantage: Houston

Centers: Marc Gasol vs Yao Ming
Gasol has looked a step slow against quicker Rasho Nesterovic! No one is saying Yao Ming is fast but he is starting to round into form and should give Marc Gasol all he wants. The amazing thing so far is that Gasol, despite his bruising style, hasn't gotten into much foul trouble. That is very promising since most rookies struggle to get respect from refs. If Gasol can stay on the court for 30+ minutes and contribute then the prospects for the Grizzlies is looking much brighter.
Advantage: Houston

Benches: Memphis vs Houston

Houston had to make some tough decisions to just get down to 15 players including 'retiring' Dikembe Mutambo which leaves Joey Dorsey as the primary backup to Yao at center. Somehow Steve Francis made the roster despite not playing at all in the pre-season. The question off the bench in Houston has to be who is going to sit and who is going to play. Luther Head for one seems buried behind Brent Barry. Von Wafer was a star in pre-season but is he an answer? What about Aaron Brooks? So many bodies and so little clarity. Memphis' problem are different but still problematic. Will Warrick handle coming off the bench and still be a reliable point scorer? Can Arthur continue to build on his positive pre-season performance? Will Ross, Jaric or Crittenton emerge as a reliable backup player? Can Lowry raise his level of play after a lackluster pre-season? Memphis' bench was terrible in pre-season but a shorter rotation may iron out those problems somewhat.
Advantage: Houston