WHERE: Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California
WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
HOW TO LISTEN: 92. 9 FM ESPN MEMPHIS
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast
For the Kings' perspective, visit our friends at Sactown Royalty
Last night sucked.
You will read about it here on GBB and everywhere. It is the kind of game that can demoralize, the kind of performance that can linger in your mind and make you question your confidence...
...unless, hopefully, you are a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. Life in the NBA is such that the best thing about particularly difficult losses is that the next game is often right around the corner. For Memphis, it is literally tonight as they take on the Sacramento Kings in the second game of their five-game West Coast road trip. The stench of failure hopefully freshly removed after a night's rest and a quick trip from Oakland to Sac-town, a new day brings a new opportunity and a chance to show that last night was more aberration than the general rule when it comes to the 2015-2016 Grizzlies, even if Memphis' two losses were to two elite NBA teams, teams who one would imagine the Grizzlies would have to get through in order to win a championship at some point...who clearly are superior to Memphis in every way possible at the moment...
But I digress. The Kings offer the Grizzlies an undermanned opponent without their best player, DeMarcus Cousins, who are still finding themselves with several new key pieces on their roster. Coach George Karl is not quite sure what he has at the moment, and this team, while talented, will struggle with "Boogie" Cousins out due to injury.
So, just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Grizzlies, right? Not necessarily. If Memphis isn't careful, 3-2 can easily become 2-3, and that aberration from earlier can start to transform into a trend. They must handle their business tonight and find ways to handle the unique looks that Sacramento will throw at them.
Three keys to the contest-
Adapt to How Sacramento Plays Without Boogie
Cousins was injured in Sacramento's last game against the Clippers, and this will be their first game without him this season. How George Karl adjusts rotations, and especially the starting lineup, bears watching. Will Karl opt for a "Twin Towers" look, starting Kosta Koufos alongside Willie Cauley-Stein down low? This could spell trouble for Memphis; Zach Randolph has struggled early this season, especially with long, athletic bigs, and both Cauley-Stein and Koufos fit that bill. Karl could also possibly go small, bringing in Darren Collison or Marco Belinelli to start in the back court with Rajon Rondo and Ben McLemore. This would move Rudy Gay down to the 4 in a "small-ball" role, which theoretically would benefit Zach, at least from an offensive perspective.
But defending Rudy is another issue entirely. He will be the focal point of Sacramento's attack with Boogie out, and while some in Memphis may be excited by this prospect, this isn't your Big Brother Rudy Gay the Grizzlies will be playing. He can still be inefficient at times, but overall he has grown his game since becoming a Sacramento King and he has shown the ability to thrive in Karl's system, especially if a small-ball lineup allows for them to get out and run more.
The uncertainty is what is so concerning, and Dave Joerger must be ready for either of these scenarios to play out. Memphis is familiar with former Grizzlies Gay and Koufos, and certainly knows these players' strengths and weaknesses. It all revolves around Zach Randolph responding to a poor start last game and taking whoever the Kings start to task early and often with his brand of bully-ball...if he is still physically able to do so.
Gain Ground with the Bench
The positive of this uncertainty? One of the Kings' key bench pieces will be moved to the starting lineup. This means that a team that was probably not hoping to have to count on a Caron Butler or Omri Casspi to play 25 minutes in a game has to use them, or maybe another guy (Quincy Acy?). While Memphis' bench did not have the best showing against the Warriors, against lesser competition there have been positives. The much maligned Jeff Green played well against Brooklyn and Indiana, and Beno Udrih looked much less outmatched in those two contests as well.
Koufos and Collison are the Kings' only true big and ball-handler on the bench, respectfully. The Kings have a wealth of wings, though, so it is possible they do indeed go with Belinelli to start and bump Rudy down to the 4. That leaves Sacramento with a lack of scoring pop off the bench, and also opens up opportunities for Green and Matt Barnes to find open lanes and spaces on the floor to create for themselves/others. Ball movement must be crisp, and whoever is being defended by Caron Butler must take advantage.
Show Some Fire!
As I said to Kevin Lipe on Twitter last night, this does not mean go fight someone. What it does mean is look like you actually care about what is happening more consistently. No, losing your mind would not have changed the outcome. Yelling and screaming does not automatically put more points on the board, and hard fouls do not stop Stephen Curry from being an alien from another planet sent here to destroy basketball teams and their dreams.
What it does, though, is ignite passions. Sometimes you need to ruffle feathers, to call out someone for repeated mistakes. After the Cleveland Cavaliers game Marc Gasol said there were far too many "my bads"; that does not make a good apology. The best apologies are making right the wrongs of the past, being in the right spot next time, making the right cut or the correct read. Words ring hollow after multiple poor performances; it is time to act.
Memphis has to right some serious wrongs. They look as if they either do not know how to right them, or they don't care to. The former is terrifying, the latter cannot be true if you believe in the character of the team. So, if the looks are deceiving, it is time for the true character of this team to shine through. This early stretch of difficult games is getting no easier any time soon. Tonight is as good a night as any to turn things around.
Memphis is favored by five points in this contest, and perhaps the lone positive of Monday night's debacle is the starters got good rest ahead of playing four games over seven days. The Kings will try to use pace and athleticism to throw off the Grizzlies and their schemes, but Sacramento simply does not have the horses that Golden State does. The debate over Memphis being an elite team can be saved for another Podcast or Feature; tonight Memphis does not play a title contender. Not only that, they play a team without their best player. If Memphis is simply a good NBA team, which most still believe they are, they should take advantage...and they will.
Memphis 98, Sacramento 92
|2015-16 NBA Season
|Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California|
9:00 PM CT
92.9 ESPN Memphis/Fox Sports Southeast
|Mike Conley||PG||Rajon Rondo|
|Courtney Lee||SG||Ben McLemore|
|Zach Randolph||PF||Rudy Gay|
|Marc Gasol||C||Willie Cauley-Stein|