I probably won't be doing many standalone game previews this season, but an opener with this kind of wattage deserves one. So here are three subplots I'll be keeping an eye on tonight:
1. Zach Randolph vs. Blake Griffin: In last season's Griz-Clips playoff series, an increasingly banged-up Griffin averaged 18 points on 53% shooting, while a significantly diminished Randolph averaged 14 points on 42% shooting. Given how close most of the games were, it isn't much of a stretch to say that Randolph equalling Griffin's offensive production would have tipped the series. So this opening night provides a very good first test for how far back to All-Star level Randolph is. For the Grizzlies to be a contender this season, they need a Randolph that's roughly on the same level at his position as Griffin.
2. Mike Conley vs. Chris Paul: And speaking of good opening tests ... Mike Conley looks fabulous in the pre-season — stronger, quicker, more confident. I was impressed enough that I tabbed him to be a top contender for the Most Improved Player award this season. So how about seeing the New Mike Conley stacked up against the best point guard in the world?
3. Jerryd Bayless vs. Backcourt Pressure: When last we saw the Grizzlies in a game that mattered, anyone not named Mike Conley was struggling to transport the ball safely up court against the defensive pressure of Paul and Popeye-armed back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe. This crippling problem, an even bigger pothole on the Grizzlies post-season path than three-point shooting, is something the acquisition of Bayless is meant to correct. Bledsoe has been even more of a beast in preseason and Paul is Paul. Bayless is likely to be checked by one of those players most of the time he's on the floor. Let's see how he handles it.