The Grizzlies beat the Warriors 104-94 in each team's second game of the season, a win that looks more impressive now than it did at the time.
Prior to the season, I thought the Warriors would be a playoff team if they got more than half a season out of center Andrew Bogut, but stopped short of picking them because of doubts about Bogut's health. It turns out I was right to doubt Bogut's availability — he's appeared in only four games so far — but wrong to think the Warrior's couldn't still make a leap without him.
Driven by All-Star caliber seasons from Stephen Curry and David Lee, Sixth Man of the Year-caliber seasons from Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, and shockingly improved all-around team defense, the Warriors have been one of the NBA's most surprising teams, sitting at 22-11 and only a half game behind the Grizzlies in a battle for fourth place in the Western Conference.
How good has Golden State been? They're currently 9th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, 10th in defensive efficiency, and 4th in rebounding rate. The only other team in the top 10 in all three categories is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With these two teams playing only three times this season, a win tonight would not only give the Grizzlies a little more breathing space in the current standings, but ensure a tie-breaker advantage over the Warriors.
Three quick keys:
1. A Big Game from Marc Gasol: The Warriors start young (with rookie Festus Ezeli) and most play small (with starting power forward Lee sliding over) at center. And, as good as the Warriors have been defensively, they've been vulnerable in the middle, where they've allowed an 18.9 PER and 54% effective field-goal percentage to opposing centers (per 82games.com). Marc Gasol hasn't scored 15 points since the day after Christmas and hasn't hit 20 since December first, but this would be a good game for him to pile up some points.
2. Defending Klay Thompson: Thompson got off to a slow start, shooting 29% from three-point range in November, but has been over 45% since. He and backcourt mate Stephen Curry are two of the league's four most prolific three-point shooters. Tony Allen will likely get the opening assignment on Thompson, but the Warriors like to play small, with Jack in the lineup and Thompson at the three, which make require Rudy Gay to check him. Athletically, that's not a problem, but Gay's always been prone to losing track of shooters, especially in transition. Gay — and the Griz generally — need to stick with the shooters tonight.
3. Win the turnover battle: However well they defend the three, the Grizzlies are unlikely to match the Warriors there. And the Grizzlies usual strength on the offensive boards could be mitigated — the Grizzlies lead the league in offensive rebounding, but the Warriors are second in defensive rebounding. A better opportunity might be in terms of turnover differential, where the Warriors are near the bottom of the league in turnover rate and Mike Conley, after some December struggles, has done a great job taking care of the ball of late.