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Preview: Grizzlies vs. Pacers

The Grizzlies will look to complete a season series sweep tonight when they face the Indiana Pacers at FedExForum. It’s been over three months since these teams last faced each other, and now with less than 15 regular season games remaining both teams find themselves fighting for a playoff spot. Behind Rudy Gay’s 30 points the Grizzlies defeated the Pacers 104-90 in Indianapolis on Dec. 26th. However tonight, Memphis will need someone other than Gay to step up as Gay remains sidelined nursing a left shoulder injury. Meanwhile on Jan. 31, the Pacers departed ways with former head coach Jim O’Brien and welcomed in Frank Vogel. Early on, it appeared as though appointing Vogel (a former O’Brien assistant) to head coach was a wise decision as the Pacers won seven of their first eight games with him at the helm. With last night’s bit overtime win over the surging Chicago Bulls, the Pacers have the look of a team that will remain in the hunt for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference. Much of the Pacers’ strength comes from the frontcourt combination of Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert, as Indiana is in the top five in the NBA in the rebounding. For the Grizzlies to earn a victory tonight they will have to be patient on offense and alert on the glass.

Here are a few things to watch for in tonight’s contest…

Tale of two conferences: There are some similarities between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Indiana Pacers. Both teams are stockpiled with young talent and are on the rise in their conferences due to shrewd moves by their front offices. There is one big difference, however with these two teams that are each holding on to the eighth seed in their respective conferences. The Grizzlies are 37-32 on the season and the Pacers are 30-39. These numbers belie the key differences that still exist between the Eastern and Western Conferences. While the East has just as many teams that have a legitimate shot at winning a championship (Chicago, Boston, Miami and possibly Orlando) as the Wester (San Antonio, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas), the West is still far deeper than the East, despite the recent talent migration (i.e. Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Amar’e Stoudemire). Both the Grizzlies and the Pacers are being pushed for the final spot, so tonight’s contest should be played with a near playoff intensity.

Stat of the night: The Pacers lead the all-time series against the Grizzlies 21-9, but Memphis has won five of their last six against Indiana, including their last three in a row. Last season they swept the season series for the first time in franchise history, and they’ll look to finish off their second sweep tonight.

Matchup of the night: Zach Randolph will match up against a young up and coming power forward tonight when he battles Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough.Hansbrough a former National Player-of-the Year in college who has been on an offensive surge ever since joining the starting lineup early this month. This past Sunday, the second-year forward scored a career-high 29 points in the Pacers 106-93 win at New York and then matched that performance in the Pacers overtime win over the Bulls last night. Randolph meanwhile, has continued to be the most consistent performer for Memphis, and could look to set the tone early tonight after struggling in the second half on Thursday against New York.