Ali vs Frazier. Yankees vs Red Sox. Celtics vs Lakers. Manchester United vs Arsenal. Brazil vs Argentina. Ohio St. vs Michigan. Raptors vs Grizzlies. Tonight’s matchup belongs right up there with the greatest rivalries in sports.
The Raptors held a 7-4 record against the Vancouver Grizzlies, against the Memphis Grizzlies they’re 6-12. This year’s edition of the Grizzlies are as feisty as ever and hold a respectable 13-17 record in the Western Conference, where it’s only good enough for 11th place. If they were in the East, they’d be fighting for the 7th spot with Indiana. The Grizzlies have a core that, on paper, appears to be quite well balanced. They have a productive paint-loving center in Marc Gasol, a consistent 20/6 guy in Rudy Gay, a rejuvenated Zach Randolph to fill out the other big spot, and that’s when question mark starts appearing. Mike Conley Jr. isn’t bad enough to be a bust, but he also hasn’t shown that he can be a starter on a good team (kinda like Jarrett Jack), and beyond O.J Mayo’s shooting prowess, there’s not much about him that can be seen as an advantage over other shooting guards. Lot of Grizzlies fans want Mayo to play the point which now seems to be the logical thing to demand of anyone who is too short to play shooting guard.
Looking at the Grizzlies’ production by position, you notice that the PG and SG are their weakest spots, with Gay leading the charge on offense at SF. It’s not surprising that the SF is also their weakest defensive spot, with Gay (more specifically, Grizzlies SFs) being significantly more vulnerable than anyone else. Take a guess which position the Raptors get the most production from? Now, take a guess at which position they are most vulnerable at. My initial guess to this question was Bargnani and Bargnani, he’s arguably our best offensive and worst defensive player (I’ll leave DeRozan aside for a moment). Turns out I was only half right, the power forward and point guard positions is where the Raptors get their leading production from, center is third. Defensively, the Raptors allow significantly more production at center than at any other spot. See for yourself.
That defense will be without Andrea Bargnani for this three-game roadtrip which also sees the Raptors playing Houston and Dallas. The earliest he’ll be back is for the January 2nd game against Boston, he’s already missed some time with a knee injury and an ankle problem, now it’s a sore calf that keeps him out. He’s been a durable player so this sudden hit of injuries is a bit surprising, other than the injury he picked up towards the tail end of his rookie season, he’s been very healthy. In his four full years he’s played in 65, 78, 78 and 80 games – a staggering 93% of games, amazing for a big man. Of course, his style of play probably protects him from the rigors of the paint and has some say in his staying healthy.
While Memphis has consistently been a middle-of-the-pack team in their offensive and defensive ratings, the Raptors are slipping in their defense (40 turnovers in the last two losses, many leading to points can’t help). They’ve fallen to a 28th place ranking in points per 100 possessions allowed, and are dead last in the league in opposing field goal percentage – 49% (3 of the top 4 teams in the NBA lead in this statistic – MIA, BOS, DAL). Perhaps to improve the Raptors defense is why Grizzlies scouts were in attendance at the ACC, as Hasheem Thabeet, the former #2 pick, has fallen out of grace. He’s averaging 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 9 minutes off the bench for them. I believe the word is called bust, but don’t tell that to Chris Wallace who has no regrets about selecting Thabeet. There’s even talk that he might join the D-League, something the ex-UConn center wouldn’t exactly be against. I wouldn’t mind having a look at him as a defensive center, except that we already have Solomon Alabi who the franchise is high on, so let’s move on.
Move on to where? Don’t really know because right now all I can think of is whether they’ll let me return those shoes I bought yesterday and wore all day today and have scuff marks on the side. Will keep you posted.
Some interesting matchups in this one, Rudy Gay would appear to have an advantage over Kleiza but I’ve never been sold on Gay, he takes too many low-percentage shots and has a bit of DeRozan in him when he gets to the rim – can’t finish too well. Mayo and DeRozan should be fun to watch, Mayo isn’t one to blow by you with his quickness and relies a lot on his jumper, so if DeRozan gets beat off the dribble it’ll reflect very poorly on him. Mayo is all about having two dribbles and then a jumper, DeRozan needs to realize that and play his angles right. The center would usually bring some intrigue because Andrea Bargnani and Marc Gasol are a contrast in styles, Gasol’s got a plethora of post-moves that can trouble any big man and to deal with him Triano could go with Dorsey or Davis. I’d probably stick with Davis and see if his length can bother Gasol, on the other hand Gasol would have 50 pounds on Davis and be even with Dorsey in terms of weight (but not height). Watch out for Gasol’s passing, he’s a poor man’s Arvydas Sabonis at times, lots of weird looking passes that seem to find it’s way.
This will be a back-to-back for the Grizzlies who beat Indiana last night, so the Raptors should be well-rested.
I usually never do this but today I sat through an entire production of “Life on the Second Bus” with Devlin and Leo. I didn’t learn a damn thing except that Jose can’t be having 8 turnovers a game consistently; what I did realize is that I shouldn’t feel too bad about a poor Rapcast once in a while because it can’t possibly be as brutal as listening to those two.
Eric Smith provided this “update”:
Most of the players are flying in from their respective homes around the United States, but some guys were on the charter that originated in Toronto … including: Jose Calderon, Julian Wright, Amir Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Solomon Alabi. Triano and assistants PJ Carlesimo and Scott flew with the team from T.O. as well.
Just thought you should know who’s on the plane.
Enjoy the game – Blake’s got the recap.