The Knicks are in Memphis tonight to take on a revitalized Grizzlies team at 8:00 EST. To help get everyone’s mind off Knicks trade rumors and stop fiddling with ESPN’s Trade Machine I brought in Jonathan May of 3 Shades Of Blue and Chris Faulkner of Grizzly Bear Blues to discuss tonight’s game.
The Grizzlies host the Knicks tonight winners of their last two games before the All-Star break. In January, the team really got back on track winning 11-of-12 at one point. What’s been the biggest reason for their recent surge?
Jonathan: The surge experienced in late December (starting with the December 21st win in New York, by the way) into early February can be explained by a couple of things. First, we finally got healthy (for a second) when Marc Gasol returned on January 14. Marc’s value is not always easy to quantify with traditional statistics, but his presence on the floor allows everyone to play more comfortably on offense and more aggressively on defense. Second, the addition of James Johnson and Courtney Lee have given the team a big boost. Dr. JJ (aka “The Equalizer” aka “Double J” aka “Damage Hammer” aka “Blood Sport”) has given the Grizzlies energy and play-making off the bench that was desperately needed once it became clear that Jerryd Bayless was not going to be that guy this season. CL33 has been a solid (at times spectacular) shooter, and has given Randolph and Gasol much needed space in the paint while also being a better defender than he gets credit for.
Chris: With the Grizzlies season marred by so many injuries, I’d have to give credit to several people for that January surge. James Johnson came out of the D-League to supply the Grizzlies with much needed vigor. Acquiring Courtney Lee was huge, and the spacing he provides the Grizzlies (hallelujah it’s about time) has given Zach Randolph and Ed Davis to score very efficiently in the paint.
It’s also worth pointing out that Lee is continuing to play and score at a high level that many said would not be sustainable. Perhaps he does eventually “come back down to earth,” but he’s been a natural fit for the Grizzlies and head coach Dave Joerger. Lee isn’t simply just padding his stats with a few hot shooting nights – he’s scored in double digits 15 of his 19 games with the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies front office already made one in-season deal trading for Courtney Lee. Now, they’re reportedly trying to move Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince for J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger. Do you think this deal ultimately goes down?
Jonathan: No way. That said, I think there are interesting nuggets of truth buried within that rumor. I think the Grizzlies are highly motivated to find a taker for Tayshaun “Clanks” Prince and are willing to package him with a more valuable piece (Ed Davis, Kosta Kofus or Tony Allen) if necessary. With some uncertainty about Marc Gasol’s knee, it would be difficult to trade either of your back-up big men, which makes TA the logical piece to shop. I also think the team has an academic interest in Budinger, though I can’t say he excites me. Barea makes sense if you embrace the “Grizzlies need a backup PG” narrative, but that is much less true now than it was 4 weeks ago, in light of the improved play of Nick Calathes.
Chris: I do believe the Grizzlies want to trade Prince and his hefty contract, and I think they might be willing to give up a big player to make that happen, but I don’t see them giving up Tony Allen just to swap Prince for Chase Budinger. He’s obviously got an age advantage on Prince, but he’s not the athletic SF that Memphis would give up key assets to acquire.
I’m imagining that Tony Allen’s name popped up in this rumor because of actions/requests by Minnesota, not Memphis. As far as J.J. Barea goes, with Mike Conley returning tonight and Nick Calathes proving he can excel in the NBA there’s not an urgent need for someone with his skill set.
The Grizzlies operate at the slowest pace in the NBA, but it works. Why does the team seem to play so much better with the style?
Jonathan: While Coach Joerger initially tried to pick up the pace from the previous regime, the early returns were disastrous and he quickly reverted back to the pace of the prior three years.This is a “personnel dictates the pace” scenario more than the other way around. Any team that emphasizes defense first while running its offense through two lumbering bigs is going to play at a slower pace. Also, playing defense the way the Grizzlies elect to play defense consumes a lot of energy and effort. It is a trade off, honestly. The Grizzlies are choosing to have fewer possessions – despite knowing they are not particularly efficient scoring the ball – in order to limit their opponents possessions. It is pretty effective, amazingly. High-octane offenses inevitably end up “in the mud” with the Grizzlies.
Chris: The Grizzlies strengths are still in their post game even with the rise of Mike Conley and the acquisition of fast, athletic players like Courtney Lee and James Johnson. The Grizzlies score most efficiently when they utilize most of the shot clock and look for multiple options in our through their paint presence. Defensively speaking, the slow pace works because they rebound so well (5th best rate in the NBA at 51.7% of missed shots rebounded) and gain advantage by giving teams fewer possessions than they’re used to working with. When you combine the math with the defensive intensity and persistence they have through a half-court set, it wears teams down and gets them out of rhythm. As long as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are here, that’ll most likely be the game plan.
The Grizzlies appear to be a matchup nightmare for the Knicks on paper, but how would you go about attacking this Grizzlies team defensively and offensively?
Jonathan: I think the Spurs let the cat out of the bag about how to defend the Grizzlies during last year’s Western Conference Finals. The catch is, not many teams have the personnel to do it. You have to force Memphis to beat you from outside the paint by making life as difficult as your personnel permits for Randolph and Gasol. You have to match ZBo’s physical play, keep him off the blocks and make sure that he is getting the ball 12-15 feet from the rim rather than 6 feet from the rim. If Zach is going to kill you with 17-footers, you’re sunk anyways. With Gasol you have to pick your poison after gauging what kind of night he’s having. I’d let him shoot his elbow jumper before I’d let him pick you apart with passes from that spot. If he is hitting them, then you get physical with him and dare him to bring his game closer to the rim where he and Randolph sometimes get in each others way.
If I had a good answer for you about how to beat the Grizzlies’ defensive scheme, I’d probably be getting paid to write. My best advice is to hit open shots when they are there, because their aggressive defense often leaves a man open if you make enough passes. The teams that have the most consistent success against the Grizzlies are teams that hit 3s. Lord knows the Knicks have plenty of guys willing to take plenty of those. If they fall, the Knicks are going to be in good shape. I would caution against those skip passes that will look like they’re there when they’re not.
Chris: The easiest way to score on the Grizzlies is get a wing defender to overhelp on an athletic post presence. Gasol and Randolph will always receive help defense when matched up against anyone faster than Kendrick Perkins, and the aggressive nature of the Grizzlies makes it difficult for the defenders to recover to perimeter shooters. Nail your outside shots and you’ll often get the Grizzlies into trouble.
When the Grizzlies are on offense they’re usually looking to impose their will with physicality. Teams that can match that physicality have had a lot of success in getting the Grizzlies post game out of sync, and when that happens the whole ship usually falls apart.
Who ultimately wins tonight and why?
Jonathan: I expect the Grizzlies to win. This afternoon we got word that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will both be in the starting lineup, something that hasn’t happened nearly as often as we’d expected this season. When the Grizzlies got hot and won 11-out-of-12 in January it was with those guys on the floor together. The Grizzlies also know they have no margin for error after losing a handful of games in the first 2 months of the season that may come back to haunt them. Winning home games against Eastern Conference opponents is on the “must do” list the rest of the way.
Chris: As a Grizzlies fan I feel pretty good about tonight. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol should return after extended rest, and how quickly they regain their legs and footing will play a huge role in the feel of tonight’s game. Players like Carmelo always scare me against the Grizzlies – they’ll either be held to 14 pts or go off for 45 pts, 30 of which come in one quarter. But ultimately I think the Grizzlies play at a high level in front of their home crowd and keep this game “in the mud,” as we’ve come to say in Memphis. Look for a low scoring finish, something resembling Grizzlies 93 – Knicks 89.