On the Grizzlies: Straight Outta Vancouver / Three Shades of Blue
A night after routing the Cavs in Cleveland, the Bucks return home to face off against their old friend Lionel Hollins and his Memphis Grizzlies. As we'll be noting in every preview from here on out, it's a big game for the Bucks--a win would draw them to within one game of the Knicks for the final playoff spot--but the same can be said of Memphis, which despite its current 6th seeding out West is just 1.5 games away from the 9th seeded Rockets.
Dirty Dozen. The Bucks have scored 104+ points in 11 of their last 13, totaled 29+ assists in 10 of those games and have won nine of them. Think there's a correlation between all those figures? And their only two losses when scoring 100+ came against the Pacers and Bulls when they totaled 104 exactly, highlighting that (shock!) scoring points helps you win games, especially when you're an offensively-oriented (how weird that we're saying that?). It's a big contrast to the prior 12 games when Milwaukee cracked 98 points just once, won just three times, and totaled more than 26 assists just once.
In January of last year the Bucks faced the Grizzlies at home after beating the Cavs on the road (parallelism!), but lost in disappointing fashion 94-81. Then again, the Bucks' starting lineup on that night was Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Corey Maggette, Ersan Ilyasova and Andrew Bogut, so it's probably not worth drawing too many comparisons between the two games. Still, it's another quality Memphis team they'll be facing tonight.
Z-Bo. Zach Randolph has been coming off the bench since returning from his knee injury, averaging 12.4 ppg and 7.8 rpg in 25 mpg over the last eight games. The Grizz are just 3-5 in that span, most recently dropping a disappointing 98-89 decision to the Rockets last night in Houston. Randolph has totaled just 17 points (6/13 fg) and nine rebounds over the past two games, so presumably he'll light up the Bucks for 30. Both Randolph and Marc Gasol are bigger and stronger than anyone the Bucks can throw against them, so in theory it should help the Bucks if they don't have to face them together quite so much.
Building to...? Rudy Gay has been similarly subdued of late, scoring a combined 21 points on 19 shots with seven rebounds and two assists in the last two games. Many had hoped the return of Gay from last year's season-ending shoulder injury would provide a major boost to a Memphis team that nearly made it to the Western Conference Finals, but Gay's still the same good-but-hopelessly-overpaid guy he was previously: nice raw scoring numbers (20.1 pts/40 min) but poor efficiency (51.4% TS), no passing, and lots of mid-range jumpers. Kind of like a bigger Monta Ellis, except more capable defensively and without any illusion of making teammates better.
Along with Randolph's injury, that's meant another nice season for the Grizzlies but no obvious path to contention. It's not to dissimilar from where the Bucks were two years ago, though Andrew Bogut's injuries meant the Bucks weren't even a .500 team last season. Memphis is more balanced than that, with Marc Gasol, Randolph, Gay, and Mike Conley all falling somewhere between fringe all-star (Gasol) and solid starter (Conley).
Monta vs. Tony. Perhaps the most interesting matchup is at shooting guard, where Monta Ellis will have his hands full against defensive wiz Tony Allen. The 6'4" Allen is used to matching up against bigger players but will have a slight size advantage against Ellis, who has cracked 20 points just once since arriving from Golden State.