Pre-Game

Raptors versus Grizzlies – Conference Leaders Face Off

Memphis arrives in Toronto with an NBA best 10-1 record on the heels of a rout of Houston. Timing is everything in sports and unfortunately the offensive explosion by the Grizzlies over the Rockets came at the worst possible time for the Raptors.

While Toronto has been idle since defeating Utah on Saturday the Memphis game versus Houston seemingly offered Toronto a small advantage. Unfortunately Memphis jumped out to an early lead en route to a Rocket thrashing allowing all their starters rest and simultaneously provided critical minutes for their bench who capitalized by appearing to finally gel. Prior to Monday the Grizzlies bench has been arguably their main weakness having been outscored in all but four of their eleven games.


More worrisome and disappointing for the home team will be the absence of James Johnson thanks to a severely twisted ankle courtesy of a camera woman’s annoyingly close placement to the end line. Any hopes we had of James Johnson being available were obliterated when Johnson was observed wearing an air cast Tuesday. Further compelling this frustration is Johnson historically has his best games facing former teams.


Certainly the Raptors will need to produce a full 48-minute effort on both ends, attack the boards with abandon and learn from the lessons of the Chicago loss to make up for Johnson’s absence. This season’s team has been touted as deeper and this match-up will test that assertion.


It may seem odd to place so much importance on one player’s absence given the new depth of the Raptors, but James Johnson has arguably been the second best player (sometimes best) on court through the Raptors 8-2 start.


With another test waiting in Cleveland this weekend the added pressure to win rests on the East’s top team who has yet to convince some pundits their record is more than favorable scheduling.


To that end, you might find the comparison of these two teams surprising; while I assumed Memphis would have huge advantages, analysis of their stats highlight two teams with virtually not much separating them.


Strength of Schedule:
Toronto has definitely benefitted from the unusually high number of home games to start the year and the caliber of talent they’ve faced. However their strength of schedule listed on ESPN.com as .483% is literally only one percentage point higher than Memphis who is listed at .482%.
Through the first 10-games of each team their opponents’ records are eerily similar:

  • Toronto: 47-61
  • Memphis: 42-66

Note: for comparison sake I omitted the Houston game which would push Memphis’ numbers to 51-68


Points For/Points Against:
Toronto:

  • 1060 total points scored – 106.0 per game
  • 964 total points against – 96.4 per game
  • Point differential of +9.6


Memphis:

  • 1083 total points scored – 98.4 per game
  • 1006 total points against – 91.4 per game
  • Point differential of +7

Note: Memphis’ numbers prior to the Houston game were: 96.4, 91.3 and + 5.1, so the win vs. Houston saw their numbers jump in offense and point differential by 2 points in their average.

Key Ranking Stats:

Toronto:

Points per game: 5th

Rebounds per game: 25th

Assists per game: 28th

Opposing points per game: 9th

Memphis:

Points per game: 18th

Rebounds per game: 24th

Assists per game: 18th

Opposing points per game: 1st


Traditional Stat Comparison:

Toronto Chart

Memphis Chart

  • Field goal percent for both teams is 45%
  • While Memphis has a better 3-point shooting percentage Toronto has been climbing the ranks after a poor start. In addition, Toronto averages an additional +7.1 attempts and +1.7 makes per game.
  • Though Toronto gets to the line close to 4 additional times, don’t expect the whistles to be as friendly facing the Association’s number one team
  • The area I was most shocked by was rebounding; I anticipated Memphis to have a huge margin on Toronto however they are fractionally better in every rebounding category.


Advanced Stat Comparison:

Toronto Chart

Memphis Chart

  • The crux of tonight’s match-up on paper comes down to the slimmest of margins between the Raptors offensive advantage per 100 possessions: +3.7 versus the Grizzlies defensive advantage -3.5 per 100 possessions.
  • Toronto plays at a quicker pace (+2.7 possessions per 48-minutes) than Memphis who will try to grind the Raptors into a slower pace.


Miscellaneous Stat Comparison:

Toronto Chart

Memphis Chart

  • Examining the intangible factors once again Toronto has the edge on the offensive side and Memphis has the edge on the defensive side.

Note: The chart links take you directly to NBA.com, unfortunately the charts appear too small when copied as pictures


Positional Break Down:


Guards: Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan vs. Mike Conley/Tony Allen


Conley is arguably the most under rated point guard in the league and very adept at controlling pace, but this type of game is one Lowry has prepared for all summer. Expect Lowry to come out with that look in his eye with the goal of energizing the defense and getting everyone involved on offense early especially Valanciunas and Ross.


DeRozan faces another defensive specialist in Allen however DeRozan’s ability to create off the dribble should tip the scale in his favor especially if his shot is falling early which will open the lanes for everyone. Historically Allen has played DeRozan tough holding him to some of his poorest scoring performances, however last season it appeared DeRozan was beginning to figure out Allen scoring 16 and 18 points respectively in the series.


Edge Raptors: Though Memphis will clog the paint the tenacity of Lowry will be the difference


Front Court: Terrence Ross/Amir Johnson/Jonas Valanciunas vs. Courtney Lee/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol


Lee has been off to a blistering start shooting 56.6% from the field and 62.1% from behind the arc, so Ross will have his hands full. Ross has been steadily improving on the offensive end actually hitting the same number (2) of three’s as Lee per game. The key will be for Ross to keep Lee busy on the offensive end and to take the challenge of limiting him on the defensive end.


Without James Johnson available Amir Johnson will need to forget about his ankles and have one of his prototypical nights we’ve become accustomed to. Cagey vet Randolph defies all logic by his ability to pull in rebounds and score with equal aplomb while defying anti-gravity by barely ever jumping.


Valanciunas will best be served by remembering what the older Gasol brother did less than a week ago at the ACC and channel his effort from Saturday versus another European. Last year Valanciunas had two games at opposite ends of the spectrum vs. Memphis initially scoring 4 points with 7 rebounds and in the second excelling with 23 points and 9 rebounds. Gasol is already being cited as a potential MVP candidate and for good reason. Last season Memphis sputtered when he was injured, but his return ignited them to one of the best second half records. Gasol is arguably the best passing center and he captains the best defense of the Association.


Edge Grizzlies: This has the makings of an all out battle under the rim especially if Valanciunas and Johnson can utilize their younger bodies to protect the rim and take the battle to the grind house front court of the Grizzlies.


Bench:
Greivis Vasquez/Lou Williams/Patrick Patterson/Tyler Hansbrough (Chuck Hayes/Landry Fields) vs. Beno Udrih/ Vince Carter/Jon Leuer/Quincy Pondexter/Kosta Koufos


Prior to James Johnson’s injury the Raptors had a distinct advantage in this area. While Memphis’ bench has only outscored their opponent four out of eleven games the Raptors in contrast had done so in all but one game. Besides, the thought of seeing a psyched up Johnson was ever so appealing.


Through the first 10-games our hockey line bench has scored an average of 35.9 points per game with a plus 10.1 point differential and our lowest scoring night was 27 points. In contrast Memphis’ bench averages 29.6 points per game with a negative 4.7 point differential and their lowest scoring night was 10 points.


The non-game related question regarding Memphis’ bench will center on how the ACC crowd responds to Vince Carter. A special film tribute scheduled to occur sometime during the first quarter will hopefully quell the boo birds who fairly have that right, but entering our twentieth anniversary this young franchise needs to start embracing and showcasing our history. Regardless of whether you like him or not, Vince Carter is the defining star of this young franchise. Personally, I can’t imagine recalling the franchise early years without referencing his historic slam dunk win or the associated pride many of us felt when it occurred.


Edge Raptors: Even without Johnson available the numbers are just too strong in Toronto’s favor. This would be the ideal night for Vasquez to break out of his slump and replicate his effort vs. Memphis from a season ago: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 3 of 5 from three.


Memphis will be looking to avenge the 2-losses the Raptors served up last season: 103-87 and 99-86 while the Raptors will look to make their own statement by continuing their current win streak vs. the Grizzlies. For this to occur Toronto should look to take advantage via their bench and potential three-point prowess which were keys to their success last season when the Raptors held Memphis below 28.6% and 25% respectively from three while they shot over 50% on both occasions. The boards will also play a big factor as whoever controls them will have the distinct advantage.


The odds makers have the Raptors favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 194.


I’m antsy to make a call on this one in lieu of jinxing them but my gut says Memphis is due for a loss and the Raptors want to prove their mettle so I’ll predict a close game with the Raptors taking the win via a typical dominate fourth quarter.


As for Dwane Casey’s statement he won’t be making snow angels whether the Raptors win or lose – not to be contrary, but if Toronto manages to hand the NBA best Memphis squad just their second loss I’ll be the first to don my parka and make an angel, snow or not!


Enjoy the game and be sure to check back here for the post game quick react.

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