After receiving no All-Star love last night, the Brooklyn Nets (26-16) will have the opportunity to pick up a statement win on the road against one of the best teams in the western conference, the Memphis Grizzlies (27-14) and newly-named All-Star Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies got off to a very hot start this year, but have slowed down a bit recently. Although they won their most recent game over the Lakers (but seriously, who hasn’t beaten the Lakers this year?), they are only 3-4 in their last 7 games with 3 of the 4 losses being 20+ point blowouts against Dallas, the Clippers, and San Antonio. The Nets, meanwhile, are still riding high since P.J. Carlesimo took over. Brooklyn has won 3 in a row and has still only lost once in the month of January.
Memphis is the Indiana of the western conference. They win with defense, rebounding, and very few flashy highlight reel plays. The Grizzlies are also a team that is careful with the ball and takes advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. They are third in the NBA in forcing turnovers and second in steals per game. They are also a big team with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol so it is important to limit offensive rebound opportunities. This team is beatable, but in order for Brooklyn to win, they will have to limit their mistakes.
Injuries: Surprisingly, neither team has any significant injuries in this game. Brooklyn recently sent their rookies Toko Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor to their D-League team, the Springfield Armor, so they will not play in this game.
Deron Williams vs. Mike Conley. Advantage: Williams
After Deron Williams missed making the all-star game Thursday night, he will go up against another all-star snub in Mike Conley. Conley has played very well this year in leading Memphis. He is averaging 13 points, 6 assists, and 2.4 steals per game and is one of the better defensive point guards in the league. He is not a great shooter, but he can knock down open 3′s if he is left open. Deron Williams has shown more consistency this month and is playing well now. I expect him to have a good game.
Joe Johnson vs. Tony Allen. Advantage: Johnson
At 31 years old, Tony Allen is still thought of as one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA. However, he is a little bit undersized and will not bring much offensively. In fact, he reminds me a lot of Gerald Wallace of Brooklyn. This season Allen is averaging only 8 ppg and has yet to hit a 3 this year. Most of his points will come in the paint. It will be interesting to see who Allen will be guarding, but it will probably be Joe Johnson. Like Deron Williams, Johnson has been very consistent this month, scoring between 15-25 points nightly.
Gerald Wallace vs. Rudy Gay. Advantage: Gay
After lots of trade rumors early in the season, including trade rumors to Brooklyn, it appears that Rudy Gay will remain a Memphis Grizzly for at least the rest of this season. He is having one of his worst seasons this year. He is averaging career low percentages from the field and from 3 and is scoring his fewest points per game since his rookie season. Still, he is averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds per game and is one of the better scorers in this league. Gerald Wallace will have his hands full tonight.
Reggie Evans vs. Zach Randolph. Advantage: Randolph
I am so excited to see this matchup. These are two of the best rebounders in the NBA despite being undersized. They just have a nose for the ball and never give up on any rebound. The difference between the two is that Randolph also has an offensive game, so much so that he got selected to the all-star game last night. Randolph is a surprisingly skilled offensive player and has the ability to make mid-range shots as well as finish off offensive rebounds. Reggie will bring energy to this game like he always does and will make things difficult for Randolph.
Brook Lopez vs. Marc Gasol. Advantage: Lopez
This will also be a very interesting matchup between two of the biggest all-star snubs. Everyone thought that Lopez would make the team in the east and many thought that Gasol would in the west too, especially over players like LaMarcus Aldridge, or even his own teammate Zach Randolph. Statistically, Lopez is the better player, averaging more points, rebounds, and blocks, but Gasol’s team has a slightly better record. They are also similar players in that they can both make mid-range jump shots and both are excellent foul shooters.
Prediction: Nets 91, Grizzlies 85.
There is no question that the Nets are mad. They have not gotten nearly enough respect from everybody in the NBA, whether it is power rankers, fans, and even other coaches. People say that they have played an easy schedule and haven’t had any good wins this year. Even though that is not the case, this is an opportunity for Brooklyn to have a statement win on the road against a very good western conference team. The Nets are going to show up tonight and I expect them to play very well and get a close win.