By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
April 1, 2011

In a key Southwest Division clash, New Orleans and Memphis meet for the third time this season, with the Hornets attempting to take a 3-0 advantage over the Grizzlies in head-to-head games. Sixth-place New Orleans (43-32) leads eighth-place Memphis (42-33) by just one game in the Western Conference standings.

A victory in Fridays game could go a long way toward ensuring that the Hornets not only qualify for the postseason, but also finish ahead of the Grizzlies in the West race. New Orleans enters Friday with a magic number of 3, which could be reduced to 1 by defeating Memphis (combined with a Houston loss vs. San Antonio on Friday).

If Fridays game is anything like the previous two NOLA-Memphis encounters, it will be an entertaining affair that isnt decided until the waning moments of the fourth quarter. On Jan. 19, the Hornets pulled out a come-from-behind 103-102 home victory in overtime over the Grizzlies, who led by nine at halftime. On March 4 in Tennessee, NOLA used a 26-19 fourth-period advantage over Memphis to notch a 96-89 victory and end a three-game losing skid.

The clubs will hold their fourth and final meeting of the 2010-11 regular season on April 10 in Memphis. If New Orleans prevails in either of these final two games vs. Memphis, it will earn a potentially critical tiebreaking edge over the division rival Grizzlies. Even if the Grizzlies manage to beat the Hornets twice, the tiebreaker will still go to New Orleans if the Hornets finish with a superior division record. The Hornets can guarantee that edge by winning either April 6 vs. Houston or April 13 at Dallas.

Memphis is attempting to make its first playoff appearance since qualifying for the postseason three consecutive years from 2004-06. The youthful Grizzlies, who are also trying to hold off pursuers Houston and Phoenix for a playoff berth, will be without star forward Rudy Gay (shoulder) for the remainder of the season.


Power forward, Carl Landry vs. Zach Randolph
Following a season-ending knee injury to two-time All-Star David West, Landry averaged 21.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in his first two starts for the Hornets, while shooting 50 percent from the field. Landrys assignment Friday is an extremely difficult one Randolph is one of the NBAs premier low-post scorers and rebounders. Randolph ranks third in the league in rebounds per game, behind only Minnesotas Kevin Love and Orlandos Dwight Howard.

A closer look at the Memphis Grizzlies:

Mike Conley

Marc Gasol

Fourth-year point guard Mike Conley has made gradual improvement on a yearly basis since being selected third overall by the Grizzlies in the 2007 NBA Draft. The Ohio State product started all 80 games in which he appeared last season, and has also been an every-game starter for Memphis in 2010-11. The quick southpaw is an excellent ballhandler and accurate perimeter shooter.

Tony Allen was recently moved into the Memphis starting lineup at shooting guard, a move that has factored into the Grizzlies excellent performance without the services of injured Rudy Gay recently. Allen is a tough-minded defender who contributed to the Boston Celtics championship run in 2008.

Early in the regular season, the Grizzlies made the somewhat unexpected decision to move fourth-leading scorer O.J. Mayo to a reserve role. Memphis believed the lineup change would improve its bench, allowing Mayo to provide instant offense for a unit that has struggled to score in recent years.

Rookie backup point guards Greivis Vasquez and Ish Smith, who played in the Atlantic Coast Conference in college at Maryland and Wake Forest, respectively, have made sporadic appearances recently. The Grizzlies also signed veteran Jason Williams midway through the season to provide additional depth.

Rookie shooting guard Xavier Henry had a significant role early in the season, including starting 16 times, but the Kansas product hasnt appeared in a game since Feb. 22.

After persevering through four non-playoff seasons with the Grizzlies to start his NBA career, this figured to be the year that high-flying small forward Rudy Gay received the chance to showcase his talents on the national stage of the postseason. Unfortunately for the UConn product, he sustained a dislocated left shoulder and has been ruled out for the remainder of 2010-11.

With Gay injured, Sam Young has stepped into the starting lineup at small forward and provided steady contributions for the Grizzlies on both ends of the floor. Young is in his second NBA season after a productive college career at Pittsburgh.

Left-handed power forward Zach Randolph has been one of the biggest keys during the Grizzlies transformation over the past two years from cellar-dwelling club to playoff contender. An All-Star selection in 2009-10, the Michigan State product is Memphis unquestioned go-to guy, particularly with Gay sidelined the rest of this season. Randolph is seeking his first trip to the playoffs since 2003.

A big fan favorite during his first stint with the Grizzlies from 2001-06, Shane Battier returned to his first NBA team in a February trade with Houston. The former Duke University standout was a member of all three Memphis playoff-qualifying clubs, as well as three Houston teams that reached the postseason.

Like teammate Tony Allen, Leon Powe was an important reserve for the 2008 Boston Celtics championship team. Hes battled injuries since then, but is a tough inside presence for the Grizzlies. Officially a New Orleans first-round pick in 2008, Darrell Arthur has been one of Memphis most improved players this season. The Kansas product is a quality mid-range shooter and rebounder.

The younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers star center Pau Gasol, Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol is a throwback kind of interior player. The 26-year-old native of Barcelona is comfortable playing close to the basket, using his 7-foot-1, 265-pound frame to muscle his way to rebounds and blocked shots in the paint. Like his more well-known sibling, Gasol also has an excellent feel for the game and is a skilled player in the low post.

Hamed Haddadi represents another sign of the expanding basketball world. Haddadi is the first-ever native of Iran to play in the NBA. The Grizzlies have given Haddadi sporadic minutes during his third NBA season.

Players the MEM/NOH want shooting free throws in a close game
O.J. Mayo
Jason Williams
Sam Young
Zach Randolph
Mike Conley
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
Marco Belinelli
Carl Landry
Willie Green
If the MEM/NOH need a three-pointer, their best options are
Jason Williams
Greivis Vasquez
Shane Battier
Mike Conley
O.J. Mayo
Marco Belinelli
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
Quincy Pondexter
Willie Green
Career FT percentage (through March 29) Career three-point percentage (through March 29)

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