WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass
HOW TO LISTEN: 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
For more on the Dallas Mavericks, check out Mavs Moneyball
It is quite amusing/befuddling where the NBA season can take you.
At the start of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies were believed to be in the thick of things for a top three-to-six seed in the Western Conference. It was widely assumed they would be locks for the playoffs at the very least, another appearance in the postseason all but confirmed.
On the flip side, with the turmoil that the Dallas Mavericks endured during their offseason (cough DeAndre Jordan cough) and the fact that acquiring an injured Wesley Matthews and
the corpse of Deron Williams was seen as major moves for them, many assumed Dallas would fade. Dirk Nowitzki's twilight years would be wasted on a bad team, and the Mavs would try again in free agency next Summer.
In the eternal words of Lee Corso, "NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND!"
We forgot that Rick Carlisle is a warlock, one of the best coaches in the NBA and that is being displayed prominently right now. They are in the top-10 in the NBA in offensive efficiency (102.6), and they are #12 in the Association in defensive efficiency (100.3) despite their supposed shortcomings. The additions of not just Williams and Matthews but Zaza Pachulia have paid immediate dividends, and Dirk has shown multiple glimpses of his MVP self, to the tune of a recent six-game winning streak and a 9-5 record to start the season.
Compare that to Memphis, who at 7-7 is mediocre record-wise and their efficiency numbers back that up and then some. They are currently 25th in offensive efficiency (98.6) and 21st in defensive efficiency (103.6). The inevitable Mario Chalmers cool down has occurred, the Grizzlies' bigs are banged up (Zach Randolph is likely Questionable for tonight's game, Brandan Wright likely remains out) and Memphis continues to, despite a recent winning streak of their own, struggle when playing teams with winning records so far this season. The Grizzlies are 2-5 against teams at or above .500 before the start of Monday night's games and 5-2 against teams below .500.
Good against bad teams, bad against good teams. Mediocre makes sense. How can the Grizzlies turn the tide and beat a good Dallas squad tonight?
Force Them Off the Three
In Mavericks' losses this season, their shooting has been like this-
In wins? Their shooting is like this-
The major difference? They take more shots overall (87.2 per game) and make less from three (6.8 per game) in losses than in wins (81.6 attempts overall and 8.7 makes from beyond the arc.) Their offense gets thrown out of whack and they do not get the rhythm looks that their shooters on the wing thrive on in their losses.
The Grizzlies must do what they do best- play passing lanes and force their shooters to break their sets. They have multiple players either on the wrong age of thirty (yes, I know, I know, pot meet kettle) or coming off of serious injury. If the Grizzlies can find a way to disrupt set offensive looks (easier said than done against a Carlisle offense) and force them to create for themselves, they may not be able to at this point in the season.
Essentially, Memphis must create chaos. A good night for Tony Allen and Matt Barnes to hopefully do just that on the perimeter defensively.
Gasol Must Own Dallas' Bigs
The last time these two met it was March 14th of this year. The Grizzlies won 96-83 over the Milwaukee Bucks, and Marc had a good night. 12 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists on 50% shooting. But he did not attempt a single free throw, and Pachulia played him to essentially a draw with an efficient 14 point, 4 rebound evening himself. Zaza's +/- on this night was a +2, Marc Gasol was a -3. An imperfect stat to be sure, but Pachulia held his own against the best Center in the NBA.
While Zaza is an underrated big, this simply cannot happen again if Memphis wants to defeat the Mavericks. All-Star Center Gasol, First Team All-NBA Gasol, must make Dallas pay and force Pachulia to get in to foul trouble by attacking the basket. Dwight Powell is currently having a career year, and the potentially effective Javale McGee made his debut against the Thunder last game against the Mavericks.
None of these guys, though, can handle Gasol when he is locked in. He is the mismatch more often than not. He must take advantage.
Test Williams on Defense
Deron Williams is having a bit of a career renaissance in Dallas. He has scored 20 or more points in his last two games and is shooting almost 40% from three-point land. When he is on, Dallas is hard to stop.
Which is why Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers must make Williams work on the defensive end. He simply cannot be allowed to conserve energy for offense; Conley, Chalmers and any other guard being defended by Williams must run him off of screens and picks This would force him to chase the younger guards around the court and test those legs that have had issues in the past.
Yes, Gasol is often the mismatch. But Chalmers and Conley have the skill set to test Deron Williams defensively as well, making him less effective as an offensive option.
The betting line in Vegas on this game as of this posting is Memphis -3, meaning that the Grizzlies are the favorites to win. With a single possession separating the two teams, however, it can likely go either way in the eyes of the wise guys in Sin City. The Grizzlies have won four of their last five and are playing better basketball overall, but are still far from fixed and their health may again hamper them tonight. The Mavericks struggled defensively against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Russell Westbrook will do that to anyone (just ask Memphis) and they are a team that has caused issues for the Bears of Beale Street in the past.
Expect a playoff type of contest in terms of intensity, with the Grizzlies getting up for a game against a competitive divisional foe. Rick Carlisle and company will execute an effective game plan against the Grizzlies, but Memphis will find a way on the backs of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to make a couple more plays than their opponents in the final frame to get the win at home and get back above .500.