In a somewhat un-shocking turn, the Memphis Grizzlies have returned to playing high-level basketball. The prolonged cold spell the team seemed to be suffering through has come and gone like a late Winter cold to the tune of a three-game winning streak, with two of the victories coming over likely Western Conference playoff teams. Mike Conley's return to the lineup is the key part of this renewal of "Greater" hopes, as his health is no longer hanging over the roster and his explosion appears to have returned. With his reinvigorated game leading the way alongside Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA Championship contender, appear to be back.
This is good too, because as April and the NBA Playoffs approach the Grizzlies, despite the fact they clinched a playoff birth with their 50th win against the Knicks in New York, will continue to be tested in their pursuit of a Southwest Division Title. The next three games are against arguably three of the top five teams in the NBA, starting with a Cleveland Cavaliers squad who is 13-4 post All-Star Break and 8-4 on the road during that stretch. They have been on a tear, posting a net rating of 10.4 with an offensive efficiency of 111.7 and defensive efficiency of 101.3 over the last 17 games as their new toys J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert continue to get used to life alongside LeBron James and friends. Memphis has been better over the past few days; Cleveland has been better over the past few weeks and then some.
So, how can the Grizzlies take advantage of Cleveland in Memphis and continue there rediscovered winning ways? Three keys to victory-
Force Kyrie to Defend
Kyrie Irving has begun to figure out, unlike his compatriot Kevin Love, how to be his best alongside LeBron James. His offensive efficiency has increased from an already impressive 110.9 to 113.9 after the All-Star Game, and this coincides with improved defensive production. Improvement does not necessarily mean greatness, of course; Irving's defensive efficiency of 104.4 over the past 17 games shows that defense is still not the strength of his game. The number in 11 games in the month of March, 108.4, reinforces that idea.
The healthy "Captain Clutch" Mike Conley will come in handy when dealing with Kyrie Irving. The dominant offensive force that is Kyrie will not be able to be as effective if he is having to deal with multiple pick/screen and rolls while chasing Conley all around the court. Making Irving work defensively should be a priority so that less is in the tank for him to make a huge impact offensively.
Courtney Lee's Return
Peter Fleischer has some promising news to report on his Twitter account yesterday...
Courtney Lee is practicing for the Grizz today. No wrap on his injured hand. @FOX13Memphis— Peter Fleischer (@Peter_Fleischer) March 24, 2015
Exciting, seeing as Memphis will need all the help they can get on their way to victory tonight and in their pursuit of the Southwest division. Courtney Lee has been nowhere near himself as of late, In 16 games played since the All-Star Break, Lee's shooting performance has been...well...less than inspired.
38.3% overall from the field, 33.3% shooting from beyond the arc. This is well below his season averages of 45.4% overall and 41.8% from three point land. Of course, Courtney hasn't been playing through some soreness in his wrist, soreness that has kept him out the past couple of games for the Grizzlies. Despite Memphis winning both of those contests, there is no denying that a healthy Courtney Lee has a huge impact on Memphis winning (43.5% shooting overall and 47.1% from three since the All-Star break in nine wins) and losing (33.8% shooting overall and 25% from three in seven losses) basketball games.
If Courtney Lee returns tonight, which appears probable as of the this article's publishing, it will hopefully mean the return of the consistently aggressive and effective Courtney Lee.
Abuse Their Bench
Cleveland's starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov has been dominant since the All-Star break. In 202 minutes on the court together they have an offensive rating of 116.3 and a defensive rating of 98.9, meaning an insanely effective net rating of 17.3. They are efficient scoring the basketball (True Shooting % of 61.1%) and assist on 62.4% of their made shots. Exceptional play all around.
Once bench players begin rotating in? Less effectiveness. Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert are the key pieces of their bench, who often play alongside at least one starter to make sure they do not have to depend on a James Jones or Kendrick Perkins for too long of a period of time. Regardless of which of these pieces play alongside starters, net ratings and shooting percentages get worse almost completely across the board.
So, the bench of the Memphis Grizzlies, likely led by Jeff Green, must find a way to not just keep the game close or hold on to a lead but grow a lead or close a potential scoring gap. Green at "Power Forward", a apparently rejuvenated Vince Carter and Beno Udrih in particular can dominate when in their respective roles, as Cleveland does not necessarily have the personnel to handle them consistently.
Memphis' starters will have their hands full. The bench must be more helpful than they have been in recent games.
This game will most certainly not be easy. In the 13 games that starting unit of Irving/Smith/James/Love/Mozgov has played together post All-Star break the Cavs are 12-1 and are playing their best basketball at the best time of the year. Memphis will need all hands on deck to defeat this Cleveland team, including a hopefully raucous home crowd at the FedEx Forum bringing the energy all night long.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who always seems to take offense to Kevin Love when he plays against the Power Forward for the Cavaliers, will need to be dominant, Mike Conley will need to make Kyrie work and a strong return game from Courtney Lee will all help lead the way to a huge win over a top Eastern Conference team in what may well be a preview of the NBA Finals in June. The Grizzlies will win in a tight one.
Memphis 94, Cleveland 93
|2015 NBA Season
50-21 (27-7 home)
46-26 (20-17 road)
|March 25th, 2015
|FedexForum in Memphis, Tennessee
|7:00 PM CDT|
|Fox SportSouth / 92.9 FM ESPN
|Mike Conley||PG||Kyrie Irving|
|Courtney Lee||SG||J.R. Smith|
|Zach Randolph||PF||Kevin Love|
|Marc Gasol||C||Timofey Mozgov|
|2015 Advanced Stats|
|94.3 (26th)||Pace||94.8 (T-24th)|
|103.4 (14th)||OffEff||108.2 (3rd)|
|99.8 (3rd)||DefEff||104.2 (21st)|
CLEVELAND: Anderson Varejao (Out, Achilles)
MEMPHIS: Courtney Lee (Probable, Wrist), Jon Leuer (Probable, Back)
For the Cleveland perspective, be sure to visit Fear The Sword