Memphis Grizzlies vs. Orlando Magic: Game Preview

Mike Conley's continued improvement will be key to a Magic night for Memphis in the Grindhouse. - Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Times continue to be tough on the Grizzlies and their fans. Two games, two losses by more than twenty points and the injuries continue to mount. For a team with one of the NBA's toughest early season schedules, a visit from the struggling Orlando Magic hopes to be the beginnings of a cure to what ails the Grizzlies.

2013/2014 NBA Season
vs
9-10 (4-7 home)
Lost 2
6-14 (1-9 road)
Lost 5
December 9th, 2013
FedexForum in Memphis, TN
7:00 PM CST
NBATV/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Jameer Nelson
Jerryd Bayless
SG Victor Oladipo
Tayshaun Prince SF Arron Afflalo
Zach Randolph PF Andrew Nicholson
Kosta Koufos C Glen Davis
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.8 (30th) Pace 98.1 (10th)
99.2 (22nd) OEff 98.7 (23rd)
103.1 (20th) DEff 103.2 (22nd)
Injury Report

Orlando: Nikola Vucevic (Day-to-Day, Ankle) Tobias Harris (Out, ankle)

Memphis: Marc Gasol (Out, Knee) Quincy Pondexter (Day-to-Day, Foot) Tony Allen (Day-to-Day, Hip) Ed Davis (Day-to-Day, Ankle)

More on the Magic: Orlando Pinstriped Post

For fans of the Memphis Grizzlies, the holiday season has not been very merry and bright so far. The injury report continues to grow longer and longer, and it is players that are depended on heavily, key cogs of the Grizzly machine. As if the injury bug wasn't enough to possibly derail dreams of divisional titles and Western Conference Finals repeat appearances, the early schedule has not been kind to the boys in Beale Street Blue.

According to ESPN.com, the team with the number one strength of schedule in the NBA is the Memphis Grizzlies. This means they have played against teams with a combined winning percentage of .541. They are also number eleven in the RPI, or Relative Percent Index. Here is how that is determined:

Relative Percent Index: The basic formula is 25% team winning percentage, 50% opponents' average winning percentage, and 25% opponents' opponents' average winning percentage.

So the Grizzlies, even with a full roster, were going to be facing a darn tough group of teams early in this season. Another comforting number, for those who are advanced analytics fans, is the EWL, or expected win loss at this point of the year. Here is how that is measured, once again according to ESPN.com

Expected Winning Percentage and Win-Loss: Derived the Pythagorean 16.5 Method, the basketball adaptation of Bill James' Pythagorean theorem of baseball: Runs scored ^16.5 / (Runs scored ^16.5 + runs allowed ^16.5). This formula was designed to relate a team's points scored and points allowed to its won-lost record.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bill James, he is a pioneer in the sports analytics movement, particularly in baseball. The Godfather of Moneyball, if you will. According to this formula, the Grizzlies at this point of the season should be, instead of 9-10, 7-12. So, with everything that has happened between coaching concerns, injury issues and squalid scoring, the Grizzlies are, in the "eyes" of the numbers, perhaps overachieving considering what has transpired.

The heavy load of a strong schedule would appear to lighten a bit tonight as the Orlando Magic come in to town. With one of their best players, Nikola Vucevic, likely out with an ankle injury, the Magic will be both short handed and physically short in the front court. The Magic's strength is in their wings; Arron Afflalo is having a red hot start to the season, and first round selection Victor Oladipo has posted a triple double already in his rookie campaign. This Grizzlies team would be wise to not underestimate this Magic roster. In keeping with the numbers theme, here are three numbers that will be key to the Grizzlies' success tonight.

Forty and Nine-Tenths (40.9)

This is the number of rebounds Memphis is averaging per game at this point in the season, good for 24th in the NBA. This number is below where the Grizzlies were at 42.7 rebounds per game last season and 42 in the lockout year. This roster needs to attack the glass on both ends of the court, especially if the offense continues to struggle without Marc. Defensively, rebounds limit opponents possessions and can create fast break and transition opportunities for easy buckets. Offensively, it creates multiple chances as getting points, which this Grizzlies offense needs plenty of. With the smaller Orlando front line, Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph especially need to have double digit rebounds tonight if the Grizzlies want to win.

Twenty-Two and Fifteen-Hundredths (22.15)

This is Mike Conley's current PER, or Player Efficiency Rating. This measurement of a player's statistical production, devised by the Memphis Grizzlies' own John Hollinger, is widely considered one of the better (although imperfect) measurements of how a player is performing within any given game. Among players averaging more than 30 minutes per game, Conley is 15th in the entire NBA in PER and is the 3rd highest rated Point Guard behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. This number confirms what many Grizzlies fans are already seeing with their eyes; Mike Conley is in the midst of a monster year.

Conley's exceptional play and Grizzlies' wins are an obligate symbiotic relationship

For the Grizzlies to find a way to stick around the .500 winning percentage mark with a win tonight, Mike Conley will need to continue his ascent to "elite" status. Finishing at the rim, hitting three point shots, sticking his man whether it is Oladipo, Nelson or E'Twaun Moore, Conley's consistency and growth as a possible top 5 Point Guard and possible All-Star candidate will have to be of full display against a struggling Orlando team.

Thirty-Six and Six-Tenths Percent (36.6%)

This is Zach Randolph's shooting percentage the past 5 games he has played in. These 5 include part of one (the Spurs) and all four games Zach has played in since Marc Gasol went down with his knee injury. A portion of this should be attributed to his own toe injury which forced him to miss both the Brooklyn and Phoenix games. However, Zach's struggles are concerning. At this point in his career, he likely needs Marc Gasol more than Marc needs Zach. However, Zach needs to find a way to be effective against this Magic team who is struggling themselves in terms of front court depth with both Vucevic and Harris out. Zach needs to get bigs is foul trouble by attacking the basket, using his body to get into the lane and get easy shots.

As Brevin Knight, the Grizzlies TV analyst would likely say, Zach Randolph has played in too many games since Marc got hurt. Z-Bo needs to make an appearance tonight.

The Prediction

As the numbers suggest in the game preview info table, this game is closer analytically than most would care to admit. The Grizzlies and Magic are almost mirror images of each other in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency. The major difference is pace, and this will determine the game. Will the Magic be able to get out and run, using athleticism from Oladipo and the hot shooting of Arron Afflalo to get quick buckets? Or will the stars of the Grizzlies, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, control the tempo and create both in the post and off the pick and roll?

Expect the Grizzlies stars to have big nights against a weaker Magic roster and for a solid outing from Jerryd Bayless, who will be looking to bounce back after a putrid 0-11 performance.

Memphis 97, Orlando 89

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