Coming off the heels of one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen/covered as a Raptor fan, our dinos continue their Western road trip tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies (3-4). The storyline every time the Raps (3-5) play the Grizzlies from here to forever is the Rudy Gay trade and the impact its had on both sides – positive on one side, and “literally changes from second to second” on the other – but the marquee matchup for Raptor fans will be watching Jonas continue taking on a murderer’s row of NBA All-Star centres (seriously, Hibbert, Howard, and now Gasol in 3 of 4 games?). Memphis may be starting the season slowly, but make no mistake: this team is strong, experienced, and BIG. The Howard/Asik frontline from Monday is just a taste of what the Raps should see tonight with the Z-Bo/Marc Gasol tandem.
As for Memphis’ start, a lot of it can be attributed to a defence that’s not nearly as stingy as we’re used to seeing from the Grizz – they’re allowing nearly 10 points more than they did last season, to this point. In addition, the lack of perimeter scoring from Memphis is starting to rear its head now that Tayshaun Prince has inevitable started to slip (he’s averaging just over 6 points a game). Mike Conley has picked up some of the slack, but the talk pre-season was that this team desperately needed perimeter shooting, and that’s proven to be the case. Mike Miller does not an answer make at this point in his career.
This all points to what may be a more favourable matchup for the Raps than you’d think on first glance. The Raps, as a whole, have been a reasonably stingy defensive unit, and have found their kryptonite on the perimeter lies in chasing defenders off the pick-and-pop. Luckily, Memphis doesn’t exactly possess a cavalcade of dead-eye shooters – their best players in that regard are probably Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless, both of whom have been saddled with injuries. On paper, Memphis looks like they’ll have a tough time scoring the basketball.
That said, this is the Grizzlies we’re talking about, and they’re not exactly sieves on defence themselves. The Grizz’ entire starting five are all plus defenders, save maybe Prince/Pondexter, and for a Raptor team that appears allergic to ball movement on the wing, that’s a problem. In order to have a chance to win this game, the Raps have to – HAVE TO – have more than the pathetic ten assists they put up in their last effort against Houston. Clunky, smash-mouth basketball got them to double overtime on Monday, but the Grizzlies invented that style of play. It may actually befit the Raptors to turn up the pace against the Grizzlies and take advantage of their speed/athleticism/keep Marc Gasol and Z-Bo out of the paint as much as possible; that said, this is Dwayne Casey’s team we’re talking about, and so I’m not holding my breath.
All told, expect a hard-fought, low scoring affair. If the Raptor bigs can manage to hold Memphis’ front line in check and keep them off the offensive glass, this game will all come down to who can hit the most on the perimeter. As you well know, for the Raptors, that’s usually a coin flip proposition.
Or just tune in to check in on Boss Davis. That’s totally OK too.
Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 100.8 (13th), Grizzlies 99.0 (17th)
D-Rating: Toronto 99.2 (11th), Grizzlies 102.9 (22nd)
Pace: Toronto 93.8 (T-30th!!), Grizzlies 94.9 (26th)
Strength: Toronto offensive rebounding (1st in the league in O-rebounding percentage), Grizzlies defence (1st in league in opponent points/game)
Weakness: Toronto distribution (30th in assist rate), Grizzlies long-range shooting (30th in 3-point attempt rate)
Point Guards: Kyle Lowry, Dwight Buycks, DJ Augustin and Julyan Stone v. Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless, and Nick Calathes
I’m really, really looking forward to watching Lowry match up against Conley – two bulldog point guards who should give each other fits on the defensive end. The Grizzlies get the advantage here due to Jerryd Bayless being better than any of the Raptor backups and Lowry still not being 100%, but Lowry will likely be more key to his team’s success – someone has to spread the floor out past the three point line (sorry, Rudy and DeMar). I’m also really excited to get a look at Nick Calathes, the former Florida star who spent last year in Europe and tore it up this year in summer league.
Wings: Rudy “We missed a bunch of shots we usually make” Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross, and Steve Novak v. Tony Allen, Quincy Pondexter, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller, and Jamaal Franklin
After watching the shooting performance by DeRozan and Gay on Monday night, I’m begrudgingly giving this spot to the Raptors, who have more talent and depth than the Grizzlies. Tony Allen is a phenomenal defender and should give both DD and Gay all they can handle, but he can only defend one player at a time, and the other one (or Terrence Ross) should be able to get his shots up against the other Grizz defender. That non Allen/Conley/Gasol/Randolph spot on the floor seems, on paper, to be the defensive weak point for the Raps to attack, and it’ll likely fall to Terrence Ross and DeMar to deliver a big game on the scoresheet.
Bigs: Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Quincy Acy, and Aaron Gray v. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos, and Jon Leuer
Now THAT’S depth in the frontcourt! All the attention will go to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and rightfully so, but Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos are both above-average backup bigs who will provide a smaller, more athletic look against the Raptor frontline. It’s absolutely key for Jonas to avoid foul trouble, lest we end up with Z-Bo literally killing Tyler Hansbrough on the court – or, even worse, Landry Fields at the four.
Sportsbook’s line is Grizzlies by 6, but I’m a bit bullish on the Raps covering that, provided there’s some semblance of an offensive flow (I don’t ask for much!). Of course, Jonas getting in foul trouble early could flip this game into a blowout early. I’ll split the difference and say Grizzlies by 3, but I’m far more confident in telling you to bet the under, no matter the outcome.