Preview: Grizzlies face tough tests in the East
The Memphis Grizzlies head to Boston tonight for the first game of a two-game trip against the Eastern Conference’s best two teams—the Celtics tonight and the Chicago Bulls on Friday. Memphis has fared well against the top teams in the West, posting a 9-6 mark against the top four in their own conference, but lost to both the Celtics and Bulls at home earlier this season.
The two clubs haven’t seen each other since the first month of the season, and much has changed for both squads since the Celtics edged the Grizzlies in overtime on Nov. 13. Most notably for the Grizzlies, though, is the absence of Rudy Gay, who will miss the remainder of the season due to the left shoulder injury he suffered just before the All-Star Break. The Grizzlies have played well without their star forward thus far (8-6 since the injury) and will need to continue to do so tonight against a momentarily vulnerable Celtics squad that has gone just 4-4 in their last eight games.
Coming back to Boston for the Springtime
Both Tony Allen and Leon Powe own a significant piece of Celtics-adorned jewelry, but with the 2008 NBA Championship in the past, the pair of former Celtics will focus on trying to get their new team to the postseason for the first time since 2005-06. Both players have been per-minute-monsters for the Grizzlies this season, with Allen leading the league in steals per 48 minutes (4.37) and Powe scoring 34 points in just 47 minutes in five games since signing with Memphis on March 5. Allen, who has started all 14 games for the Grizzlies since Gay’s injury, and Powe, another reliable big off the bench, are both likely to contribute solid minutes against their former team tonight.
Though Rudy’s improved defensive abilities have been missed, Memphis has surprisingly upped its offensive output since Gay’s injury, almost overcompensating for the loss of Gay’s 19.8 points per tilt. In 11 of 14 games since the injury on Feb. 15 vs. Philadelphia, Memphis has scored at least 99 points, doing so in each of the last four games. The Grizzlies are shooting .487 in that span, hitting at least half of their shots in five of the last seven games. The increase can likely be attributed to a successful game-plan to get the ball down-low to bigs Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Memphis set a franchise record with 78 points in the paint on Feb. 26 vs. Sacramento and has dominated opponents in the paint, winning the category in 18-straight games. The Grizzlies have won the last eight games in which they’ve scored 60-plus inside, a feat they accomplished in their back-to-back home wins on Saturday vs. Indiana and Monday vs. Utah.
Tonight’s game in Boston isn’t the only game of importance for Grizzlies fans to keep an eye on. Memphis is holding on to the eight-seed in the Western Conference playoff race, currently two games above Houston and three games above both Phoenix and Utah, all three of whom are in action tonight. The Jazz travel to Oklahoma City (7 p.m. CT), the Rockets host Golden State (7:30 p.m.) and Phoenix welcomes Toronto (9 p.m.) to the Valley of the Sun.