The Grizzlies return home from a 2-2 West Coast road trip to face playoff-positioning rival the Portland Trailblazers at FedExForum tonight. I'll be on hand and will be tweeting from press row. Until then, a few thoughts on tonight's game. And if you read to the bottom — or even just scroll down — you'll find info on a ticket giveaway for Wednesday's game with the Charlotte Bobcats.
1. Revenge Game: This has been a season of bad losses and good wins for the inconsistent Grizzlies, and the team's November 16th home loss to a Blazers team then playing without its best player, Brandon Roy, constituted one of the bad losses. The Grizzlies have a chance to avenge that loss tonight, and with the team two games behind the Blazers in the race for the Western conference's final playoff spot, a win tonight would give the team a big boost as it tries to get back in the post-season picture. Both teams have been a little wobbly since that game, the Blazers going 5-7 since, and the Grizzlies slightly better at 6-6. The Grizzlies may be helped by the Blazers coming in on the second night of back-to-back road games (having lost to the San Antonio Spurs last night), while the Grizzlies have had a day's rest.
2. Two-Guard Tumult: Both teams are undergoing some complications at their two guard position, with transitions that started around the time of the previous meeting. That November game was the Blazers first of three without Roy, whose long-festering knee issues have taken a bad turn. Roy's been playing the past few weeks, but not well. In his last five games, he's averaging only 16 points on 35% shooting and tweaked his knee again last night in San Antonio. Roy's availability and effectiveness are both a mystery heading into tonight's game.
In Roy's absence back in November, free agent Wesley Matthews stepped up and provided what, at the time, was a career performance for Portland, scoring 30 points on 11-19 shooting. But that performance proved to be a launching pad for Matthews, who has stayed in the starting lineup even with Roy back (replacing a slumping Nicholas Batum at small forward) while averaging 21 points over the past five games. Before the first meeting with the Grizzlies, Matthews hadn't hit more than two three-pointers in a game. Since, he's done so four times, including equaling the career-high five he set against the Grizzlies twice more.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are dealing with their own issues at the position. It was two games after the loss to Portland that that team moved rookie Xavier Henry into the starting lineup and moved O.J. Mayo into a sixth-man role to which he hasn't taken particularly well. Mayo hasn't hit the 30-minute mark in a game since that previous game against Portland and his 13 points Saturday against the Clippers was his first double-figure scoring output in five games. Against the Clippers, the Grizzlies split the minutes up, with Henry playing 15, Mayo 17, and Tony Allen 16, most of them in the fourth quarter. Allen scored 8 points on 3-5 shooting and registered 4 steals while playing effective defense on top Clippers scorer Eric Gordon. But it was the first time in five games that Allen had played double-digit minutes.
How this position shakes out tonight will be interesting, but it will likely be a source of uncertainty for the Grizzlies until the team settles on a rotation there or until Mayo and/or Allen are traded. (More on that later.)
3. Other Match-Up Issues: If the two-guard spot will draw the attention tonight, the Grizzlies real match-up issues with the Blazers are at other positions. Blazers point guard Andre Miller has long had his way with the smaller Mike Conley, and it was Miller who made the game-winning plays down the stretch for Portland last month. Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, with his length and shooting touch, is a tough guard for Zach Randolph, with Aldridge scoring 23 against the Grizzlies last time out. Randolph has been more effective of late, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds over his previous five games, so he should at least be able to equal Aldridge's production. And then there's center Marcus Camby, who outrebounded Marc Gasol 17-4 in the previous game. Gasol's offense has been very good of late, but his defense and rebounding is still down from last season, and athletic rebounders like Camby (witness the 20-20 performance of Golden State's similar Andris Biedrins) seem to give him the most trouble.
Ticket Giveaway: We've got a pair of lower-bowl tickets (very good seats) to Wednesday's home game against the Charlotte Bobcats we're giving away. The drawing will be held tomorrow afternoon. The winner will need to be able to come down to the Flyer office to pick-up the tickets. You can enter to win here.