So the Memphis Grizzlies have made the post All-Star slate of games seem pretty complicated so far, right? The high-powered machine that won eight straight games from January 21st-February 4th has given way to a 5-4 run over their past nine games. During Memphis' eight-game winning streak they won five of those games by double digits and scored 100 points in five of the eight wins. Since then? They scored 100 points once (in their latest win against the Timberwolves in Minnesota) and haven't won a single game by double digits.
Enter the Utah Jazz, who make the trip to the FedEx Forum playing out the slate, not a playoff threat, having made deadline deals to potentially improve their future, possibly at the expense of their present. This team is the best medicine for the Grizzlies' ailing starting unit, correct? Not necessarily. Utah is coming off of a win over one of this season's most improved teams in the Milwaukee Bucks, during which they held Jason Kidd's squad to 75 points on 39.2% shooting. Utah is 4-1 since the trade deadline, beating the likes of the (albeit immediately post-trade deadline) Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs. Trey Burke & Rudy Gobert in particular have thrived, and Utah may well be better now than they were the last time these Grizzlies saw them, a 100-90 victory over the Jazz in Salt Lake City during that eight-game winning streak.
Maybe not the best time to run into a young, improving team. It's time to respond and retaliate, before March truly comes in like a lion. Three keys to victory.
Play to Your Starter's Strengths
This tweet from Peter Edmiston of Sports 56 WHBQ Memphis and the Memphis Commercial-Appeal (and one of our guests on this Thursday's GBBLive) was an eye-opener...
When Zach Randolph shares the floor w/ Jeff Green, he takes 16+ ft shots 93% more often than when he's on court without Green. (@nbawowy)— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) March 2, 2015
An interesting development. The honeymoon period with Jeff Green has ended for some (and for others it never got started), as he has garnered some of the heat for the starters' struggles in recent games. It is important to keep in mind that a team with such camaraderie and chemistry developed over four seasons has only had Jeff Green in the fold for 21 games and less than two months. There is no denying that Green has affected the Grizzlies, however, and that as the team continues to adapt to their new reality, they must find ways to play to every players' strengths more consistently.
Getting Zach closer to the rim has to be a priority. Have Green run the baseline, work the corners for three point opportunities, and slash much like Tony Allen does with his offensive opportunities. Get JG post touches in other ways, and enable Z-Bo to work where he works best, on the block. Mike Conley must work the two-man game with Marc Gasol; Courtney Lee must shoot rhythm jumpers and attack the rim when those chances are not present. The rhythm is there - it just has to be built around what the starters do best more consistently. That takes time to find.
Get Gobert/Favors in Foul Trouble
Zach's work on the block may be hampered a bit in this game as he encounters two longer, more athletic bigs in Rudy Gobert & Derrick Favors. Gobert has been the biggest beneficiary of the move of Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City, and he's thrived in his new role as the definitive starter alongside Favors. It bears watching whether Gobert defends Marc Gasol or Randolph to start the contest; Gobert, at 7'1", makes sense on Gasol, so that leaves Favors for Randolph. The young Jazz big men are going to pose challenges, especially for Zach, due to their size and defensive ability.
What does Memphis have that Utah doesn't, however? An extensive Rolodex of post moves and a nasty mean streak that shows its face a good bit. Physicality in the paint and getting the young Jazz front court out of position will lead to free throw opportunities for the Grizz and foul trouble for Utah. Trevor Booker and Jack Cooley are not nearly as impactful as Gobert and Favors, and the Grizzlies will have the Jazz right where they want them.
Trey Burke Must Be Contained
The nice thing about Tony Allen the bench star is that it gives you multiple wing defenders to throw at the best reserve scorer of the opposition. This will come in handy against the Jazz, as Trey Burke has been on a TEAR since the All-Star Break ended. Stats are provided by NBA.com
|Points Per Game||Field Goal %||3 Point %||Assists Per Game||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
An impressive run of success, albeit in a small sample size of five games. Burke has been aggressive scoring the ball, and has flourished while playing 29 minutes per game. He will mix in with starters, but a part of him coming off the bench is the fact he can go against lesser competition early in games and get into a rhythm. Rarely, if ever, does a bench unit have two (TWO!!!!) elite or near-elite defenders capable of hindering Burke's ability to drive or get open from range.
Memphis has two such players. Nick Calathes and TA must be aware of Burke at all times, and at the end of the first half/the game, Mike Conley will likely draw the assignment, leaving TA to focus on others like the very capable Gordon Hayward.
The way Memphis has played lately, they have not had the look of a contender for the NBA title, at least the starters haven't had that look. In order for the Grizzlies to take hold of this game and make a statement, the starters must start fast and be aggressive in the lane. Transition and free throw opportunities will be the key to opening up the offense, and an aggressive Mike Conley will lead the way, helping the starters get out of the mud and into a better rhythm. Just in time too, as Houston looms the next night as the second night of a back to back.
Memphis 103, Utah 92
|2015 NBA Season
42-16 (23-6 home)
23-35 (10-19 road)
|March 3rd, 2015
|FedexForum in Memphis, Tennessee
|7:00 PM CDT|
|Fox SportSouth / 92.9 FM ESPN
|Mike Conley||PG||Dante Exum|
|Courtney Lee||SG||Gordon Hayward|
|Zach Randolph||PF||Derrick Favors|
|Marc Gasol||C||Rudy Gobert|
|2015 Advanced Stats|
|94.3 (26th)||Pace||92.9 (29th)|
|103.8 (11th)||OffEff||102.6 (15th)|
|100.1 (7th)||DefEff||104.4 (23rd)|