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Preview: Grizzlies at Mavericks

The Grizzlies will face the Mavericks in Dallas today as they navigate through one of the most challenging stretches of the season. With seven straight contests against seemingly playoff locks, the Grizzlies are scratching and clawing to hold their place in a crowded bottom portion of the Western Conference playoff picture. Thus far the Grizzlies are 1-2 in these contests, and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Hornets on Friday. Currently in the eighth spot, the Grizzlies are only two and a half games out of the five seed, but are only a game ahead of Phoenix and a game and a half ahead of Utah. With four of the seven contests during their current stretch against teams with championship aspirations (San Antonio, Dallas and Miami) the challenge to keep pace is immediately in front of the Grizzlies. If they can manage to split the remaining four games in this stretch they will position themselves for a strong push over the last four weeks of the season, as the schedule is set to ease up for Memphis. Tonight doesn’t classify as a “must-win” type of contest, but with a limited amount of games remaining, a win on the road against a championship caliber team would make a major statement that the Grizzlies are in the race to stay for the Western Conference Playoffs. Tonight they’ll face a Dallas team that they already defeated once at the American Airlines Center this season, but that was all the way back on the second game of the season, before both of these teams had found their identities. The Grizzlies have established themselves as a gritty, no-nonsense group in the image of their head coach, Lionel Hollins. They’ll need to play their style of basketball and follow this model if they hope to come away with a win tonight.

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

Winning Big in Big D:

The Grizzlies are catching the Mavericks at an inopportune time, as Dallas is currently the hottest team in basketball. Riding the wave of an eight game win streak, the Mavericks have won 18 of their last 19 contests and appear to be a legitimate challenger for the Western Conference crown. Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and LeBron James are getting most of the MVP mentions right now, but Dirk Nowitzki has quietly put together one of his finest seasons of his Hall-of-Fame career. The Mavericks are 42-9 this season when Dirk has been healthy and are 2-7 without him. Without a bona-fide No. 2 option that many other top teams enjoy (or a No. 3 option in many cases in today’s NBA), Nowitzki’s brilliance this season is even more impressive. Expect the Grizzlies to run different waves of players at him today to try to slow him down, with Tony Allen being a potential wildcard matchup. If the Grizzlies can keep Nowitzki in check they’ll have a very good chance of picking up their third win of the season against Dallas.

Stat of the night:

Having already won two contests against the Mavericks this season the Grizzlies will look to win the seasons series outright against the Southwest Division rival for the first time in franchise history. The Grizzlies have split the season series with the Mavericks twice in team history (2008-09 and 2003-04).

Matchup of the night:

As mentioned before, the key to tonight’s game will be holding Dirk Nowitzki in check, but if Zach Randolph can outdo his output offensively the Grizzlies should stand a very good chance at coming away with a win. Two of the best forwards in the game for years, Randolph and Nowitzki have gone head-to-head 28 times in their career, with Nowitzki taking 22 of those contests. Statistically Randolph and Nowitzki have been very close in their head-to-head matchups, with Randolph averaging 19.6 points and 9.7 rebounds compared to Nowitzki’s 21.7 points and 8.5 rebounds. The last time these two met Randolph tallied 23 points and 20 rebounds compared to seven points and five rebounds for Nowitzki.