Wednesday night, the Grizzlies held on to defeat the New Jersey Nets, 105-100, thus successfully navigating one of those "just win and get the hell out of there" trap games in the NBA. Winners of two straight, Memphis enters a game tonight with far less potential to be overlooked; the Denver Nuggets come into the Grindhouse exactly one percentage point behind the Grizz in the Oft-Referred To Hollinger Playoff Odds, meaning yeah, this one will likely count further down the road than just tonight.
What then, must Memphis do to increase this slim margin? Let's think, after the jump.
-- They must take advantage of the now. Denver's leading scorer and, had he stayed healthy, possible All-Star consideration Danilo Gallinari has missed the last five games (and he'll be out a few more weeks yet) with an ankle injury. The Nuggets are 2-3 in those games and winners of only three of their last ten overall. Gallo's absence isn't the only factor here, but the point is that Denver isn't playing its best ball of late. When this team is synced and playing with cohesion, they are an unrelenting machine gun turret of points and more points. If their steps aren't quite in line at the moment, it'd be best to jump on this moment of weakness.
-- They must control that whole scoring situation. Even given their recent slide, the Nuggets rank second in the league in points per game. The Grizzlies, as we're aware, go through stretches where a punt at the basket would at least be a nice change of pace (that might be exaggerating); however, in Memphis's 100-97 comeback overtime win over Denver on January 31st, the Grizz were able to survive two sub-20 point quarters thanks to their disruptive defense keeping them afloat. If defense is dictating pace, that's a good thing; if the Nuggets are flying up and down the floor, and that's the pace we're going to go with, that likely will not be a good thing.
-- They must get another big night from the starters. Gallinari aside, the strength of the Denver Nuggets still lies with their depth. It's this depth that have many believing they're a perfect team for a strike-shortened season; with more quality players spread evenly across the roster, a unit or group of players is less likely to wear down as fast as a team that relies on a strong core and a bunch of fill-ins on the side. This is what Denver banks on every night, and it's why the Grizzlies starters must stay on the floor for one, and moreover, be productive throughout -- much like Wednesday in New Jersey.
In fact, if Memphis can get another "win and get the hell out of there" outcome tonight, one doubts there would be much disappointment among Grizzlies fans. A win tonight means only percentage points in the probability standings now, but down the stretch, games like this have a tendency of adding up to much, much more.
**For more on everything Denver Nuggets related, do visit Denver Stiffs.