Grizzlies update. Memphis is coming off a 109-102 loss last night to the Rockets and are now 2-2 in preseason play. Wayne Ellington started in place of Tony Allen (rest) last night, but for lineup purposes I'll guess Allen is back tonight. Otherwise the Grizzlies don't bring too many surprises: Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will test the Bucks' size down low, Rudy Gay is pretty good but not $53 million-over-three-years good, and Mike Conley is one of the most highly regarded slightly-above-average point guards in the league (Brandon Jennings, take note because this could be you, too). UPDATE: The Grizzlies will rest Gasol, Randolph and Allen, proving once again that there's no point in writing previews for preseason games.
Gay has seen some time at PF in small ball lineups, especially with Darrell Arthur out with a stress fracture in his leg. Meanwhile, the Grizz are taking a committee approach to replacing former sixth man O.J. Mayo, with Ellingston, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and Josh Selby all expected to be part of the puzzle. Rookie combo guard Tony Wroten is not with the team as he rests a sprained ankle, but Selby made his preseason debut last night, scoring 11 (4/8 fg) in 17 minutes.
Injuries. The Bucks are expected to have Ekpe Udoh back in unifiorm tonight for the first time since hurting his knee against the Cavaliers last week, but as noted yesterday they'll have to make due without John Henson for a couple weeks. Doron Lamb has started light shooting so hopefully that means he's getting closer to making his official debut. Charles Gardner writes:
Skiles also said rookie guard Doron Lamb is making steady progress, doing some shooting and running. The Bucks hope he will return from a left elbow injury in time to evaluate him during the preseason.
If a tree falls in the forest...I've yet to see any indication of this game being televised by anyone or anywhere, so it would appear your only options are a) go to the game or b) listen to our man Ted Davis call it for you on the BucksRadio Network.
Starting. The main question around the starting lineup for tonight is whether Larry Sanders will start for a third straight game at center. I'd still be rather surprised if Samuel Dalembert isn't the regular starter come November, but Skiles has been mixing and matching his big men with regularity so far and has (shockingly) been heaping praise on Sanders since the start of camp.
Meanwhile, the battle for the starting small forward position has been fairly anticlimactic. Tobias Harris has been solid if unspectacular during the exhibition season, but with Skiles still preferring Mike Dunleavy off the bench and Luc Mbah a Moute unable to practice there's really no one to push Harris for the gig--at least for now. To be continued.
Back to basics. Over at Bucks.com, Truman Reed writes that Scott Skiles has ambitions of once again fielding a top defensive team. The Bucks were of course a far cry from that after Andrew Bogut went down a season ago, but adding more interior size and length (and maybe asking Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings nicely to do their part on the perimeter) should help the Bucks make progress this season. But how much?
"We want to be up in the top 10 - maybe even the top five - as a defensive team," Skiles said. "If you're a 55-game winning team and have home court every year and you're knocking on the door and your goal is to win the title, I think that's realistic.
"But we want to be in a position where we can be one of those teams that's in a position to say that going into a season. In order to do that, we have to get better defensively, and there's no reason we can't do that. If we do, we had a pretty potent transition game in the back half of last season, and that can play to our strengths. We'll be able to get out in the open floor, get the ball to Monta and let Brandon (Jennings) and Mike (Dunleavy) and Tobias (Harris) and our wing players get loose a little bit."
I think top ten is a reasonable ambition, though the overall key is probably on the defensive boards. Even with Bogut missing all but 12 games, the Bucks blocked more shots and allowed a lower conversion rate at the rim last year than the prior season when they were a top five team in defensive efficiency. They will block shots, that's not a question. But that won't win them games if they can't prevent second chance opportunities.
They struggled mightily on that front last year (falling from 8th to 25th in defensive rebound rate), and improving in that area would also be a boost to the Bucks' already lively transition game by creating more chances to push the ball. After all, it's always easier to run off a rebound than a made basket. Through three preseason games, the Bucks have a modest 129-126 edge on the boards over their opponents, so it's tough to draw any conclusions just yet. But relying more on rebounds and less on defensive gambling and leak outs to fuel transition opportunities would be good start to finding a more reasonable balance between offense and defense.