WHERE: Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
WHEN: 6:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports South East/NBA League Pass
HOW TO LISTEN: 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Memphis- Brandan Wright, Jordan Adams (Knee)- OUT
Washington- Bradley Beal (leg), Nene Hilario (calf), Drew Gooden (calf)- OUT. John Wall (rib), Gary Neal (back) day-to-day
For the Wizards' perspective, check out Bullets Forever.
So, this whole small ball thing...how is it actually working out for the Memphis Grizzlies up to this point?
Those watching the games, including last night's contest against the Philadelphia 76ers, surely can tell the difference. Ball movement is more crisp, movement off of picks and screens is more fluid, and in the first game of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen coming off of the bench together the 2nd unit had some success (14 points and 8 rebounds for Z-Bo, Tony Allen led the bench in +/- at +11 despite scoring only one point.) Rebounding has suffered (39.0 in the past six games, 1.8 less than the 24 games before) but Memphis was a bottom-third team in rebounding anyway before the move to small-ball. Efficiency is improved both offensively and defensively, and while the competition level has been lowered the team seems to have found their groove, especially defensively (98.0 the past six games, 5.2 better than the Grizzlies' season average.)
That brings us to tonight's contest, where Memphis will take on the Wizards in D.C. This will be the first time that the Grizzlies will play a team for the second time in this new era of small ball, and it will be interesting to see how the Wizards adjust. Washington is banged up, with a long and distinguished injury list highlighted by star players John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall is expected to play, but with Beal and possibly Gary Neal both out Washington will have problems scoring the basketball consistently.
That does not mean this will be a cake walk. Memphis is 16-14, 3-3 in this small ball era, and in no way, shape, or form can take any opponent lightly.
How can the Grizzlies take a three-game winning streak in to the Christmas holiday? Three keys-
Slow Marcin Gortat
Gortat had a relatively quiet night against the Grizzlies in Memphis, to the tune of 10 points and 9 rebounds in the loss. Since then? He has been a monster, responding to the needs of Washington for him to be more aggressive. He has taken 16.7 shots the past three games, converting 56% of them on his way to 21.7 points per game the past three games. He also has grabbed 10.7 rebounds per game and rejected three shots per game since he last saw Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies. His latest game? 27 points, 16 rebounds against DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings.
He cannot have such a dominant performance against Gasol if Memphis hopes to win. Marc must win this individual battle.
Defend the Three
With the recent switch to small ball, the Grizzlies have had more success defending the three-point shot. The first 24 games of the season, opposing teams shot 37.2% from beyond the arc. Since the move to a smaller lineup, opponents are only converting 31.3% of their long-range attempts against Memphis. Replacing Zach Randolph with another wing has allowed for better defensive movement and close outs of shooters, and that has helped the Grizzlies' overall defensive production.
This trend must continue against the Wizards, who have shot 44.1% from three the past three games and during that stretch have three players (Jared Dudley, Kelly Oubre, Garrett Temple) shooting 50% or better from three with more than three attempts per game. If Memphis can slow this production and force misses, they can create more opportunity for themselves offensively on long rebounds.
Get the Backcourt Going
In the win in Philadelphia Mike Conley and Courtney Lee were cooking to the tune of 12-25 shooting overall and combined 33 points and 8 assists. This is even more impressive considering the fact that Lee did not attempt a single three point shot. In Memphis' last loss, a 97-88 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, Conley and Lee were 8-20 and scored a less-efficient 28 points with 4 assists.
These two guys need to take advantage of Washington's banged-up guards. If John Wall and Gary Neal play, they will be dealing with injury. Bradley Beal is out. Lee and Conley need to be aggressive and efficiently create for themselves and their teammates.
Usually in the second game of a back to back for a visitor you favor the home team who had the night off the day before. However, Washington is banged up and Memphis is 7-1 on no days rest so far this season. The Grizzlies will continue to depend on Matt Barnes for all-around production, the bench led by Zach Randolph and Tony Allen will bring energy against a depleted Wizards roster and Memphis will head in to a two-day Christmas break with a victory in our Nation's Capital.