As usual, three thoughts in advance of the tilt:
1. The Twisty, Troubling Post-Trade Trajectory: The Grizzlies have gone 8-2 against a weak schedule with their post-trade roster, but, despite the record, this stretch as been one of sharp turns in terms of style and effectiveness. I'd break it down like this:
Off Eff Def Eff Pace Ast Ratio
WAS 91.9 81.4 92.9 17.4
PHO 97.3 102.5 93.1 12.3
ATL 102.2 113.0 90.6 22.0
These were the Post-Trade Malaise games. They squeaked by against an undermanned and offensively inept Wizards team and then lost two straight, plagued by turnover-riddled offense against the Suns and “no mas” first-half defense against the Hawks. The whole team was in a funk.
GS 105.2 100.2 93.5 20.3
MIN 118.4 97.8 89.3 22.8
SAC 108.5 102.5 99.1 16.5
The Rally the Troops Winning Streak heading into the break, seemingly prompted by the team and its coach simply deciding to stop pouting and get down to business. The offense exploded and the defensive tightened up a bit, but was still short of the team's established norm.
DET 113.1 93.4 95.1 21.7
TOR 102.4 94.9 86.2 15.9
The Rudy Trade Road-Trip out of the break. Against the Pistons, the Grizzlies seemed to put it all together, combining their pre-break offense with a return to the ferocious defense that had been their hallmark for much of the past few seasons. The defense was just as spectacular against Toronto, but the paced slowed and the offense bogged down. A result of pressing too much in an unusually physical, second-of-a-back-to-back roadie or a start of something?
ORL 99.1 92.2 88.9 18.9
BKN 92.4 86.0 83.0 15.2
My fear is that this pair could become Regression to the Mean Weekend. The defense kept getting better, the offense fell apart, and the pace slowed to a crawl, with the danger that the Grizzlies could be coming out of their trade turbulence and settling into what they were for the two months before the deal: A great defensive team and a bad offensive team. Since the trade, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are both shooting under 45% from the floor while the team's three-point attempts, already lowest in the league, have been trending down even more.
The return of the elite defense is great, but if the Grizzlies really want to hold onto their four seed (or move up) and feel like they have a good chance to be a post-season spoiler, they need at least an average offense. The signs on that front were great heading into the break, but the downward trajectory since is concerning.
2. A Different Dallas: This is not the same Mavericks team the Grizzlies beat by double-digits in Memphis back in December. That Mavs' team was in the middle of a 2-13 stretch. Since then, the Mavs have rebounded to go 12-8, despite losing at home to Milwaukee last night, and are among the leagues' 10 best offenses and defenses in February. Leading the way has been a returning Dirk Nowitzki, who went for 21-20 last night, following a 30-13 against the Lakers.
With Nowitzki seemingly back to All-Star form, it will be interesting to see how that impacts the Grizzlies' frontcourt rotation. Darrell Arthur's minutes and production have both been trending down of late but, in theory at least, he's probably the best defensive option to combat Nowitzki's deadly face-up game. Perhaps Arthur gets more run tonight.
3. Conley is (Always) the Key: The Conley Correlation remains close to foolproof, as his production is up significantly — 15 points, 7 assists, 45% shooting — during this 8-2 post-trade run. But Conley hasn't been good against the Mavs this season, averaging 8 points and 27% shooting in the two prior meetings. In a groove and back at home and matched-up against Darren Collison, there's no reason Conley shouldn't have a good game tonight.