The Grizzlies face the Golden Warriors tonight at FedExForum and weeknight games against the Warriors have historically been among the worst attended Grizzlies games. But fans should consider giving this game a shot: The Grizzlies are playing well and the Warriors are playing crazy, which means tonight's has enormous entertainment potential.
It'll be the second meeting for these teams after the Warriors won 113-105 in Oakland November 4th. But a lot has changed since then: Both teams have jettisoned volatile "stars," Stephen Jackson and Allen Iverson, respectively, and have headed in different directions: The Grizzlies winners of two in a row and 6 of 9 in December, the Warriors on a five-game losing streak and 1-9 in December (only win against the Nets).
What to make of the match-up:
1. Clashing Styles: While the Grizzlies are a relatively fast-paced (11th), high-scoring (also 11th) team, they're nothing like the Warriors who are the most extreme team in the league. With injuries to four key frontcourt players (Andris Biedrins, Ronny Turiaf, Brandon Wright, and Mikki Moore), the Warriors have been playing an even more extreme version of coach Don Nelson's favored small ball, featuring lineups that are frequently made up entirely of guards and swingmen, with colossally talented but still-developing Anthony Randolph the only legitimate frontcourt player seeing regular minutes. As a result, the Warriors play the smallest lineups and fastest pace in the NBA.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have become one of the league's power teams. And if Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol could average 34 rebounds a game over the weekend against the relatively big frontlines of Indiana and Denver, what can they do against this Warriors team? Tonight's game will pit the best rebounding team in the league against the worst rebounding team in the league. And that disparity will be at its starkest on the Grizzlies offensive end, where the Griz — led by Zach Randolph — are the league's best offensive-rebounding team and the Warriors are the league's worst defensive rebounding team.
Randolph and Gasol could feast tonight, but only if they're in the game. The Grizzlies in recent years have had a tendency to adjust to other teams rather than stick to their own strengths. With the Warriors likely to play slashers (Corey Maggette) and outsider shooters (Vladamir Radmanovic) at power forward most of the game, something's got to give.
2. Protecting the Ball: You would be forgiven for thinking the Warriors were one of the league's best offensive teams. After all, they are third in the league in scoring at 106.4 points per game. But that scoring is a function of the team's extreme pace. Per possession, the Warriors are only the 22nd best offensive team in the league. They turn the ball over too much (27th in turnover rate), don't get to the line enough (14th in free-throw attempts despite so many possessions), and rarely get second chances (last in offensive rebound rate).
And while the Warriors are even worse defensively (27th per possession, one spot ahead of the Grizzlies), they can be opportunistic (Monta Ellis leads the league in steals). It's not surprising that they're at their best when they're turning over opponents, correcting the possession imbalance created by their poor rebounding. In wins this season, the Warriors have averaged 15 steals. In losses, only eight.
This is a potential problem area for the Grizzlies, who continue to struggle with turnover problems. On the season, the Warriors are third in turnover differential (+2.2) while the Grizzlies are 29th (-2.1). The discrepancy suggests the Warriors best chance for success tonight.
3. Don't Lose Track of Secondary Shooters: When the Grizzlies lost to the Warriors in November the biggest difference maker was Anthony Morrow, who scored 24 points off the bench on 10-12 shooting. Typically, the difference between the Warriors putting up points because of pace and actually playing well is the production they get from secondary shooters. Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette will get their points, but the Grizzlies need to keep players like Morrow and C.J. Watson in check. In Warriors wins, Watson and Morrow combine to average six made three-pointers a game. In losses, it's just two.