Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies: Game 21 Preview - Slow it down, Grizz

Records: Denver Nuggets (14-6) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (10-10)

8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, NBA TV

FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee

Line: Denver by 2.0

Opponent Blog: Denver Stiffs

Injury Report: MEM: Randolph (knee); DEN: Lawson (Ankle) Day-to-day


Now losers of four-straight, the Memphis Grizzlies welcome the western-power of the Denver Nuggets tonight at 8:00 PM. After busting out six consecutive wins and 8 wins in 9 games, Denver finally fell to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night. They were outscored 32-22 in the final 12 minutes of the game.

The way things have looked lately for the Memphis Grizzlies isn't too encouraging, for tonight they attempt to avoid going below .500 for the second time this season and avoid a fifth consecutive defeat.

More after the jump.

The Nuggets, despite losing to the Clippers, still have the second-best record in the Western Conference. Tonight, they go for their first six-game road winning streak since March 23-April 8, 1988. Yeah. 1988. At least the Grizzlies have time and tradition working for them in this one.

In its last 5 games away from home, Denver is averaging 112.4 points and claims two overtime wins.

"I actually think our mental attitude on the road court has been better-focused than at home," coach George Karl told the Nuggets' official website following Monday's practice.

Last Wednesday, Nuggets PG Ty Lawson left the game against the Sacramento Kings with a sprained left ankle. In the game, he had 11 points, three assists, and three rebounds in 15 minutes before he was injured. He's having a career season - going into the game, Lawson is averaging a career-best 16.0 points and 6.7 assists - both career highs.

After missing the past two games, Lawson is currently listed as day-to-day. His possible return could give Denver a better matchup against Mike Conley; Arron Afflalo, the backup point to Ty Lawson, hasn't produced as much as he should. In the last two games, Afflalo has only given five points in 41 minutes.

The Grizzlies are scoring 83.0 points per game on 38.4% shooting the last four games. Compare that to the 102.0 points and 49.6 percent shooting during the 7-0 surge that came before the losing-streak. Clearly, there is a lack of offensive production. Coach Hollins, though, sees the problem as a much deeper one.

"Did you see effort out there?" Hollins said Monday after the Grizzlies' four-game home winning streak ended. "That's the problem. We're not working. First effort, second effort, third effort -- when we give effort, it's just for a few seconds, and then we let up."

Personally, tonight's a special night in my house. The Nuggets-Grizzlies matchup isn't just another Western Conference game. It's a game where my roommate, Christopher Cooke, a die-hard Denver Nuggets fan, and I go head-to-head for bragging rights until the Nuggets and Grizz meet again on February 17. Mr. Cooke and I put our minds together and were able to develop three stories that will make-or-break the game for either team tonight.

1. Protecting the Ball

Surprisingly, the Grizzlies and Nuggets both play similar ball on defense. Both teams play gritty and attempt to force the ball out of the other team's hand. For the first time in franchise history, the Nuggets are first in the league in both fast-break points (21.2 per game) and points off turnovers (21.7 per game). When the Nuggets swamped New York on January 21, they collected 12 steals - the eighth time this season they have recorded at least 10 steals in a game.

The Grizzlies aren't far behind. They rank third in the league in fast-break points (18.1 per game) and fourth in points off turnovers (19.9 per game). The team is led by Mike Conley, who ranks second in the NBA in steals per game with 2.53 steals. Not far behind is Tony Allen, who, in his second season in Memphis, is averaging a career-high 1.89 steals (11th in the NBA) in only 23.9 minutes.

2. Bench Production

The Nuggets have been getting excellent production from their bench all-season long, but two players in particular have stood out recently: Al Harrington and Corey Brewer. Al "Buckets" Harrington has been the leader coming off the bench, scoring 15+ points 10 times (20+ three times) and averaging 14.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.16 steals per game. Need more? Harrington ranks 18th in the NBA in field goal percentage at .519. His 14.8 points ranks fourth int he NBA among players who have come off the bench in at least 15 games this season.

Corey Brewer exploded in the win at Milwaukee on January 17th with a season-high 22 points. Brewer has scored 10+ on five separate occasions this season - all five have come in his last 13 games played. He is averaging 8.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per game while shooting .484 from the field and .458 from beyond the arc in only 16.3 minutes per game.

The Denver bench players are intimidating. The team's claim-to-fame is the bench production in the win over Sacramento on January 4th, in which the team had 12 players score at least six points. It was just the second time in franchise history this has been accomplished.

Memphis' bench has yet to make an impact this season. Bench production has always been a glaring issue for the Grizzlies - some argue that it was the roster's lack-of-depth that forced them out of the playoffs at the end of last season against the deep roster of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Embarrassing statistic: In the loss to Utah on January 7th, the entire Grizzlies bench scored a measly 11 points. In comparison, the Jazz reserves produced 41 points.

Memphis ownership knows bench production was a problem last season and is still a problem. Though the franchise responded with signings of Cunningham and Pondexter to deepen the roster, something still isn't quite there if the starters are scoring 74 of 85 points like they did in Utah.

3. Danilo Gallinari vs. Rudy Gay

Danilo Gallinari, recently signed to a highly publicized 4-year extension in Denver, has been on fire of late. In his last four games, he has scored 20+ and is averaging 25.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.25 steals. He's been a sure shot in going .517 from the field and .897 from the free throw line in his past four games.

Danilo "The Rooster" Gallinari is in the middle of a career year. He's averaging career-highs in points (17.9) rebounds (5.2), assists (2.8), steals (1.53), field goal percentage (.467), and minutes (34.4). Gallo has scored at least 20 points a total of nine times this season, including a career-high 37 points - 11 rebounds at New York on January 21st.

Who will be guarding the Rooster? None other than Grizzlies' star Rudy Gay. Before suffering a season-ending left-shoulder subluxation last season, Gay averaged 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.68 steals in 39.9 minutes played. Since returning this season, Rudy is playing as if he hasn't missed a day. Averaging a team-high 18.7 points (17th int he NBA) and 6.2 rebounds with two double-doubles, the 6'8", 230 lb forward has made his presence felt.

It was a different story for Gay last night, however. In 35 minutes played, Gay only scored 1 point. If Rudy plans to go toe-to-toe with Gallinari, he's going to have to be more of an offensive presence. Furthermore, if Ty Lawson doesn't play, Mike Conley has a favorable matchup against Afflalo - the one-two punch of Conley and Gay, when they're in sync, is a deadly one. Keywords: when they're in sync.

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Before going to work this morning, my roommate and I had our last pregame Nuggets-Grizzlies discussion. Having watched the Nuggets all season, Christopher Cooke said something that is definitely worth a mention.

"You want to know my honest opinion? The Grizzlies will win tonight if they play Grizzlies basketball. Nuggets' basketball is very fast-paced and nonstop; it's easy to get lost in the quickness of it." Cooke stated. "Before you know it, it's the third quarter and your players are dead-tired because of all the running. Without the quickness, though, I promise you the Nuggets aren't a 14 win team."

Grizzlies will have to slow it down tonight if they expect their starters to go deep into the game - they simply will not win in the bench vs. bench contest. Limit the Nuggets fast-break points and force them to take contested jumpshots. If one takes the pace away from the Nugs, they're a much more manageable team.

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Hate to say it, but I gotta give it to the Nuggets on this one. I hope I'm wrong.

Final Prediction: Denver 98, Memphis 85

As always, GameThread's up and running at tip off. 8 o'clock.

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