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Memphis Grizzlies need to start a stout defense of home court against the Sacramento Kings

The Grizzlies, winners of 4 straight, and the Kings, winners of 4 of their last 5, meet in a clash of styles. Who will prevail?

Rudy returns to Memphis... to root against Memphis, and then play against Memphis
Rudy returns to Memphis... to root against Memphis, and then play against Memphis
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Season
19-19 (10-12 home)
Won 4
14-23 (5-10 road)
Won 1
January 17th, 2014
FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN
7:00 PM CDT
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Isaiah Thomas
Courtney Lee SG Marcus Thornton
Tayshaun Prince SF Rudy Gay
Zach Randolph PF Jason Thompson
Marc Gasol C DeMarcus Cousins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.4 (30th) Pace 97.2 (11th)
102.6 (T-16th) OEff 104.0 (12th)
104.3 (19th) DEff 106.2 (28th)
Injury Report

Sacramento- Carl Landry (Out, Hip)

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

Opponent's Blog: Sactown Royalty

Key Matchups

Mike Conley vs. Isaiah Thomas – This is a battle of two waterbug-quick point guards who are both keys to their teams' offensive attacks.  Thomas is averaging 19.2 PPG and 6.1 APG this year while shooting over 45% from the field and 41% from 3. That's a PER of 21.79.   Conley, as we know, is averaging 18 PPG and 6.5 APG en route to a 20.95 PER of his own.   Though Conley's steal numbers have dipped this year as he's shouldered a heavier offensive load, I believe his defensive ability to be the key to this matchup.  He has the quickness to stick with Thomas, and if he can find a way to win this matchup decisively, it would go a long way toward a win for the Grizzlies.

Marc vs. Recovery - I said it last game, but I'll say it again here - we'll be watching Marc closely.  After an inspired comeback performance against the Thunder that saw Marc put up 12 points and 4 rebounds while showing flashes of the player we know him to be, he was largely ineffective in 14 minutes against the Bucks in the second game of that back-to-back.

Boogie Cousins vs. Griz bigs - With Marc still in recovery mode, it will likely be some combination of Marc, Kosta Koufos, and Ed Davis matching up against Cousins.  Cousins is having an All-Star year, averaging 23.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.8 blocks, while shooting an improved 49.6%.  Those are dominant big man numbers.  Kosta probably matches up best with Cousins defensively given Marc's questionable mobility but offers little offensively to offset Cousins' productivity.  It's hard to see this matchup going the Grizzlies' way, but if they can find a way to come out even at the center position, it would be huge.

Rudy vs. Tayshaun and Double-J - With Rudy's resurgence in Sacramento, averaging 20.8 points on 52.6% shooting in his 17 games there, he is a legitimate concern.  He's really the third piece of Sacramento's big 3 at this point along with Cousins and Thomas.  Fortunately, the Grizzlies have 2 players in Tayshaun and James Johnson with the length and defensive ability to potentially defend Rudy effectively.  Johnson is coming off an excellent performance vs. the Bucks, putting up 15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 blocks, 2 steals and no turnovers in 28 minutes off the bench.  Another big night from him would certainly be a shot in the arm for the Grizzlies.

Rudy 3.0

You know we can't talk about this game without talking about Rudy Gay coming back to Memphis.  This has been a hot-button issue, not just among Grizzlies fans but among NBA fans in general.  Rudy had become the poster boy for old-school talent scouts versus the new analytics crowd with their hair gel and electronic devices.  From all the variations of Rudy v.1 in Memphis, to the same kind of variations of Rudy v.2 in Toronto, he remained a frustration - a max-contract guy who didn't play like a max-contract guy.  No one thought he was terrible or anything of the sort, just that he was making a lot of money to score in a very inefficient way.  Add in his perceived tendency to sulk when things weren't going his way, and it spelled a guy most teams flatly did not want.

So what changed? Well, he went to the Kings.  This had 3 major advantages:
1) It's Sacramento, another smaller market where he doesn't have to worry about the spotlight too much.
2) It's a team built to run and gun, an offense that fits Rudy's play style to a tee.
3) They already had 2 (roughly) 20 point a game scorers in Thomas and Cousins

So Rudy 3.0 has come about, and v.3 is more efficient scoring the basketball.  He rebounds less, but he's got Cousins pulling down a lot of boards.  He still turns the ball over a lot, but is in an offense where it doesn't matter as much because they play at a fast pace and therefore they get more possessions per game - so one wasted possession isn't such a killer as it is for a slower pace team like a Grizzlies.  Cousins and Thomas are huge for Rudy though.  For perhaps the first time in his entire amateur and professional career, Rudy is not expected to be the guy, and so far he's thriving.  Despite some of the things he said after leaving Memphis, I hope Rudy 3.0 sticks around and he doesn't revert to his old ways.  We'll see.

Letting it fly... but struggling.

Mike Miller has struggled the last 2 games.  After an ugly -17 +/- in the Thunder game in just 11 minutes, scoring 0 points, Mike went 1 of 8 for 2 points in 19 minutes vs. the Bucks, though he did contribute 4 rebounds and 2 steals.  I hope this is not Mike hitting a wall from all the minutes he's been playing.  In 38 games, Mike has played 849 minutes, just 51 minutes short of what he played all last regular season for Miami (900).  At his current playing time rate, he will end up more than doubling that by season's end, provided he stays healthy.  Mike hasn't played more than 900 minutes since '09-'10, so it is something to keep an eye on.

.500 is a start

The Grizzlies getting back to .500 felt big, even though it was won in a very ugly game against the worst team in the league, because it wasn't all that long ago that the Grizzlies were 10-15, coming off a 5 game losing streak, and Grizzlies fans were wondering if there was any hope at all for the season.  Since, they are 9-4, have won their last 4 and 7 of their last 10.  Several things happened, including the acquisitions of James Johnson and Courtney Lee, two players who seem to fit what the Grizzlies do very well.  Another thing, I believe, is Dave Joerger has improved with his substitutions.  Where we would often see all-bench lineups to start the 2nd and 4th quarters earlier in the season, Joerger seems to have been doing a good job of mixing and matching starters with bench players to keep there from being so many big runs like we saw earlier.  It has meant more minutes for Conley, but I don't know that there's much he can do about that with the roster as currently constructed.

From here, the Grizzlies need to win 26-28 games to have a shot at the playoffs.  So while .500 is a significant improvement from where we were and has brought back the fan base's interest to a degree, it's really just moved the needle back to zero.  The push for the playoffs starts here.

Joe's neat-o fact-o-the-day

Isaiah Thomas was reportedly named after the former NBA All-Star guard Isiah Thomas when his father, James, lost a friendly wager on a Lakers vs. Pistons playoff game in 1989.  He also is reportedly booed when he visits Madison Square Garden because of the strong dislike for his namesake there.

The bottom line

The Kings are no ordinary 14-23 team.  They've won 4 of their last 5, are playing good basketball, and can put the ball in the bucket on a night-in, night-out basis.  They are averaging 107 PPG over the last 14 games, and have been held under 100 only once in that stretch.  With the way Rudy has been playing for them added into an already potent offensive lineup, the Grizzlies will need to rely on defense, controlling the ball and controlling pace if they want to win this one.  If they can hold the score in the 90s or below, the Griz should stand a solid chance for a win.