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Preview: Grizzlies vs. Hornets

The Grizzlies welcome the New Orleans Hornets to FedExForum tonight in a battle of two teams who have gone in opposite directions since the start of the season. The Grizzlies struggled out of the gates, starting the season 4-9. The Hornets were the NBA’s hottest team at the start of the season, winning their first eight games and 11 of their first 12 contests. Since the first couple of weeks of the season both teams have experienced highs and lows that have ultimately brought them to within a half a game of each other in the Western Conference playoff race. The Grizzlies are currently nestled in at the eighth seed, half a game behind the Hornets who are currently in a tie for the six spot with the Blazers. With 20 games remaining there are still enough games for another swing in the standings for either of these teams, but the clock is ticking. Head-to-head contests with the teams they are battling with for position will be key for the Grizzlies over the next month and a half, and with three matchups remaining against the Hornets, including tonight, this evening’s game is imperative to Memphis. They are playing their best basketball of the season, and Tuesday’s victory over the Spurs without Rudy Gay (left should subluxation) and Marc Gasol for the second half (ejection) was as impressive win as the Grizzlies have had all season. They need to prevent a let down from such an emotional win tonight against a very good Hornets team. If they can do so, they’ll take one more step towards their ultimate goal of a return trip to the playoffs.

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

Last time we met:

The last time these two teams met the Grizzlies let what seemed to be a sure victory slip through their fingers down the stretch. Leading by double digits in the third quarter, the Grizzlies watched their advantage evaporate as the Hornets used a 16-1 to tie the game late in the third. The Grizzlies again seemed to have the game in hand late in the fourth quarter when they led by four, but a three pointer from Chris Paul gave the Hornets life and a miscue from Mike Conley in overtime allowed the Hornets to put together the necessary plays to come away with a win. The Grizzlies are winning right now, but their ability in the waning moments of games is not as defined as one of the team’s strengths yet. To be a legitimate postseason contender over the next six weeks they will need to become a cohesive unit in the clutch moments of games. Tonight against a Southwest Division opponent that is scratching and clawing to hold on to their place in the standings could offer a perfect opportunity for the Grizzlies to make amends for their miscues down the stretch the last time these teams met.

Matchup of the night:

The most appealing matchup of the night will be at the power forward position as two near All-Stars this season go up against one another. In their first meeting this season Randolph finished the Jan. 19 meeting with 17 points and 10 rebounds while West chipped in with 19 points and 11 reboudns. While Randolph almost always tries to establish deep position in the post, West, on the other hand usually prefers to play away from the basket. Defensively, Randolph will have to get out on West as he has proven that he can hit the mid range jumper with accuracy if left uncovered. If one player is able to gain a significant edge in this matchup it could determine which team walks away with a victory.

Stat of the night:

With a 16-point win over the Spurs on March 1, the Grizzlies have now won 16 games by double-digits, one shy of their 2009-10 total (17). Safe to assume with 20 games remaining the Grizzlies will eclipse that mark before too long.