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Memphis Grizzlies at Milwaukee Bucks Preview: Griz on a roll

Following a string of strong performances that brought an end to the tanking talk (for the moment) to one game under .500, the Grizzlies square off against the league's worst team. It seems like a walk in the park, but will it be?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Season
18-19 (8-7 road)
Won 3
7-30 (3-14 home)
Lost 6
January 15th, 2014
BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI
7:00 PM CDT
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Brandon Knight
Courtney Lee SG Giannis Antetokounmpo
Tayshaun Prince SF Khris Middleton
Zach Randolph PF Ersan Ilyasova
Marc Gasol C Larry Sanders
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.6 (29th) Pace 93.8 (T-25th)
102.9 (16th) OEff 95.7 (30th)
104.7 (20th) DEff 105.2 (24th)

Injury Report

Milwaukee- Gary Neal (Out, Foot) Carlos Delfino (Out, Foot) Zaza Pachulia (Out, Foot)

Memphis- Quincy Pondexter (Out, Foot) Tony Allen (Out, Hand)

Opponent's Blog: Brew Hoop

Key matchups

Zach Randolph vs. Larry Sanders & John Henson – Sanders & Henson are long, athletic shot blockers, and Randolph struggles sometimes against those. Z-Bo has played well against Milwaukee in the past, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

OJ Mayo vs. Courtney Lee – Last year, Tony Allen took personal pleasure in shutting down his old teammate. OJ averaged half of his season average scoring (8.5 vs. Memphis compared to 15.3) and shot just 35% from the field and 30% from 3. Lee is a plus defender from what I've seen in a few games, but it will be interesting to see if he can keep OJ quiet against the Griz.

Ersan vs. Griz bigs - Ersan Ilyasova has struggled for much of the year, but has been hot of late. With the way the Grizzlies (ahem... Zach) struggle to get out and guard stretch 4's, Ilyasova could be tough tonight if he's hitting. Leuer may get in the game more given his better quickness and willingness to guard the perimeter (remember when he shut Kobe down?).

Marc vs. Recovery - This being Marc's second game back in the 2nd game of a back-to-back, we'll be watching him closely, especially after limping late in the last game against the Thunder.

A return to form

Remember how we all cringed when Mayo lit it up for Rick Carlisle and Dallas last year? Well, he’s the OJ we know and lovehated again: 40% from the field, 38% from 3, roughly 1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. High usage, average results. Welcome back, OJ.

What the Buck?

Mulli & I have had a basketball crush on Ersan Ilyasova’s stretch 4 game – 13.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG in only 27.6 MPG last year while shooting 46% from the field, 44% from 3 and nearly 80% from the line. But Ilyasova this year, in nearly the same MPG (27.0), is averaging 9.8 PPG & 5.0 RPG on 40% from the field, 27% from 3, and 78% from the free throw line. What happened, Ersan? You forgot how to shoot AND rebound over the summer? The shooting has started to pick up of late - 50% from the field and from three this month, including 29 against the Raptors Monday night - but we’re almost halfway through the NBA season. Speaking of which…

A sense of urgency

Last season’s 8 seed in the West was 45-37. The current 8 seed, Phoenix, is on pace for 46-47 wins. With the Griz at 18-19, they realistically need to finish somewhere around 28-17 to even make the playoffs, and would need something in the range of 34-11 to avoid playing OKC or San Antonio in the first round. Everything from here on in is a play-in game. The West is a beast this year as was expected.

That said, this is far from over. If Gasol is back at full strength soon, this team could continue to build on the momentum and make a real run. With Bledsoe out, the Suns will likely fall off, so maybe 26-27 wins gets you in, and as was pointed out on Twitter the other day:

Joe’s neat-o fact-o-the-day

The Bucks have players named Antetokounmpo, Ilyasova, Pachulia, and Raduljica on their roster. Thank God I do not have to give this preview verbally.

The bottom line

The Bucks are the worst team in the NBA. They are 7-30, 1-10 vs. the Western Conference, are among the league's worst in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and have averaged 86 points during their current 6 game losing streak. The Grizzlies have played better on the road than at home this year. The Grizzlies are playing to get back to .500, are 7-4 against the East, and should be motivated. They should win this one. It's the second game in a back-to-back and anything can happen on any given night in the NBA, though. Ilyasova seems to have quietly been playing well the past few games, so if he and another shooter or two get hot, this could get a little close for comfort.

A note from the contributor:

My name is Joe. They call me Blues City Joe. Well, nobody really calls me that, I just made it up. They do call me BCJ sometimes or "the other Joe _ _ ax" or "listen here #%^!$!@!".

I have a confession. On January 7, 2014, at approximately 9:15 pm, I left the Spurs-Grizzlies game with 5:03 left and the Grizzlies trailing by 16. I very rarely leave early. I had a few things I needed to get done that and the usual 20-minute drive. And it was the Spurs. I didn't turn on the radio. I didn't turn on the TV when I got home. I looked at my phone at 10:15 and was sick. I'm still sick about it. And ashamed. But I felt it best to admit my guilt to my Grizzlies brethren (and sistren, if that's a word).

It’s reasonable to question my Griz fandom. I mean, who am I, some guy who just started watching after the 2011 playoffs? Oh, well, the answer actually is yes. That’s when I moved here. I wasn’t around for 6 years of sub-25-win basketball in Vancouver or 3 more years of it in ’06-’09. All I did was take a job here and fall in love with the Grizzlies and the city.

I have a friend who is also a hardcore Grizz fan. He’s been a season ticket holder for years. He never leaves early either. He tells stories of sticking it out through ice and Brian Cardinal. He left at the 4 minute mark. We both insist it's no big deal, but we can't look each other in the eye anymore. The shame is too much.

So I didn't get to see Double-J's ballsy shot, nor Mike's buzzer-beater, nor Double-J's second ballsy shot in overtime. I've let you all down, and I've let myself down. I was embarrassed to go back to the next game and sit next to my fellow fans and know they knew I quit on that game, but I did. I'll do better, fellow Grinders. I'll do better.