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Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Utah Jazz

Memphis' Grizzlies look to extend their season-best seven-game winning streak in Utah against the Jazz.

Gasol vs. Favors will be fun to watch in Utah this evening.
Gasol vs. Favors will be fun to watch in Utah this evening.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

2014/15 NBA Season
36-12 (15-7 road)
17-31 (9-14 home)
February 2nd, 2015
EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
8:00 PM CST
Fox SportSouth / 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Dante Exum
Courtney Lee SG Gordon Hayward
Jeff Green SF Joe Ingles
Zach Randolph PF Derrick Favors
Marc Gasol C Enes Kanter
2014/15 Advanced Stats
94.2 (26th) Pace 92.9 (28th)
105.1 (10th) OEff 103.1 (15th)
100.5 (9th) DEff 106.2 (27th)
50.3 (14th) RebR 52.3 (2nd)


MEMPHIS: Vince Carter (Out, foot)

UTAH: Rodney Hood (Out, foot)

For the Utah Jazz perspective, check out SB Nation's SLC Dunk.

The Memphis Grizzlies are playing some of their best basketball of the season heading in to the All-Star Break. A season-best seven-game winning streak has had more moments of dominance than gut-wrenching wins with the most recent victory, a 102-101 slobber knocker against the Phoenix Suns, being the exception. In the seven game streak, the Grizzlies have won by double digits in four of those seven games, including an 18 point win over the Philadelphia 76ers and 30 point victory over the Denver Nuggets. They are doing it with defense, sporting a 90 defensive efficiency over the seven game span & only allowing more than 90 points to be scored against them once out of the seven games.

A trip to Utah against the lowly Jazz should be a piece of cake, right? Not exactly. Since the start of the "Grit and Grind" Era in 2010-2011, the Grizzlies are 2-4 against the Jazz in Utah. Earlier in this season, one of the 12 losses that Memphis has endured in 2014-2015 came at the hands of the Utah Jazz, at the FedEx Forum. It was a part of their season worst four game losing streak from the week of December 19th-26th. Of course, there are some major differences between the teams now - Alec Burks (who led the Jazz with 23 points on that December evening in Memphis) is out for the season, Zach Randolph & Tony Allen were out for the Grizzlies, and Tayshaun Prince was the starting small forward for the Grizzlies that night.

Both teams have gone through some changes since then, but the Jazz are still not playing as poorly as their record indicates. Gordon Hayward is having an excellent season, the Jazz's trio of bigs (Favors, Kanter, & Rudy Gobert) have led Utah to 2nd in the NBA in rebound rate. and as this young team becomes more comfortable in coach Quin Snyder's system they should improve more and more. This Jazz team defeated the Golden State Warriors at home this past Friday night and lost to the Trail Blazers in Portland by one Tuesday night. They can play.

So, a challenge awaits the Grizzlies in Utah. How can they mute the Jazz and extend the streak? Three keys...

Get Courtney Lee Going

As is so often the case for these Grizzlies, the scoring output and three-point contributions of Courtney Lee are key for Memphis in any win. He will have opportunities, as well; whether it is Joe Ingles or Gordon Hayward guarding him, Lee should have a quickness advantage, and Courtney has shown the capacity to take lesser athletes off the dribble and make opponents pay for defensively overplaying his shooting range.

Make Lee a priority on offense early and watch everything click that much better.

Attack Gordon Hayward

He surely isn't Kevin Durant as a scorer, but in terms of importance to the Jazz's offensive schemes and success Gordon Hayward is in that ballpark. Whether in wins or losses, his traditional statistics and shooting percentages are consistent while providing Utah with a scoring threat from range and off the dribble drive. Where you can see the major difference is in his advanced stats; in Utah wins, Gordon Hayward's net rating is +15.4, boasting an intense 112.3 offensive rating with an even more impressive 96.9 defensive rating. In losses, however, Hayward has a -9.6 rating, with 102.7 being his offensive rating and 112.3 being his defensive rating.

Yes, you can argue Hayward is Utah's best player. That doesn't mean he cannot be taken advantage of. Between the energy & aggression of Tony Allen and the athleticism & versatility of Jeff Green, he can be made frustrated and thrown off of his game. Give him different looks on defense as you would against Durant, and when on offense Memphis must attack him and force him to defend a variety of shots and offensive sets.

Bigs on Bigs on Bigs

If you're a fan of front court basketball and low-post battles, tonight's game is a good one to tune in to. The three top bigs for the Grizzlies, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph & Kosta Koufos, are considered among the best all-around big trios in the entire Association. While they may not garner the attention, the three bigs in Utah are quietly gaining traction as a top groups of big men as well. Kanter/Favors/Gobert are capable of dominating the glass (26.2 rebounds per game on average since the start of 2015), altering shots (5 blocks per game since the start of 2015, including Gobert's obscene 3.1 per game) and becoming more and more involved in the offensive process for the Jazz (39.7 points per game since the beginning of 2015.) Factor in the presence of their 4th best big man, Trevor Booker, and it is indeed possible that Utah is deeper at the front court big positions than Memphis is.

However, the three at the top of the Grizzlies' big man depth chart are all-around more skilled and experiences than those of the Jazz. It will be up to Gasol, Randolph & Koufos to frustrate the younger Jazz big men, getting them in foul trouble & forcing them to score outside of the paint consistently. Athletically, Utah may have the edge, but as basketball players Memphis is the superior group of big men. They must use that and their basketball IQ to get the best of the Jazz's talented bigs.

The Prediction

Utah is a better team than their record shows. They are, however, coming off a tough game last night against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, and even at home the second game of a back to back is a challenge, especially against a rested team playing as well as the Grizzlies are. Utah is 5-6 on 0 days rest so far this season, and Memphis will take advantage of weary legs through aggressive defense & active ball movement on offense, taking over the game in the 2nd half en route to another double-digit win as the win streak extends to a best in the West eight games.

Memphis 101, Utah 88