Well, I was supposed to do this in conjunction with 3 Shades of Blue, but due to my short illness yesterday I missed all of their emails and thus am a day late and a dollar short. I am actually more than a dollar short, but my personal finances are none of your business.
3 Shades of Blue always does a comprehensive game preview matching the teams player by player. Click here to see what they put together on tonight’s game without my help (not that they would ever need my help). In accordance with that I will be organizing my preview in the same way.
I heard George Karl on the Fan doing his regular weekly Q & A session and when the guys asked him if this was pretty much a must win game he hemmed and hawed around it as he always does and finally said that he never want to overreact to any one game. He said if the Nuggets play great tonight and end up losing he is OK with that.
Well, mark me down for someone who is not OK. First of all, if the Nuggets play great they should not have any problem with the Grizzlies. Second of all I am so tired of Karl not challenging his players. He keeps saying that a coach cannot motivate his players more than a handful of times a season and that it is up to the players to motivate themselves.
I get that a coach cannot come up with 82 speeches to pump everyone up, but motivating and challenging are two different things. Right now the Nuggets are out of the playoffs and must get every winnable game they can. Facing 13-32 Memphis team who has only won 3 of their last 12 games is a must win game.
I almost wonder if George thinks that by keeping expectations low he is giving himself some job security. I am not sure that he realized missing the playoffs would certainly destroy any of that security he thinks he is earning by setting low goals and not challenging his players has earned him.
To the matchups...
Point Guard: Anthony Carter vs. Kyle Lowry – Anthony Carter has been playing very well lately even from the outside. He has made 6 of 11 three point attempts in the Nuggets previous two games. Carter is at his best when the Nuggets are running. Hopefully, they will do so tonight against Memphis. Lowry has a similar build to Carter, but he is a better offensive player than Carter. Lowry is in his second season though after missing almost all of last year due to injury. I would imagine that with the Grizzlies starting Mike Miller at shooting guard Iverson will guard Lowry. I would expect AI to keep Lowry in check, but if Iverson gets too passing lane happy, Lowry is more than quick enough to get in the lane and make the Nuggets pay. (Side note: Mike Conley may play tonight, but I have not seen any official word on that yet.)
Shooting Guard: Allen Iverson vs. Mike Miller – Mike Miller is a deadly shooting threat and Iverson has struggled to score other than from the free throw line while Melo has been out. Since the Laker game when Melo went down AI is shooting 37-98 which is 38%. He has shot an average of 12.6 free throws in those five games though. From the time Melo was injured I have said that AI needs to play the distributor and not the score at all costs player he was in Philly and so far he is doing the score at all costs thing. Mike Miller is a great shooter and can take a team down by himself when he gets hot. He is not anywhere near quick enough to guard Iverson. If the Grizzlies put Lowry on AI I would expect Iverson to out-experience the young guard and continue that procession to the free throw line.
Small Forward: Linas Kleiza vs. Rudy Gay – Melo is still listed as a game time decision, but it sounds like he was much more sore on Monday night in New Orleans than anyone expected. I will not expect Melo to play until I actually see him on the court. Kleiza has been doing a very good job filling in for Melo and I think we are seeing him mature right before our very eyes. As long as he is running the floor and rebounding he will be a good contributor when he is on the court. The problem is in New Orleans he was not running nearly enough. In his second year Rudy Gay has already developed into a scoring threat from anywhere on the court. He is a solid rebounder as well. Gay will give Kleiza fits all night when Rudy has the ball. Linas is just not quick enough to handle him.
Power Forward: Kenyon Martin vs. Pau Gasol – Kenyon has been getting it done on offense since Melo went down posting three games of 18 points or better. I expect him to continue to be aggressive on offense. He is looking to be physically healthy for only the second or third time all season. He is strong enough to push Pau off the block and quick enough to challenge him for the wing. Our friends at 3 Shades of Blue say that Pau has been suffering from back spasms this week. I imagine he is also suffering from motivation spasms as the Grizzlies are once again already playing out the string.
Center: Marcus Camby vs. Darko Milicic – In a matchup that spell check cannot stand Camby should be able to take care of business. Marcus had been doing a good job of penetrating instead of settling for that perimeter jumper until the New Orleans debacle during which he actually took two pull up jumpers which had absolutely no chance of going in. He is coming off only his seventh single digit rebound game of the season. He should be looking to play hard and play well. Darko may be the most maligned player in the league, but he is talented. If given the chance I believe he can score on Camby in the post. It just seems like he has decided that he is alright with being mediocre. I hope that is not the case though because he does have a great deal of talent and is still young enough to develop into a very good all around player.
Bench: With Melo out the only players that will see much action off the bench are J.R. Smith and Eduardo Najera. J.R. Smith may be great or he may blow multiple defensive assignments, turn the ball over four times and get a T to boot. Najera will play hard, but will that play result in 10 points and six rebounds or two points and three rebounds? Kuba Diawara will get in the game a little as well. He will play hard for the few minutes he is in, but will not help at all on offense. If Mike Miller gets hot, Karl will call on Kuba to see if he can calm him back down. The Grizzlies bench is equally thin as long as Mike Conley is sitting out. They will call on Juan Carlos Navarro for some scoring off the bench in the J.R. Smith role. He is not as volatile mentally, but he can be equally streaky from outside. Hakeem Warrick is the other player that will certainly get minutes form Memphis and he can rebound and play defense. An X Factor from the Memphis bench could be Bobby Jones. Bobby is looking to be signed for the remainder of the season and might have a little extra motivation piled on playing the team that waived him before his contract became guaranteed earlier this month.
The advantage comes down to which shooter is hotter between J.R. and JCN. Over their previous five games that has been JCN.
Philosophy: I am going to go a little further here and state that the Nuggets could get in trouble with Memphis if they play their typical inside out style of defense. Memphis has several players that can shoot well from three point range (Miller, Gay and Navarro) and the Nuggets might have a difficult time holding them in check. Memphis is at the top of the second tier of the fastest playing teams with a 96.7 pace factor. The intention was for Memphis to be more of a running team when they brought in Marc Iavaroni form Phoenix. If this game turns into a track meet, I think that would benefit the Nuggets.