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Game 36 Preview: Grizzlies vs. Blazers

Game Time:  7:00 p.m. Pacific  TV:  Comcast

Last time we looked in on the Memphis Grizzlies they were in Allen Iverson purgatory, trying to mix ingredients in a chemistry experiment so bizarre that nobody with any sense approached their arena without a Hazmat suit.  Things have changed a little for the Grizz in the last month.  Iverson was like an aging lothario at the bar, ruining any chance his younger teammates had to score with his me-first ways.  Now Iverson is a Sixer again and longer (cough)blocked, O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay are putting up serious numbers.  Mayo averaged over 19 per game in December and Gay more than 21.

What's more, ex-Blazer (and Knick and Clipper) Zach Randolph had decided to play Good Zach for a while.  And he's destroying the league.  He tallied 6 games of 15 or more rebounds in December, averaging 23.6 points and 14.2 rebounds.  At this rate the guy is going to get his long-coveted All-Star appearance.

More to the point, Memphis has won 6 of their last 7 to climb to a 16-16 overall record.  Phoenix and Denver were among their victims, so it's not like they're feasting only on weaker sisters.  They've found a combination that works and they're sticking with it.

Some things haven't changed, however.  The Grizz still win via offense.  They score a ton against weak defensive teams.  Their last four wins: 121 versus. Golden State, 116 versus Washington, 121 versus Indiana, 128 versus Phoenix.  They sometimes manage to win against better teams who can't get to the 102-105 point range as well.  When they don't get into the high 100's though they're far more vulnerable.  To give them some credit they give up fewer games of 110+ than they were during their disastrous season start but this is still not a team of stoppers.

If they have their druthers the Grizz will play pretty fast.  They score a lot of fast break points.  But that shouldn't obscure the fact that they score more points in the paint per game than anyone in the league by far, thanks not only to those running opportunities but to Randolph and center Marc Gasol.  A couple years ago you could rely on Memphis to either run or fire blindly.  Now you have to respect their offense in every area.  Unfortunately for them they also allow more fastbreak points than anyone in the league and are second to Golden State (by only one-tenth of a point) in allowing the most opponent points in the paint as well.

Following the trend Memphis is 5th in the league in overall shooting percentage, 29th in opponent shooting percentage.  They're a first-rate offensive rebounding team but mediocre (or maybe slightly less) on the defensive glass.  You are starting to get the picture here, no?

Memphis has a clear advantage over its opponents drawing fouls, which is not surprising given the combination of athleticism and skill on offense.  However they turn the ball over a lot, they have no shot blockers to speak of unless Hasheem Thabeet goes on a tear, and they don't have good three-point shooters outside of Gay.

The best way to describe the Grizzlies overall is that they're a team that's trying to get there but hasn't arrived yet.  They'll generate wins with their style but they'll have a hard time winning consistently until they address some of their defensive weaknesses.  They can be a tornado or they can be a breeze.  It all depends on what night you catch them on and how easy you make it for them.

Keys to the Game

These basically boil down to one thing:  don't make it easy on them.  Any form of easy bucket--layups, offensive rebounds and put-backs, excessive free throws--is a huge no-no.  You have to do everything you can to keep the game in the 90's, not the 110's.  Either team could win either way but you're making them comfortable doing the latter.  If you put pressure on them to work hard and overcome adversity the Grizzlies will probably lose.  Obviously this is harder on a back-to-back night when you're short-handed.  We'll see whether Portland can muster the energy and commitment.

Check out the Grizzlies chatter at StraightOuttaVancouver

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--Dave (