Saturday, March 29, 2008

Memphis at LA Clippers - 3.29.08

Memphis has their 2nd consecutive game in Los Angeles tonight and have to worry about over-confidence. That sound's strange to say about a team that is 2-19 in their last 21 road game and has won only 3 road games in 2008. That doesn't mean it isn't true however. Memphis got an emotional win against the LA Lakers (sans Pau Gasol) Friday night despite surrendering 53 pts to Kobe Bryant. The Grizzlies were led by Rudy Gay and got a surprisingly strong game from Darko Milicic with 20 pts, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 assists. Of course Chris Kaman is a different player than Ronnie Turiaf and DJ Mbenga.

Los Angeles took it on the chin last night in Utah losing 121-101 to the Jazz. The Clippers have been experimenting with some odd lineups and the results haven't been too impressive, although many people believe the Clippers are achieving just what they are trying to accomplish i.e. losing games to improve their chances in the lottery. This game could have a big impact on who ends up with the most ping pong balls in the hopper. Clippers rookie Al Thornton has had an impressive 2nd half of the season and is now being mentioned as a possible all-rookie team player.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Brevin Knight
Mike Conley has seen his minutes dwindle to an even split with Kyle Lowry over the past month as he has struggled with his consistency. His assist to turnover ratio is a healthy 2.47/1, but his FG% has fluctuated recently, often leaving his defender free to play off of him and concede open looks from the perimeter. Brevin Knight is the consumate coach's player as he always makes smart plays and rarely turns the ball over. His assist to turnover ratio for this season is a phenomenal 4.63/1 and he has 31 more steals than turnovers for the year. His offense is nearly non-existent however, which means that Conley will need to concentrate on shutting down the passing lanes more than preventing Knight from scoring. Knight is a wily veteran, so expect him to confound Conley using every trick in the book.
Advantage: Clippers

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Cuttino Mobley
Mike Miller had been torching opponents through the month of March before slowing down somewhat over the last week. He has compensated for that by picking up more rebounds than usual, grabbing double-digit boards in 5 of the last 8 games. Cat Mobley has struggled with his shot in the midst of the Clippers 10 game losing streak, posting a FG% of .415 while only hitting 4/20 3-pointers in that span. Like Miller, he has contributed in other areas, such as rebounds and steals, but Mobley is first and foremost a scorer. Whichever player gets hot from the perimeter will give his team a decided advantage in this game.
Advantage: Grizzlies

Small Fowards: Rudy Gay vs Corey Maggette
The marquee matchup of the night features each team's top scoring threat. Rudy Gay has been playing at a high level all season as he fights through the transition of being a second-year player to "The Man" for this Grizzlies franchise. He would be better served to put his head down and drive to the basket more as his perimeter shot has been shaky this month (.219 3PT%). He needs more games where his FT attempts outnumber his 3PT attempts -- something that Corey Maggette knows all about as he is currently 4th in the league in FT attempts per game. You cannot blame Maggette for the team's losing streak, as he has posted 24.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.7 apg on .467 FG% during that time. Maggette's relentless aggressiveness will probably be the deciding factor in this matchup unless Rudy can regain his outside shooting form.
Advantage: Clippers

Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Josh Powell
Hak continues to put up points in bunches on an array of mid-range jumpers and low-post spin moves. He'll need to concentrate on rebounding and defense in this matchup though, as Powell has proven to be quite effective on the boards as a starter this month, in addition to being a capable scorer. Also, it wouldn't kill Warrick to find an open shooter on occasion, as it has been 6 games since his last assist was recorded.
Advantage: Grizzlies

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Chris Kaman
After a big game by Kaman in the first matchup of the season, Darko did a good job neutralizing the former Central Michigan standout in their second meeting. This will be Kaman's third game back from injury and his second in as many nights, so it will be interesting to see how he handles that. Darko had a great game against the Lakers' depleted frontcourt and he'll need to play at a similar level if Memphis intends to win this one.
Advantage: Clippers

Benches: Memphis vs Los Angeles
The Clippers continue to get solid production from rookie Al Thornton, but veteran Tim Thomas has fallen off considerably in recent games, most likely due to the stomach virus he has been battling. Recent signee Smush Parker has done little of note since joining the Clip Joint. The Grizzlies counter with the dynamic backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and Juan Carlos Navarro, each of whom have had big games this month and provide great energy off the bench. Jason Collins has also been a great defensive presence in the paint, which has been very important when Darko's shot isn't falling or gets into early foul trouble.
Advantage: Grizzlies

Relevant blogs:
Clips Nation

BallHype: hype it up!

Interview with the Enemy: L.A. Ball Talk

We continued our trek through the blogs of our opponents by catching up with Daniel from L.A. Ball Talk. He had some great insights for us on things in LaLa Land, including thoughts on former Grizzly Pau Gasol. He also had some good questions for us about Javaris Crittenton and the direction of our team, which you can read here. On with the show!

3 Shades of Blue: 1. The Lakers are only 1 game behind the Hornets for the top spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff race and expect to get F/C Pau Gasol back any day now. Will the Lakers get the #1 seed in the WC playoffs? Will that translate to a move beyond the first round -- something they have not done since trading Shaq to Miami?

L.A. Ball Talk: Not only because I am a fan myself, but simply because of the way the schedules are set, I feel that the Lakers have a great chance to finally not only win the Pacific Division but also the Western Conference title. New Orleans has a tougher schedule than the Lakers and the rest of the Western Conference at that with plenty of games still coming on the road, especially against teams such as Boston, Toronto, and Orlando. Also, they will have to face Golden State, Dallas, and Utah. The Lakers and Hornets also face up against each other at the end of the season; that game may well determine not only the Conference Champion but also the MVP. The Lakers only play three legitimate teams the remainder of the season, out of their ten games. Those teams include New Orleans, San Antonio, and Dallas. Dallas is struggling and the Lakers have managed to beat them the last two meetings, so hopefully that one can become an easy win for them as well. The return of Pau Gasol, hopefully in the very near future, and Andrew Bynum toward the end of the season, will mean that the Lakers will either be a very strong team with an amazing starting lineup (if Bynum is healthy enough to play as a starter) or they will be a solid team with just another option of the bench. The Lakers have the strongest bench on the team and if you truly take a look at it, this bench can be the starting lineup in about 5-7 years. I can see Farmar, Vujacic, Walton, Turiaf, and Bynum as a pretty strong starting line-up in a few years. Either way, the Lakers have all the fire power they need to compete for the championship, the rest is resting upon the shoulders of the players to deliver.

3SoB: 2. Who does your MVP vote go to? Is it obviously Kobe or is it a legit 3-man race between the Mamba, the King and CP3?

LABT: Kobe is my MVP. Kobe should me your MVP too. Lakers fan or not, you cannot let Kobe's accomplishments this season go unrecognized. The only guy that I would consider for MVP besides Kobe Bryant is Chris Paul. Chris Paul has led the New Orleans Hornets just as far as Kobe has led the Lakers. Chris Paul is easily the best point guard in the NBA, and he's still so young. The kid has so much potential it's ridiculous. He's putting up 15+ assists every game I watch and the feeds to Tyson Chandler are on point every time. The difference between Kobe and Paul is that Paul has had the opportunity to go through training camp, preseason, and the entire regular season with a set roster. Also, the injuries to the Lakers have been killer. This season alone, Bynum has missed more than half so far, Ariza has missed more than half so far, and Pau has missed several games leaving the Lakers with a full roster for only one game so far this season, and never with Pau Gasol. The argument regarding having a full roster applies to Keven Garnett as well. I have no doubt in my mind that the Lakers with a full roster of Bynum and Gasol the entire season would leave the Lakers with the best record in the NBA and in the pursuit of history. Kevin Garnett is good, but he's had two sidekicks right next to him the entire season. Lebron James was in the talk early but he's proved time and time again, given the opportunity to take his team higher in the standings, but the Cavs are barely ten games over .500 while the Lakers and Hornets are 25+ games over .500 each, in a much more competitive conference. Lebron's stats are good but his team's win-loss record prevents him from winning (that is if you hold him to the same standards that Kobe was held to the last two seasons).

3SoB: 3. In the limited time he has been with the team, what are your thoughts on Pau Gasol? Is he the perfect complementary player to Kobe in the triangle offense or will issues arise once Andrew Bynum is healthy?

LABT: Pau Gasol is a beast. I wrote an article many months ago when the Lakers were still amidst the "Kobe Bryant Trade Me Drama" that the Lakers best option would be Pau Gasol. He is a very large power forward that can shoot from outside of the paint, is extremely quick, and would be perfect in the triangle offense. Gasol and Bynum are the new version of the David Robinson and Tim Duncan duo. They are the new twin towers. I strongly believe that with Kobe, Pau, and Bynum running the triangle, other players will be left wide open. This team's success will be determined by the role players as the big names will simply free up the floor for open shots. Vujacis, Farmar, Fisher, Radmanovic will have to knock down the open threes that they will be given all day long. The other players such as Lamar Odom and Luke Walton will be amazing because they love to drive and kick. If we have the big three (the Lakers version) on the strong side, and a guy like Lamar driving down the baseline of the weak side, the defense is going to have to leave 2 or 3 players wide open at all times. I can't wait to see what happens but all the heat Kupchak took in the last few years (even from me) has paid off because he has done a superb job in stacking this roster with guys that complement the three headed dragon to perfection!

A big thanks to Daniel for taking the time to answer our questions, as well as posing some insightful queries to us. Go check out L.A. Ball Talk.

BallHype: hype it up!

Post Game Thoughts - Lakers

One man can not defeat a team in the NBA.

Apparently he can get damn close however.

Especially if he has 'diplomatic immunity' (thanks to Sean Tuohy for that classic comment about how the referees were protecting Kobe last night).

Kobe Bryant scored the first 12 points of the game for the Lakers. Kobe scored 23 of the Lakers 30 points in the 1st quarter. Kobe had 32 of the Lakers 53 points in the first half. No one else had more than 6 pts at halftime. To put that in perspective Rudy Gay, Mike Miller and Hakim Warrick had a combined 28 pts in the first half.

Then the Grizzlies got serious about defending him, 'holding' Kobe to 21 pts in the 2nd half. Yes Kobe scored 53 points in the game.

But the Grizzlies won the game.

The Grizzlies won a close game!

The Grizzlies won a close game on the road!!!

This game was huge for the Grizzlies draft position...both good and bad. The bad news is that the Grizzlies have now won more games than the Minnesota Timberwolves and are only 1 game ahead of the New York Knicks and two games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Grizzlies opponent tonight.

The good news is that the Lakers loss, remember we have their #1 pick too, moves them behind San Antonio and Houston in the Western Conference and drops the Lakers into 6th place in the league. If the season ends in that manner the Grizzlies will pick 25th in the first round. It also dropped the Lakers to only 1/2 game ahead of the surging Suns for the 24 th pick in the draft. The Lakers are only 1 win ahead of Orlando who is playing in the Eastern Conference.

So Memphis' first pick dropped one place with the win, but it is a lottery after all, and their 2nd pick moved up 2 spots in the draft and that number isn't subject to the lottery.

Of course for those that think the Lakers pick doesn't matter and would rather have a higher first pick then thank Michael Heisley for talking (or at least being rumored to be talking) to Larry Brown.

Darko doesn't want to play for Larry Brown again.

Darko was a fingertip away from a career high in scoring, grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked 4 shots (including one where he was isolated near the three point line against Kobe Bryant) and hit 6-7 free throws. I know that doesn't sound possible but Darko was 6-7 from the free throw line. Heck, he could have been 7-7 if Pete Pranica didn't hex him! (Sorry Pete but it had to be said and you knew it when you said it). Darko also had 3 assists in the game.

Rudy Gay led the Grizzlies in scoring with 28 pts. That includes a questionable no tip from Darko. Did he or didn't he? Only his manicurist knows for sure! That also included a fast break lob pass from Mike Conley where Hak and Rudy had a leaping contest to see who could get it (Rudy beat him by a hair for those keeping track of these things).

The game was won however by defense. For the 2nd night in a row Memphis held an opponent to below 40% from the floor for the game. They held the Lakers to 41-104 shots despite Kobe's 18-37 shooting. What was truly scary was the Lakers 45 three point attempts. Memphis only took 81 shots the whole game and the Lakers took 45 threes! They nearly quadrupled the Grizzlies 3 pt attempts (12). Memphis also blocked 7 shots in the game, had 4 steals and played great defense the entire game. That complete dedication to defense made the difference especially on the Laker starters not named Kobe.

Maybe the Grizzlies should release a rumor that Memphis is talking to Mike Fratello about returning to coach the team. That should motivate Hakim and Rudy!

BallHype: hype it up!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Links: Settle In Edition

Clear your schedule -- this is gonna be a big one!

Jeff Wong (The Score) asked us some questions about the Grizzlies, Tigers and the city of Memphis. Being the sell-out media whores that we are, we were happy to answer them.

Stephen Litel (Hoopsworld) conducted a fantastic interview with Kwame Brown recently. It helps clear up a lot of misconceptions with the former #1 overall pick.

Tom Ziller (The Fanhouse) has some additional thoughts on the ownership news.

Epic Carnival: Fandom is Irrational.

Hardwood Paroxysm thinks it is both hilarious and ironic that Michael Heisley made his money in sewage. You cannot make stuff like this up.

Canis Hoopus reviews the Grizzlies in Part 3 of Examining the Bottom of the Barrel.

The Howeva Files: Memphis = NBA Bad Decision Fantasyland

The Bleacher Report says that if the Grizzlies intend to hire Larry Brown, just shoot Darko in the head right now. My thoughts exactly.

David Stern is creating a new postseason tournament with the Grizzlies in mind?

Former Grizzlies' PG Chucky Atkins is quite the entrepreneur.

Marcus Vinicius -- you remember him, right...he came to the Grizzlies in that deal between the Rockets and Hornets -- returned to his homeland of Brazil last week. Marcus, we hardly knew you.

Nick Emery saw the Kings-Grizzlies tilt live and in person.

Sports Tsar: What's in a franchise name?

Blog of the Day: David's Memphis Grizzlies Blog - David has been posting some great stuff the past couple of weeks, including meeting both Mike Miller and Juan Carlos Navarro.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Searching for Something to Hold On To

I wonder what cell phone service Larry Brown uses and why he hasn't ever been approached to do one of those ads that say:

I need a phone that works were I work...a place called CarDenUCLANewKanSanClipPacadeltroitYork

and does that work in Tennessee?
Rumors abound that Marc Iavaroni is going to be fired and replaced by Larry Brown.

Yes the same Larry Brown who refused to play Darko Milicic as a rookie (or a sophomore for that matter). The same Larry Brown who has a reputation of destroying point guards confidence. The same Larry Brown how has been accused of never playing young players (and in case you haven't noticed, Memphis has a lot of young players).

Of course vagabond head coach Larry Brown is the least of the worries of Memphis fans right now. If you want to read a nice blog about the problems with hiring Larry Brown try reading Chris Herrington's newest blog (yes he is back blogging). There is even bigger news in the air today.

Tops on the anxiety list is the question of why Pitt Hyde, Staley Cates and the rest of the local ownership group chose to decrease their holdings in the Grizzlies from 30% to 5.8%.

And that wasn't the bad news.

The story that broke yesterday sent shivers down most Grizz fans backs as they learned that the saving grace for Memphis, the local owners right to match any outside offer for the team, had also been surrendered. This means that is someone matches Mike Heisley's price for the team (rumored to be all the tea in China but not confirmed yet) can buy the Grizzlies without anyone from Memphis being able to stop it.

This doesn't mean that the team can be moved right away. The contract with the city is not affected by this development. The contract with the city runs through 2021.
"There's always going to be a certain percentage of people who are going to be fearful of (the Grizzlies leaving Memphis), as long as there's not a local group in ownership of the team," J. R. 'Pitt' Hyde said. "I don't share that view. I think the team is here for the long pull, whatever the ownership mix is."
That sounds good on paper but that doesn't exactly convince someone to buy a ticket to the game either.

Micheal Heisley has repeatedly said that the best thing for the Grizzlies would be local ownership. The locals took that to heart and ponied up an offer of a reported $300 million. Whatever the offer it was higher than previous offers from the local group according to Hyde.

Which brings in another issue. Hasn't Heisley said that he hasn't received any offers from the local owners? I haven't found the exact quote anywhere but I seem to remember Heisley saying he didn't get an offer last year when the Davis-Laettner bid fell apart. Curious now that Pitt Hyde would say he upped his previous offer when Heisley said he has never received an offer from the locals.

Who's telling the truth? The man from Chicago who promised Vancouver he wasn't going to move the team a year before he moved the team to Memphis or the local philanthropist who has saved the Civil Rights Museum, started the Memphis BioWorks Foudation and was CEO of Autozone among other activities?

And where does that leave us, the common fans, who look to the team for entertainment and civic pride? Who have been asked to renew our tickets at the same time that the local owners are selling their interest in the club and the coach that was brought in with such fanfare last season is supposedly about to be fired?

I can't believe I am saying this but it makes you wish for the good old days of last year when there was hope that things were just an illusion. Right now it appears the team is run by a greedy liar who has changes his mind on what he wants to do with the team with the seasons and doesn't care about the people who support his business.

Oh and the Grizzlies play the Lakers tonight. You know the team Heisley gave Pau to in January for a 19 yr old rookie, a $9 million expiring contract and the 76ers unpaid assistant coach.

It just keeps getting worse...

Chris Wallace has squelched rumors of Iavaroni being replaced as head coach. According to the Commercial Appeal the team is pleased with what Iavaroni has accomplished this season and have no intention of replacing him at this time.

Of course, the 'GM Vote of Confidence' is only one step below the dreaded 'Owner's Vote Of Confidence' as a contrary indicator.

Personally I believe the rumor of Memphis' interest in Brown is overstated. Heisley isn't going to want to buy out Iavaroni immediately after the local owners put their stock in the team back to Heisley to pay down the line of credit with the league.

BallHype: hype it up!

Grizzlies at Lakers - 3.28.07

Memphis lost at Sacramento to start the road trip. The Overtime loss was encouraging however as the team held tight despite sub-par performances from Mike Miller and Rudy Gay. Unfortunately it seems with every ray of sunshine there comes two more clouds as MitchLawrence reported in the New York Daily News that Marc Iavaroni is set to be replaced as the Grizzlies head coach by none other than Larry Brown, most recently the former coach of the New York Knicks. While no one was attributed to these comments Lawrence did say that it came from several NBA sources. That should be very bad news for Darko Milicic who was buried on the bench in Detroit while Larry Brown was coach. Memphis could do themselves a favor by beating LA since they own LA's pick this year but then again continuing to lose should improve their chances in the lottery.

Los Angeles has somehow managed to remain in the midst of the Western Confernce title race despite losing former Grizz star Pau Gasol to injury since March 14th. Adding insult to injury Coach Phil Jackson admitted in the press yesterday that Andrew Bynum will probably not return from his injury until the playoffs. On top of that Kobe Bryant has an injured pinky finger that will require surgery at some point. Still the Lakers continue to win and with the easiest schedule remaining should win the regular season crown in the Western Conference. The Lakers play 8 of their last 10 games at the Staples Center and the road games are all in California against non-playoff teams.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Derek Fisher
When Derek Fisher came to Memphis he schooled Mike Conley about as bad as a man can be schooled hitting his first 10 shots and finishing with 26 pts. In the rematch Conley has some redemption as Fisher only scored 9 points with 3 assists while Conley had 10 pts and 7 assists. Fisher, a 12 yr NBA veteran, still has some tricks up his sleeve but Conley is a quick student. Conley's shot has caused the greatest concerns. He is still only shooting 41% from the field and below 30% from the arc. This allows smart PG's to lay off Conley, cutting off easy access to the lane while being available to double team others. Fisher is a very smart point guard.
Advantage: Los Angeles

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Kobe Bryant

Mike Miller had a very poor game by his standards against Kevin Martin and now he has to face the elbows of Kobe Bryant again. This matchup got very heated last season when Mike accidently scratched Kobe's face to which Kobe responded by 'accidently' elbowing Mike in the throat. There probably won't be as mucj excitement this time unless you get excited by Kobe scoring a lot of points.
Advantage: Los Angeles

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Lamar Odom

Rudy has been hot and cold lately, as you would expect most 21 yr old players to be when thrust into the lead scoring role on a bad team. Perhaps the weight of carrying the team this season is getting to Rudy's legs as his long range shooting percentage has dropped significantly in the last 10 games (19.6%). He has started to hit some lately however so maybe that had more to do with a sore hamstring than anything more sinister. Lamar Odom has been hot and cold his entire career. The good news is that he was hot in his last game so he is due to be cold again.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Vladimir Radmanovic

Tough match up for both players. Radmanovic prefers to play along the perimeter and use his height to shoot over smaller players. Hakim prefers to play outside the paint but inside the arc and get his shot from outlasting the defender via numerous ball fakes. When Hak is on his game he can sink any shot he attempts. When he isn't you better not throw him the ball because you most likely won't get it back. Vlad has been hot from outside the arc but his lack of movement to create shots allows him to be shut down pretty easily if the defender stays with him.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Ronnie Turiaf

Ronnie Turiaf is a tough forward thrust into the middle with the loss of Gasol, Mihm and Bynum. He is undersized so Darko can shoot over him but he won't give an inch to Darko so Milicic needs to patient looking for his shot. As a starter Turiaf has avereaged double figures but his rebounding is worse than Darko's. Darko has the advantage in this match but you have to wonder what the psycholical effect of the Larry Brown rumors will be on Darko.
Advantage: Los Angeles

Benches: Memphis vs Los Angeles

LA's bench has been shortened the last few weeks. Not from a lack of confidence from their coach but from injuries to the starters. Former bench players Radmanovic and Turiaf leave Jackson with only DJ MBenga coming off the bench as an interior player. The backcourt players are among the best in the league however. Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic have had break out seasons. Fan favorite Luke Walton can be counted on to make smart decisions with the ball and to work hard every night. Memphis' bench has begun to be very effective. Kyle Lowry, former Laker Javaris Crittenton and Juan Carlos Navarro each have picked up scoring slacks at different times and the three players have made th Grizzlies running offense really move. Jason Collins has been the only regular contributor on the frontline as Rudy, Miller and Warrick usually rotate around to fill the backup PF role. Kwame Brown may see some action in this game since he knows the Lakers players so well.
Advantage: Lakers

Relevant Blogs/Commentary:
Forum Blue and Gold
LA Ball Talk Basketblog

BallHype: hype it up!

Countdown to Ping Pong Balls

Well the NBA is entering the home stretch of the NBA season and while all the pundits are arguing over who will win the Western Conference (Lakers, Spurs, Suns, Rockets or Hornets) and who will be left out in the cold (Nuggets, Mavs or Warriors), I am going to deal with the real race in the NBA...the Ping Pong Ball Battle!

The P2B2 as it is more commonly known (Okay I made that up but it looks kind of like something someone would make up and use so bear with me here) is incredibly tight heading into the final 11 or so games of the season.

It is difficult to even handicap the field after Miami who has all but wrapped up the season crown for ping pong ball accumulation. The Heat have a 4 game lead with only 11 games remaining. What makes matters worse is that Miami only has to play one other team competing for the season crown, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Heat can beat the Grizzlies and still have a three game cushion. The only other dangerous games are at Indiana, Chicago at home and Atlanta at home. Miami dodged a big bullet with their overtime loss to New York on Wednesday night so the team can relax somewhat the last two weeks of the season. Miami also plays more road games than home games down the stretch. It truly looks like the team with no healthy stars and no coach should coast to victory this season.

So who is left and what do their schedules look like?

Seattle is currently in 2nd place. Seattle is entering a dangerous stretch of games however as the have 5 consecutive home games and the first three are against lottery bound Charlotte, Sacramento and the LA Clippers. It is difficult to imagine the Sonics not getting unlucky and winning at least one if not two of these games. With only a half game lead over Minnesota and Memphis any slip up could cost them big in ping pong balls. The good news for Seattle is after these three games the rest of the schedule is filled with playoff caliber teams that are fighting for every win they can get their hands on. It should be easy for Seattle to lose every one of these games assuming Dallas and Golden St, Seattle's last two opponents, haven't clinched their playoff position by that point of the season. So the schedule is relatively friendly for Seattle to hold onto 2nd place.

On the negative side, Seattle has to consider that they were one of the winners last season coming from 5th place to get the 2nd pick and Kevin Durant. Will the Lottery Gods allow a team about to move from Seattle to win back to back lotteries and then move the team. Fate can't be that cruel can it? Seattle could finish in 2nd place, like Boston last year, and still only get the 5th pick in the draft.

Tied for 3rd place is Memphis and Minnesota. Since this is a Grizzlies blog I will allow visitors to go first (we Southerners are so conscious of manners after all).

Minnesota has some clear sailing for the time being but does have a few bumps on the road to the 3rd seed. Their next 5 games are against elite teams (San Antonio, Utah twice, Detroit and Phoenix). It isn't very likely that Minnesota will win any of these games. Then the schedule gets trickier. Memphis comes to town followed by a road game at Charlotte. An accidental win could happen in either of these games. Minnesota finishes with road tests at Orlando, Memphis and Detroit before finishing at home against Milwaukee. With Orlando and Detroit already locking up their playoff spots and two lottery teams left it is a very dangerous stretch of games for Minnesota. The TWolves have been trying to be the worst team in the league since July. They have to feel a little like Mitt Romney. They thought all season they were in good shape suddenly the votes come in and they are tied for 3rd place.

Memphis likewise has a dangerous path to the lottery. Friday night's battle at the Lakers would be a lock if not for Gasol's absence plus Kwame Brown and Javaris Crittenton's return to LA. The next night the Grizzlies have a major roadblock in the LA Clippers who are returning from Utah to play while Memphis stays in town. The schedule doesn't ease up either. Atlanta, New York, Miami, Minnesota twice and Portland all remain on the schedule. That is a schedule full of land mines for a young team that not only doesn't know how to win close games against good teams but how to how to lose close games to bad one's either (5-2 against the bottom three teams). Expectations of Casey Jacobson, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins playing the entire 4th quarters with an Andre Brown appearance or two may be the only way Memphis gets through the hardest schedule of any team fighting to be on the bottom at the end of the season.

Next up are the New York Knicks. Perhaps no team outside of Miami, who sent their coach to scout college players instead of coaching games and shelved their best three players around the all-star break, has been more naked in their desire to reach the top of the bottom of the standings than the Knicks. The Knicks don't have an easy schedule remaining and will have to dedicate themselves to losing the way the Heat have to move up far in the draft. While only a game out of a three way tie for 3rd place, the Knicks have some tough road contests (at Atlanta who just lost Mike Bibby, at Milwaukee who has no one left to lose and at Memphis). Not a good time to slip up. The good news for New Yorkers is that the Knicks only have 4 home games remaining so the Knicks can put up putrid efforts without fans having to pay for the right to see them play very much.

Finally you have the dark horse in the contest. The LA Clippers are very experienced at tossing games for lottery position and have stars who are legitimately injured and stars who are honestly selfish. A winning combination for a team fighting hard to lose games. The Clippers can honestly give their best effort and still lose all of their remaining games. Consider their home game against Memphis. Memphis plays the Lakers Friday night while the Clippers are in a different altitude playing Utah. Who's going to get less sleep? After that game there are only two games remaining against non-playoff teams and both of them are on the road. The Clippers are 4.5 behind Seattle for the worst record in the conference. That may be too much ground to make up in only 11 games but Minnesota and Memphis are both within the Clippers reach.

So it should be an exciting end of the season for all of these teams. Can Miami and New York continue to refuse to put an NBA caliber team on the court? Can Memphis and Minnesota survive all of the games against equally futile teams? Can the Clippers collapse enough to make up the space needed to reach the Ping Pong nirvana?

And will it matter at all on the night the lottery is held anyway?

BallHype: hype it up!

Post Game Thoughts - Sacramento

Mike Miller may want to tweak his new shoes just a bit.

Miller was wearing his personally designed shoes for the first time in Sacramento and had what can best be described as an off-night fouling out with 16 pts in only 32 minutes. Mike did hit the longest 3 pt shot I have ever seen him make. He was closer to the midcourt circle than the three point line.

but I digress. This game was all about three people: Poole, Delaney and Grillo.

Who are they you ask? The referees assigned to screw up the game by Stu Jackson. You remember Stu Jackson don't you?

Memphis was called for 32 fouls. In a 48 minutes game that is 2 fouls every three minutes. Of course this game was played over 53 minutes so it wasn't quite that bad but it was still pretty ridiculous. In overtime the Kings had one basket, one basket with a free throw and 4 foul shots. 5 of their 9 points came from the line.

In comparison the Kings were called for 20 fouls. The referees made sure that everyone knew they were the real stars of the game in overtime when they fouled out Miller for not running away from Kevin Martin (could it be his shoes?) and then completely ignored the mugging Kyle Lowry received on his drive to the basket.

I could go on and on about the poor officiating but it was obvious if you watched the game and unbelievable if you didn't. I promise not to talk about them anymore.

There were some positives to take from this game. A lot of positives actually. Who would have thought that Rudy and Mike would combine for 11 fouls (damn, I was supposed to put the refs behind me), 27 points, 8 rebounds and 8 turnovers and still Memphis had opportunities to win the game at the end of regulation and OT if the refs had called the fouls (oops, there I go again).

The Grizzlies are playing defense. I know that sounds strange and it probably shocked the refs which is why they called the game the way they did (damn I did it again) but Memphis held the sharp-shooting Kings to just 39.8% from the field and 23.3% from the field. If the Kings hadn't been next to perfect from the line (30-31) then the Grizzlies would have won this game easily.

Kyle Lowry was incredible. Damn close to superhero-esque as he nearly scored the game winning shot despite Anthony Johnson holding his off-arm and Mikki Moore clubbing his shooting arm on the last play (I'm trying guys). Kyle finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 fouls (sorry). His impact on the game was far more than the numbers however. Kyle played good defense, woke up the offense and was a difference maker every moment he was on the court. It is two bad he missed his last two free throws or he would have won the game in spite of the refs (I can't help myself).

Javaris Crittenton continues to look great nearly getting his first double-double with 13 pts, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. He really seems to be getting into a nice groove and shows a lot of promise for the future. For those keeping score at home that is 29 pts, 14 rebounds and 8 assists from the backup guards. Juan Carlos Navarro threw in 9 pts including a 3 pt shot bringing his season total to 138 3 pters made. He is twenty 3's short of the rookie record with 11 games remaining.

Hakim Warrick was unstoppable in the 1st half with 20 pts. While he cooled off after halftime he still led the team in scoring with 26 pts and 7 rebounds. Hak also set the most impressive pick of the season when he flattened Ron Artest on the final play of the game to free up Kyle for his foul plagued drive to the hoop.

I give up. You can't talk about this game and not mention that Rudy and Hak had 5 fouls each to go with Mike Miller fouling out. These guys aren't exactly reputed to be the most intense defensive players after all. Milicic and Kyle getting 4 fouls each is understandable but when your top three scorers have a combined 16 fouls you are going to struggle.

The good news is that since Minnesota lost as well Memphis is still tied with the TWolves for the 3rd worst record and the guaranteed top 7 draft pick and a great chance for a top 3 pick. The youngsters are playing great. At one point Memphis made a run with Conley (20), Crittenton (19), Rudy (21), Darko (22) and Hak (25) on the court. That is some serious youth playing some good basketball.

There is hope for the future if the refs would just get out of the way.

Or maybe it was Miller's shoes...

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interview with the Enemy: Sactown Royalty

Sactown Royalty's Tom Ziller is considered one of the best bloggers around the internet. He is a blogger for AOL Sports' Fanhouse as well as Sactown Royalty. I was most interested in this interview not only for Tom's well earned reputation but in the similarities between the two teams. Sacramento has been revuilding after a string of playoff appearances, has owners who seemed to want to move the team and are coached by a former player in his first season as a head coach in the NBA. Tom also asked me some questions that I answered (hopefully not as poorly as I answered Ryan Shwan at Hornets 24/7). Anyway, if you want to read the answers to Tom's questions, here is the link .

1) In the last few years Sacramento has lost Peja Stojakovic, Bonzi Wells, Mike Bibby and rumors are that Ron Artest is on the way out as well. Is Sacramento closer to the end of the rebuilding stage or the beginning?

Closer to the beginning, unfortunately. Trading Bibby was a huge step, though, in freeing up some backcourt minutes (for Udrih and Douby) and getting enough under the luxury tax to sign Udrih this summer. The team's still about a season from playoff contention, though.

2) The Kings seem to be putting together some nice pieces with Spencer Hawes, Quincy Douby, Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia and Beano Udrih. They've accomplished this without the benefit of a top 3 draft pick and the supposed superstar status that comes with those picks. Do you believe that Sacramento can attract a Superstar or that one is needed on this team?

This team needs Martin to continue to improve, Hawes to become a 18/8 big man... and one more top-flight player to contend, along with keeping good defensive roleplayers who can score (like Salmons and Garcia) and adding a banger power forward/center to make up for Hawes's athletic deficiencies. Beno is an above-average offensive point guard, for suffers on defense and doesn't quite have that star-scorer streak. If they can get under the cap, they can attract a superstar. It's all ca$h in this game.

3) The Maloof Brothers, owners of the Kings, have been rumored to be moving the team to Las Vegas or some other more lucrative city. Have the rumors been detrimental to the cities support of the Kings?

The rumors have stopped as the league stepped in to take over negotiations. This team won't be moving in the next two years, I imagine, if at all. Honestly, we as fans are maybe half as worried as we were over the last several years.

4) What are you thoughts on Reggie's first season and do you believe he is the right coach to turn things around in Sacramento?

I think Theus has had a certain degree of difficulty involved, that being Ron Artest. The defense under Theus has been much worse than it should be, but his game tactics seem good. He's a decent coach at worst, I think.

I had to throw that picture in for our female readers!

BallHype: hype it up!

Memphis at Sacramento - 3.26.08

Memphis has won 3 games in their last 5 games and have played some of the most inspired ball of the season as the young players adjust to Iavaroni's coaching philosophy and the grind of the NBA season. If not for a 4th quarter explosion by JR Smith Memphis may actually have won three games in a row. The team is attacking teams now and playing better defensively overall.

Sacramento is on a 3 game losing streak that started in San Antonio with stops in Memphis and Houston. However Sacramento is also on a 3 game winning streak at home and plays with far more confidence and swagger at Arco Arena (21-12) than away from home (10-27). Sacramento is 0-2 against Memphis on the road this season but beat Memphis at home 116-113 with a stirring comeback and have won 18 consecutive game against the Grizzlies in Arco Arena.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Anthony Johnson
Johnson is 6-3 and that is a big boy for Conley to guard. Welcome to the NBA rookie. However Conley has a lot more quickness than Johnson and can use that speed to get into the lane, force Sacramento's bigs to collapse on him and dish off to Rudy, Hakim and Darko for easy baskets. Assuming that Conley can hit a few outside shots early in the game to force Johnson to guard him out there. He was successful doing that last week in Memphis but it hasn't been a strong point of his game on the road where he is hitting only 38.5% of his FG attempts. Beano Udrih should be back to full strength for this game as well.
Advantage: Sacramento

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Kevin Martin

Classic matchup of two strong SG's in the league. KMart's unorthodox release catches defenders off guard and he is deadly from all over the court. Miller's range is even better than KMart's but he doesn't drive with the ball as well. That is why KMart averages 5.83 more free throw attempts per game and scores 6 more points a game as well. KMart gets to the line more at home as well.
Advantage: Sacramento

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Ron Artest

Rudy had a nice game against Sacramento last week but this week is a whole new ballgame. Ron Artest is a lot better defensively than John Salmons. Rudy won't be as free to operate on the perimeter and things will be far more difficult underneath with Ron trying to push him out. Artest has elevated his game lately as well averaging 23.3 ppg in his last 10 games with 6.0 rpg, 2.7 spg and 2.6 apg.
Advantage: Sacramento

Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Mikki Moore

Mikki Moore looks like he should be more than he is. Too bad because he looks ferocious! His 8.3 ppg (2nd best of his career) and 6.2 rpg (high mark of his career) means he is having one of the best seasons of his career but after 9 years in the NBA it isn't likely to get a lot better than this either. Warrick has had some good games against Sacremento this season averaging 14.0 ppg and 8.3 rpg despite only starting 2 of the 3 games. His speed frustrates Moore as does his range. That shouldn't change in this game.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Brad MillerDarko suffered a step back in his development Monday night against Denver where he simply couldn't stay with Marcus Camby. That shouldn't be a big issue in this game because Miller just might be slower than Darko. However Miller has better range on his shots and is a stronger rebounder and defender. Another 10 year veteran Miller knows all the little tricks of the trade that Darko is still struggling to learn.
Advantage: Sacramento

Benches: Memphis vs Sacramento

With the return of Artest and Miller and the expected return of Udrih to the starting lineup the Kings are far stronger now than in Memphis. Throw Salmons, Hawes and AJ to the bench with Garcia and Douby and you have a deep and active team that loves to compete. Memphis' bench of Navarro, Lowry, JCritt and Collins isn't as big, strong but is way faster.
Advantage: Sacramento

Relevant Blogs/Commentary:
Sactown Royalty

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Power Rankings 3-24 & 25


La Bomba getting some love from Fox's Galinsky.
3 wins in 4 games gets a little up lift for the Grizzlies.

Stein of ESPN can't let up with the sarcasm.
Nor can some of the other RANKERS.

Power Rankings for 24 & 25 March '08
Mouse Over GRIZZLIES LOGO to see COMMENTS (works best with MS IE)
Click on Grizzlies logo to go to team web page for each media's web site.
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