The Grizzlies try to bounce back from their deplorable opening night showing as they host the Toronto Raptors tonight before heading out on a five-game West Coast road trip. A win tonight could help stablize the team, but a loss followed by a bad road trip could find the season unraveling before when it's barely begun.
Allen Iverson practiced with the team Thursday but still looks unlikely to play tonight. Look for him to make his Griz debut on the road next week.
I will not be live-blogging tonight but will set up the usual game template here for in-game comments and will likely be making occasional commentary via my Twitter feed. You can follow me on Twitter at @ChrisHerrington.
The Raptors enter the game on a high, having won their home opener 101-91 over Lebron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. Three potential keys to tonight's game:
1. "Interior" Defense: On Opening Night, the Grizzlies got torched by probably the league's best-shooting guard tandem in Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon. Tonight they'll face a different but also similar challenge: Probably the league's best perimeter-shooting frontcourt tandem in Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani.
Bosh and Bargnani combined for 49 points in the Raptors' opener, with 9 of their combined 17 field goals coming from the perimeter (including 2-3 from three-point range from Bargnani), and the duo could present a problem for the Grizzlies' defensively challenged and paint-bound bigs, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
One potential answer for the Grizzlies is to use offense as defense, forcing Bosh and Bargani to work defensively and potentially limiting their minutes with foul trouble. Bargnani is an emerging offensive star, but is a weak post defender and should struggle with either Randolph or Gasol. This worked against Detroit's Charlie Villanueva, but Bargnani is essentially a bigger, better version of Villanueva and is likely to present more of a challenge at both ends of the floor
Bosh, while a legit star, is also prone to getting overpowered at the rim, so the Grizzlies should be able to attack the Raptors in the paint and on the offensive glass. Beyond that, tonight will provide a second chance for rookie DeMarre Carroll to demonstrate his defensive versatility after a rough debut.
2. Getting O.J. Untracked: O.J. Mayo had what may have been his worst pro game against Detroit, considering his dreadful offense (2-12 from the floor, 0-4 from long-range) was eclipsed by even more severe defensive struggles. He won't have to work as hard defensively against Toronto, as he'll probably be matched up with rookie DeMar DeRozan to start and is likely to spend time on Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli. Belinelli is a good shooter, but none of these guys is Rip Hamilton or Ben Gordon.
None of them are great defenders either. Mayo's rough opening night was preceded by a subpar preseason, but Toronto's mediocre batch of perimeter defenders and wide-open style should give Mayo a good chance to get his own offense back on track.
3. Mike Conley's Moment of Truth: Though the Grizzlies entire backcourt rotation and entire bench gave a bad performance against the Pistons, much of the focus of fan ire has been on Mike Conley's disappearing act.
With Allen Iverson's debut fast approaching, there's pressure on Conley to make an impact or lose any rationale for keeping him in the starting lineup, and Conley will be an important player in this game as he'll be asked to disrupt the Raptor's talented point guard, Jose Calderon, and will be directing an offense that needs to be much more productive to keep up with what could be a very good Toronto scoring attack.
Calderon is a pretty weak defender (notice a trend here for the Raptors?) and Conley should be able to get by him. Will he do it? And will he turn that penetration into Grizzlies' points? We'll find out tonight.
The Jacob Riis Report: After seizing the starting center job after Jermaine O'Neal's departure, the aforementioned Andrea Bargnani averaged more than 19 points per game on 47% shooting, including nearly 44% from three-point range. The former number one pick is an unconventional center, but seems to be emerging into something of a better Mehmet Okur. I've bet on him on my Grizzlies.com fantasy team, but his rebounding needs to improve if he's going to be a true star.