To say that the Grizzlies are in the midst of a make-or-break point in their schedule may be an understatement. Having come off back-to-back sets against the Spurs (splitting the series), the Grizzlies now embark on a quest playing against 11 possible playoff teams over the next 12 contests (and I only say "likely," knowing that really the Jazz and maybe the Pacers will miss the playoffs.)
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. All you can do know is take it one game at a time.
Tonight, the Grizzlies will take on the New Orleans Hornets at home, where they are 21-8. Let's not take our home record as a guarantee, but I think we can at least let out a nice sigh knowing that we don't have to play on the road where we are 13-20.
It's also safe to say that we are getting the Hornets at just the right time. As we are playing some of our best ball, the Hornets are sinking. They have lost three straight, including a 107-88 loss to the Knicks on Wednesday -- a game in which they were buried early on.
Digging deeper, the Hornets have lost seven of their last 10 games and 12 of their last 16, which in no way means we should take them for granted. Chris Paul, too, is struggling, having scored just four points on Wednesday and shot 7-of-29 over his last three games. As Paul goes, so too do the Hornets. But if there's one point of concern Grizzlies fans have had all season long it's been the on-the-ball defense of Mike Conley. Nothing says "breakout" game like a matchup against Conley.
The Grizzlies and Hornets last played on Jan. 19 of this year. In that contest, Paul posted a team-high 20 points with 12 assists and just two turnovers. Conversely, Conley was able to score a game-high 22 points, yet he had jus five assists to four turnovers. In the end, the Hornets pulled away with a 103-102 victory.
To be successful in this one, the Grizzlies need to continue to force turnovers. Over their last three they've forced over 16 turnovers per game. Defensively, they've certainly improved with the presence of Shane Battier. And knowing that Conley is somewhat of a liability, they have active hands in guys like Tony Allen and even Sam Young, to a lesser extent, who can help close the lanes and make CP3 work. The key is to keep the pressure on Paul, whose struggles are a bit concerning for the Hornets.
Also struggling is Emeka Okafor. He's made just two field goals over the last two games, which when coupled with Paul's struggles makes it near impossible for the Hornets to maintain any offensive flow. David West can't carry this team on his shoulders.
The Hornets struggles offensively haven't necessarily translated into disastrous showings on the defensive side of the ball. While they haven't scored 100 points in each of their last nine games (and only once since Jan. 30), they've only allowed 92.6 points per game over their last five games. We need to come out and play an efficienct game on both sides of the ball -- getting down early and letting the Hornets see some daylight could mean a long night for the Grizz.
It's not necessary for us to declare this a must-win, but it is a game in which we should win. A loss would be disappointing, especially considering that we only trail the Hornets by 0.5 games for the 7th seed out West. The same holds true for our positioning behind the Blazers. With the Mavs, Thunder, Knicks, and Heat on the docket this coming week, we can't afford to let a struggling team like the Hornets get their grrove back on OUR home court.
Prediction: Grizzlies 107, Hornets 99
Additional Reading and Conversation: At The Hive (Hornets SB Nation blog)