Friday, January 7, 2011

Grizzlies-Jazz Game Preview

Posted By on Fri, Jan 7, 2011 at 10:36 AM

The Grizzlies host the Utah Jazz at FedExForum tonight. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and I'll be chiming in live at @FlyerGrizBlog. Until then, three thoughts on tonight's game:

O.J. Mayo returns tonight.
  • O.J. Mayo returns tonight.
1. The Return of O.J. Mayo: The unavoidable subplot that might overshadow the game tonight is the return of O.J. Mayo to the lineup. The mid-air altercation between Mayo and Tony Allen has resulted in a gambling ban by the Grizzlies and a fine levied against Allen, but the combatants have allegedly made nice and are ready to get back to business. Everyone will obviously be looking to see any lingering physical effects Mayo might still exhibit, but the real story will be how Mayo plays, whether Lionel Hollins will put Mayo and Allen on the floor together (I think he should), and, if he does, how they fare.

2. Closer Than it Looks?: The Utah Jazz are a perennial playoff team, are currently in line for a Top 4 playoff seed, are 7.5 games ahead of the Grizzlies in the standings, and are 2-0 on the Griz so far this season. All that looks daunting, but I'm not sure the difference between these two teams is that big.

It certainly it didn't look that way in the last meeting, where the Griz played the Jazz close deep into the fourth quarter in Salt Lake City, without Rudy Gay, and with Tony Allen playing only 14 generally ineffective minutes, only to come up short, 98-92.

The Jazz boast a top five head coach and a top five point guard, and that combination means an awful lot, but the rest of the roster is not that imposing, with a talented, but under-sized and sub-all-star frontcourt tandem of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, the latter of which has been a little disappointing for the Jazz. The frontcourt depth is sketchy. The wings (Andrei Kirilenko, C.J. Miles, Raja Bell, Gordon, Hayward).

Player for player, the Grizzlies would seem to match up just fine with the Jazz, and are arguably better at every position except point guard (where the difference, admittedly, is massive). And despite that close loss at Utah last week, the teams have had similar success of late. The Jazz opened the season on a 15-5 run, but have gone 9-7 since, which seems more in line with their roster. The Grizzlies are 8-8 in the same time frame. Despite the difference in overall season records, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Grizzlies match or out-perform the Jazz going forward. (For what it's worth, when's John Hollinger projected the rest of the season a couple of days ago, he had the Grizzlies going 27-21 and Jazz going 25-22.) And a win tonight would be a good start.

3. Marc Gasol Coming Around: Last season Marc Gasol registered back-to-back double-digit rebound games eight times in his 69 appearances, and in four of those occasions he put together three-game streaks of double-digit rebounds. The main reason the Grizzlies' dominant rebounding from a season ago hasn't carried over is that Gasol hasn't been the same force on the boards, his rebound rate falling from 15.1 to a current 12.9. But now, following wins against the Lakers and Thunder, Gasol has finally attained double-digit rebounds in back-to-back games for the first time this season. With the Jazz starting an undersized frontcourt, with power forward starter Paul Millsap's status in doubt after missing his last game with a bruised hip, and with center Mehmet Okur still out to injury, the Grizzlies have a chance to control the boards tonight. A third-straight 10+ rebound game for Gasol could be a key to victory.



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