Tonight is the game one of the Grizzlies' 3-game road trip against the Hawks. The Grizzlies are coming off a big overtime win against the 2nd-seeded Denver Nuggets. However, the West is, as always, a slugfest, and Memphis is currently 10th and on the outside looking in. That being said, the Grizzlies have been fairly solid considering that we are without the services of Zach Randolph. If we can stay above .500 until he returns, chances are we'll around come playoff time.
The Hawks are in similar, maybe even worse, position, as there isn't a specific timetable for the return of star Al Horford. Fortunately, they play in the weaker Eastern Conference and will probably be able to hold on to the 3rd or 4th seed regardless. Atlanta comes into this game on a 3-game winning streak.
Grizzlies (11-10) at Hawks (16-6)
7:30 P.M. ET at Phillips Arena
3 Keys to the Game:
1. Streaks: The Grizzlies have been the streakiest of teams lately, first going on a 7-game winning streak, only to follow it up with a 4-game skid. Was the win over Denver a sign that we're in for another winning streak? A brutal stretch of the schedule is approaching: OKC, Boston, Minnesota, San Antonio, Indiana, Utah, Houston. That's 5 playoff teams, and the other two, Houston and Minnesota, are ranked just before and just after us. I'm not going to say that tonight's game is must-win, but we could really use a win tonight if we want to stay at or above .500 over the next 8 games. The Grizzlies can't afford to continue their streaky ways.
2. Offense: The winning and losing streaks go hand-in-hand with our offense. Our defense (currently 10th in the league) has remained solid throughout. In terms of point differential, we're actually better than the 6th-seeded Jazz (which is one of many reasons why I believe they'll drop out of the race as the season progresses). Unfortunately, we're dead-even with Houston, and pretty far back from everyone else. Memphis is 23rd in offensive rating, which, to state the obvious, is not good. Obviously, our offense is going to suffer without Zach, who is the key cog, but it shouldn't be this inconsistent. Atlanta is a good defensive team, and it would relieve a lot of my anxieties if we could string together a good offensive performance tonight.
3. Mike Conley Jr.: Generally, I tend to pick one match-up before each game to focus on, and tonight is the point guards. In Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, the Hawks feature two good defenders. I haven't really gotten to watch many Hawks games this season, but I've always admired Hinrich's defensive ability, and Teague seems to be strong in that regard as well. I was a bit surprised when I checked Mike's numbers this morning: I didn't realize that, in almost every category, he's putting up better statistics than last season. Simply watching him play, it felt like he was stronger last season though I'm probably just remembering that incredible stretch he had at the beginning. Also, from a statistical standpoint he and Jeff Teague are almost identical (Conley is a better passer, Teague is a better scorer; otherwise it's freakishly close). Color me surprised. So Mike really needs to outperform his opposite tonight.
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