This was a classic “trap” game: The second night of a back-to-back set, on the road, coming off a high-profile and very late win over the Knicks, against a younger team laying in wait. And you could see the effects on the Grizzlies: Tony Allen and Marc Gasol each missed multiple lay-ups in the opening minutes, jumpers were short all night, and the Bobcats had fresher legs in the fourth quarter, pushing tempo to outscore the Grizzlies 27-19 in the final period.
But, even limited with shots not falling, the Grizzlies were still focused enough to built a big enough lead to withstand that late run. They ran their offense to get good shots, they defended, they wreaked havoc in passing lanes, they were solid on the boards. It was a thoroughly professional win.
And it brings the Grizzlies back to Memphis at 8-1 for a season-long five-game homestand. It's almost unimaginable that they'd sweep all five to push this start to 13-1. The odds are there will be a slip up or two over the next couple of weeks and tonight, with their third game in four days against a deep Denver squad, seems like a good candidate.
The Nuggets were a bit of a bandwagon favorite in the pre-season, but they've gotten off the a rough start. They've lost three in a row, most, most recently a 26-point demolition at San Antonio Saturday night, and all of their perimeter starters — Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, and Andre Iguodala — have played well below their norm. But the Nuggets' current 4-6 record comes after playing seven of their first 10 on the road (and it'll be nine of 12 overall). Better days are likely ahead.
Three quick things I'll be looking for tonight, when the Grizzlies host the Nuggets at 7 p.m. at FedExForum:
1. Control the Defensive Boards: Tonight's game will feature the league's two top offensive rebounders. Zach Randolph (who is first overall in rebounds per game) is second at 5.4 offensive boards a game. But leading the way is the “Manimal,” the Nuggets high-energy power forward Kenneth Faried, at 5.6 offensive boards a game.
Defensive rebounding is one of the few major areas where the Grizzlies have been below average (18th in defensive rebound rate) and Faried isn't the only concern. The Nuggets two-headed center tandem of Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee is combining for another 5.1 offensive boards a game.
2. Win the Turnover Battle: If the Grizzlies might have more trouble winning the offensive rebounding battle tonight than they usually do, they're better positioned to garner extra possessions via turnover differential. As of last night, Grizzlies have the sixth-best turnover differential in the league (-2.5) while the Nuggets have the fourth worst (+3.1). Against the Bobcats, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and Rudy Gay combined for 10 steals. That kind of defensive pressure could be effective again against the Nuggets, where primary ballhandlers Lawson and Iguodala have both been turnover prone.
3. Will the Bench Bounce Back?: Despite their good press and self-given, morning-radio-team-worthy nickname (“Zoo Crew,” the first and maybe the last time it will be mentioned here), the Grizzlies bench has been sliding a bit. Against the Knicks, they scored 18 points on 19 field-goal attempts. Against the Bobcats, in a game where the Grizzlies could have really used a boost from their reserves, the bench scored 16 points on 20 field goal attempts.
Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter have been positive factors pretty consistently, but Marreese Speights have really struggled early on, shooting a dismal 37% with the highest turnover rate of his career. And one magical game against the Heat has masked Wayne Ellington's otherwise poor shooting. Take out that career performance against the Heat, and Ellington is shooting 41% from the floor and 26% from the three-point line.
Up until a few games ago, Ellington, with probably the weakest all-around game of the four primary reserves, was averaging more minutes than Bayless, who probably has the best all-around game in the group. But the team seems to have recognized this and has been using Bayless and Conley together more of late. As a result, over the past three games, Bayless has played 52 minutes to Ellington's 39.
Working against fears of overall bench-play erosion is the looming return of Darrell Arthur, but, for tonight, the better bench is likely to be on the other side — which admittedly needs it more — where primary reserves McGee (11.1 points per game), Corey Brewer (10.4), and Andre Miller (9.6) are all key contributors.