Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Tonight, the Grizzlies face off against the Denver Nuggets in a battle of Western Conference big boys.
Tonight, the Grizzlies visit the Denver Nuggets in the fourth and final meeting of the season between the two teams. If the Grizzlies emerge with a win in this one, they will be guaranteed to return home with a winning record on the west coast road trip. The Nuggets are virtually unbeatable at home this season, touting an impressive home record of 29-3 including winning their last 15 games in the Pepsi Center.
The Nuggets have been a tough matchup this year for the Grizzlies, having won two of the three games the teams have played this season. However, the Nuggets have yet to face the Grizzlies in the post Rudy Gay era.
A proprietor over at Denver Stiffs, Nate Timmons, recently wrote a piece about why the Nuggets should angle to play the Grizzlies in the postseason. While the piece had a lot of merit to it when Gay was still part of the Grizzlies, the timing of the piece was off. The piece was written after the trade, and the Grizzlies are a completely different team than they were before the trade. Two players featured in the article are Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Gasol was averaging 13.7 points per game before the trade and has averaged 15.8 points per game since the trade. Zach Randolph's points per game have not changed much since the trade, but he has been banged up and this could be limiting his production.
The Grizzlies are still an excellent defensive team since the trade, but their offense has improved drastically, in one way specifically. The Grizzlies ball movement has been phenomenal post-Gay trade. Before the trade, the Grizzlies were only assisting on 56.8% of the shots the team made. Since the trade, the Grizzlies are assisting on 63.5% of made shots. That is good enough to take the Grizzlies from 25th in the league in AST% before the trade to 7th in AST% after the trade. In simpler terms, maybe the Rudy Gay trade did provide the spacing the Grizzlies have needed on offense so desperately over the last couple years. This spacing and the improved ball movement is creating a lot of easy shots for the Grizzlies, which means the Nuggets should have a much tougher time defensively on Friday night than in the previous three meetings this year.
While this is much the same grit 'n grind team as it was before the trade, teams can no longer afford to pack the paint and cheat to the middle of the floor as long as the Grizzlies keep moving the ball like they have. While Gasol's and Randolph's numbers were lower than both their averages in the first three meeting with the Nuggets, circumstances have changed. Friday night should tell both teams a lot in their first and only meeting of the season after the trade deadline.
One game does not determine whether one team is better than another, but if the Grizzlies handle the Nuggets and I was a Nuggets fan, I would think twice about wanting to draw the Grizzlies in the playoffs. The newly remade Grizzlies roster does not scare easily, and it would take an incredible effort to beat this team four times in a playoff series and send this team into hibernation until next season. But, by all means, angle away.
Keys to the Game
Don't Get Mauled by the Manimal: Kenneth Faried is a double-double machine, and he makes for a tough defensive matchup every night. Zach Randolph does not have the lateral quickness that is necessary to keep Faried in front of him, especially coming off of an ankle injury. Marc Gasol is not quick enough to completely contain Faried either, but what the lumbering Gasol lacks in quickness he makes up for in excellent positioning. Look for Hollins to potentially put Gasol on Faried to keep him from getting going. That leaves ZBo to cover Kosta Koufos, who is less of a threat offensively and much less athletic than his front court counterpart. If the Grizzlies can limit Faried's production and keep him off the glass, they should be in good shape.
Limit Nuggets Bench Production: The Nuggets are a team that relies heavily on bench scoring. The Nuggets have a balanced attack and employ the scoring by committee tactic. In the teams' first three meetings, the Nuggets bench went for 34, 38, and 31 points respectively. The Grizzlies want to keep that number under 30, at least.
Let the Prince Work: Danilo Gallinari is not a great defender, and a rejuvenated Tayshaun Prince should be able to go to town on the Italian. If the Grizzlies can get Prince going early, that will open up the space for Gasol and Randolph in the post. On the defensive side of the ball, Gallinari has given the Grizzlies trouble before. He put up 26 in the teams' first meeting this season. Much like young Prince Joffrey from Game of Thrones, Tayshaun Prince wreaks havoc across all the land. Prince's wingspan should give Gallo trouble and force him to take tough shots which is exactly what the Grizzlies want. Gallinari is a streaky scorer, and the Grizzlies can't afford for him to go for 26 again.
Tickets: Memphis Grizzlies tickets
The Other Side: Denver Stiffs