Three things on my mind about tonight's game:
1. The Return of O.J. Mayo: The first appearance by Mayo at FedExForum in a different uniform is a storyline that threatens to obscure the rest of the game. Mayo's played at a borderline All-Star level for the Mavericks — leading his new team with 20.2 points per game and leading the NBA with 50% three-point shooting — this season, becoming the latest in a now disturbingly long screen of recent, young ex-Grizzlies to depart the team and play better, following Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll, and Greivis Vasquez and joining Jeremy Pargo, who's also demanding entry in that club this season.
A litany of things went wrong with Mayo in Memphis: Getting cut from Team USA in favor of both teammate Rudy Gay and positional rival Eric Gordon. The move to the bench. (Which made sense based on the roster, but with which Mayo, despite saying the right things, never seemed really comfortable.) The fight with Tony Allen. The suspension. The oft-stated desire to play point guard, which was followed with a dismissive reaction from his coach and an utter failure to play the position when opportunities nonetheless presented themselves. A shifting pecking order based on performance, usage, and order of impending free agency that made it clear that a big contract extension from the Grizzlies would never be forthcoming.
All of this seemed to create a situation where a one-time presumed star morphed into an unhappy if generally professional-about-it role player. Even if the financial picture made retaining Mayo unlikely (and he certainly would never have returned to Memphis for the money Dallas paid), clearly the Grizzlies witnessed a major asset decline in value precipitously
Mayo's return is more than just a dominating storyline and entertaining match-up (but is it against Tony Allen or Lionel Hollins?). It also might be the most important part of determining the outcome.
The Mavericks, playing without soon-to-return superstar Dirk Nowitzki, have been heavily dependent on Mayo's scoring. There's a 6.2 point per game difference between Mayo and the team's second-leading scorer, Chris Kamen. Only five other players are leading their teams in scoring with a bigger gap between themselves and their sidekick: Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant.
But even with Mayo shooting this well, Dallas has been a below-average offensive team, 18th in offensive efficiency. Mayo's averaged 25.2 points per game on 56% shooting in Mavericks wins but only 15.9 points on 40% shooting in losses. If Tony Allen can do the kind of number on Mayo that's he's done on so many other high-scoring two guards this season (looking at you, Monta Ellis. And at you, James Harden. And at you, Dwyane Wade.), then the Mavericks may struggle to score against the Grizzlies' league-best defense.
2. Rebounding: This is simple. The Grizzlies are fifth in the league in rebound rate. The Mavericks are dead last and may be playing without Elton Brand, who missed last night's game. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have a chance to dominate on the glass tonight.
3. Who Could Be the Wild Card?: Let's say the first two points here work out in the Grizzlies favor. Tony Allen turns O.J. Mayo's water off, or at least reduces the flow to a trickle. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol control the boards. If those two things happen, especially at home, with Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back, the Grizzlies should be able to control this game. On paper, I think the Grizzlies match up really well with the Dirk-less Mavs. But could someone on the Mavs flip the script? I'm keeping my eye on Shawn Marion. He isn't what he used to be and his season-high is only 18 points, but his smart off-the-ball movement could be — has been — particularly effective against Rudy Gay, whose defensive focus still wavers. And if the Mavs play small, a Marion-Randolph match-up at least provides some uncertainty.