After a disappointing 10-11 start, the Indiana Pacers had already crept up to 17-13 when the Grizzlies played them in Indianapolis on New Year's Eve, and the Pacers continued their ascent afterward, going 7-3 since and moving to within 2.5 games of the top seed in the East.
The Grizzlies built a nice lead in that earlier meeting only to suffer one of those now-familiar offensive collapses, getting outscored 28-16 in the fourth quarter and losing 88-83.
Today's rematch, of course, is being televised nationally on ESPN as part of the NBA annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate. Tipoff is noon.
As always, three thoughts. But we'll make this one an “and one”:
1. Martin Luther King Day: The game itself is secondary today to honoring the legacy of Dr. King. The annual pre-game symposium, held on the FedExForum practice court, will feature NBA greats Patrick Ewing and Elgin Baylor, and one of sports' most transcendent figures, the great Jim Brown. The halftime show will feature New Orleans R&B star Aaron Neville.
The reason we're here:
2. Doppelgangers: The Pacers are probably the most similar team to the Grizzlies in the NBA. These are slow-paced teams (Pacers 27th, Grizzlies 28th) that are great defensively (Pacers 1st, Grizzlies 2nd) and on the boards (Pacers 1st, Grizzlies 3rd) but that struggle offensively (Grizzlies 22nd, Pacers 29th). Look for this game to be played in the 80s again.
They're both driven by frontlines made up of mammoth two-way centers (Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert), tough, productive, floor-bound power forwards (Zach Randolph and David West), and athletic, do-it-all small forwards (Rudy Gay and Paul George).
These are also both middle-American small-market teams that are arguably the best teams in each conference without a true “superstar” individual talent.
3. Rudy Gay vs. Paul George: An underrated bit of bad luck in the recent Grizzlies' past was the 2010 draft, where — to the best of my knowledge at the time — the team was set to draft Paul George if he'd been on the board at #12, where the team was picking. But George worked out too well and went two spots higher, at #10 to Indiana. The Grizzlies took Xavier Henry instead, who didn't pan out.
George has blossomed into a star this season, at age 22. Over this past 10 games, he's averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. In the earlier meeting, he dominated his match-up with Rudy Gay. George put up a 21-6-5 line, while Gay shot 3-17 from the floor. Gay's individual performance has not correlated strongly with team success for the Grizzlies, but it's been quite the opposite with George, who's averaging 19 points, 9 boards, and 46% shooting in wins but 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 36% shooting in losses. The Grizzlies need this match-up to be closer to a push this time around.
4. Z-Bo Questions, On and Off the Floor: Zach Randolph popped up in his first real trade rumor of the season over the weekend, with a couple of reporters mentioning him in connection with the Houston Rockets. My sources say there's nothing to this particular rumor and my sense is that Randolph is still much, much less likely to move in an eventual deal than Gay.
On the court, Randolph has been struggling of late, averaging 11 points on only 33% shooting over his past four games. He was a rebounding warrior in Saturday's overtime win over Chicago, even with a sore back, but with an offense that was already floundering, the Grizzlies need this low-efficiency trend to correct itself. This could be a good day to get back on track. Randolph went for 21 and 15 in the early meeting with the Pacers.