Coming into tonight's game at Pepsi Center, the Grizzlies find themselves on a losing streak again having just dropped two straight to the Hawks and Rockets. The Nuggets, as we well know, are streaking in the opposite direction, having racked up six-straight W's thanks to a favorable home stand. But when I looked at the Nuggets schedule a few weeks ago and had a winning streak in mind, I foresaw three "problem games" that could potentially trip us up: the Bulls, Suns and the Grizzlies.
But while the Nuggets haven't played great during this six-game streak against mediocre competition, they're doing the one thing that truly matters: winning games. As my friend Chris Tomasson of Fanhouse pointed out to me yesterday, in years past the more talented Nuggets would drop home games against less talented competition. And such dropped games would result in unfavorable playoff seedings. This was one of the biggest criticisms of head coach George Karl three years ago...that he wasn't able to prepare his team to play hard and play right no matter who is wearing the opposing jersey.
This doesn't seem to be the case any longer. Going on a third consecutive season now, Karl and his Nuggets have figured out how to take care of bad teams at home even if it looks ugly while doing so. And thus, I expect more of the same tonight. Another unnecessary squeaker and another Nuggets victory. Bringing Karl's career win total to a remarkable 999.
SCOUTING THE GRIZZLIES...
-Marc Gasol: The soon-to-be free agent (and hopefully soon-to-be Nugget if Carmelo Anthony stays) has improved his field goal and free throw percentage but has seen his scoring and rebounding production dip a bit. A couple years ago, the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla reported that the Nuggets were trying to get their hands on the younger Gasol before he blossomed in Memphis. If only...
-Zach Randolph: Another soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, Randolph's numbers are also off from last season but he remains a lethal scoring and rebounding threat at all times and will give the Nuggets fits tonight.
-Rudy Gay: The recipient of a max contract that raised many eyebrows, Gay is having his finest season as a pro after a summer in which he played impressively for Team USA in Turkey. Gay is posting career-best numbers across the board and is taking on more leadership responsibilities, evident by canning an awesome game-winning jump shot in LeBron James' face to lead the Grizzlies to victory over the Heat a week ago.
-O.J. Mayo: It's unclear why the very talented Mayo has been moved to the Grizzlies bench but he's clearly not happy about it. Unlike Gay (whom Mayo fought with in the Pepsi Center locker room after the Grizzlies lost at Denver last season), Mayo's production is going in reverse and it's unfortunate because this kid has serious game.
-Hasheem Thabeet: Poor Thabeet. After a disappointing rookie season that included a demotion to the D-League, Thabeet is actually playing worse this season and isn't seeing a lot of playing time. It's still too early to write off Thabeet's career, but he's on pace to out-duel Stromile Swift and Darko Milicic as the worst second overall pick in NBA history.
If you haven't done so already, make sure you read Benjamin Hochman's in-depth article on George Karl's remarkable coaching career and march to 1,000 wins (he will be the seventh coach in NBA history to do so). Hopefully the Nuggets can beat the Grizzlies tonight so that Karl can get win number 1,000 in Charlotte where his basketball career began as a point guard at the University of North Carolina.
Opposition's Take: Straight Outta Vancouver