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Open thread: Regular season game 41

The essentials:
Grizzlies (12-30) at Wizards (22-18)
7 p.m.
Verizon Center

This year:
November 24: Grizzlies 124, Wizards 117.

Notable Grizzlies numbers this season
21st in expected winning percentage (.361).
8th in pace factor (93 possessions per game).
15th in offensive efficiency/offensive rating (107.9).
28th in defensive efficiency/defensive rating (112.4).

Key links
3 Shades of Blue.
Beale Street Beat.
3 Shades of Blue game preview.
Post: JCN redux.
Beyond the Arc: Grizzlies midseason report.
3SOB blog preview.
Competition Discussion: Memphis.

Starting lineups:
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Mike Miller
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Darko Milicic

PG: Antonio Daniels
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Antawn Jamison
C: Brendan Haywood (hopefully)

Tonight's lines:
Wizards at Grizzlies: Wizards by 8.
Over/Under on total points: 206.

Where bouncing back happens: Nobody's happy with how the Cleveland game turns out, but we should bounce back tonight, considering we're playing at home against one of the worst teams in the league.  Of course, the same thing was said before the first Memphis game, and we know how that one turned out.

Another take on the debacle: In his postgame blog entry, Ivan Carter makes a good point.

It was actually a game at halftime when the LeBrons led 52-46 but that's when the Wiz went down like the stock market. The Wiz missed their first nine shots of the third quarter and you may notice a trend when you look at what those shots were: Antonio Daniels 23-footer, DeShawn Stevenson 20-footer, Caron Butler three-pointer, Butler 14-footer, Brendon Haywood tip-in, Antawn Jamison three-pointer, Hawood fadeaway 12-footer, Haywood running 8-foot hook and a Daniels 13-foot jumper. Needless to say, they weren't high quality shots and the Cavs made the Wiz pay with a bunch of layups and high percentage jump shots.

Now, the connection between offense and defense is not as direct as people think, as studies indicate there's little relation between a team's offensive and defensive efficiencies, but there are plenty of times where bad offense causes bad defense, and vice versa.  Wednesday night was one of those times.  Cleveland is not a running team, but because the Wizards shot so many ill-advised jumpers, they were unbalanced in their transition defense, and didn't mark their men quickly enough when getting back.  That's different than saying they allowed too many fast break scores, mind you.  We were just were confused when getting back, and once Cleveland started to get into their offense, they made us pay.  Something to watch for tonight.

Fulfilling our duty: Brendan Haywood sucks ass.

There's no "D" in "Grizzlies:" There's something very intriguing about Memphis, because they should be better on paper, but there's a reason they stink: defense.  They're 28th in defensive efficiency, somehow are in the bottom five in the league in both shooting defense (51.2 eFG% against) and forcing turnovers (just 13.8 per contest), and they don't foul much, indicating they don't even seem to care about being tough inside.  That dwarfs a fairly respectable offense, which includes emerging star Rudy Gay, solid young point guard Mike Conley, a watered down but still effective Pau Gasol, and instant offense guys Mike Miller and Juan Carlos Navarro.  

Essentially, their defense looks a lot like ours last season.  They're disorganized on rotations, poor at rebounding (as this post indicates), and awful at defending the pick and roll.  It also doesn't help that they're undersized in the backcourt and soft up front.

Still, their offense can get hot very easily, so it's important to win this game our way, instead of getting into a shootout.  We could win a shootout, but we have a much better chance winning with defense and controlled offense.

Not their Pau: Arguably the biggest story involving Memphis this year has been the decline of Pau Gasol, who has seen his production take a hit, all while grumbling about his "new role" in Marc Ivaroni's up-tempo offense.  It's become so bad that fans have turned on him, and he's back on the trading block after being pulled from it last offseason.

But after a poor start, Pau has picked his game up, as Chris Herrington wrote in the link above:

Gasol got off to a slow start due to his own series of minor ailments (a sprained ankle that forced him to miss most of preseason, early-season back spasms, etc.) and averaged a decent but subpar 17 points and 7 rebounds on 49-percent shooting in November. This lackluster production enraged segments of the fan base and local media already prone to histrionics on the subject of Gasol, but it was clear to anyone who's watched him over the years that he wasn't right physically and clear to anyone with an active brain that Gasol wasn't past his prime at age 27.

Gasol started to come around physically in December, his production ticking up to 18 points, 9 rebounds, and more than 3 assists per game. This month, fully healthy and with improved talent around him, he's been better than ever, averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2 blocks per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor.

Can he be the difference?  Yes he Conley: One bright side for the Grizzlies has been the insertion of Mike Conley into the starting lineup instead of the disappointing Damon Stoudamire.  Since the switch, as Herrington writes, things have been much better.

It's been the overdue insertion of Conley into the starting lineup that might be turning this season around. Without Conley starting, the Grizzlies went 8-22 (a .267 winning percentage) with a -5.0 point differential. Since promoting Conley, the team has gone 4-7 (.364) with a (barely) positive point differential (+3 across 11 games).

I imagine Conley will be trouble for Antonio Daniels tonight, so our pick and roll rotations have to be strong.  Conley isn't a superb shooter, so I wouldn't mind seeing us go under the screen, but he's so quick that we can't give him too much daylight.

Key to the game: Tempo.  Without Gilbert Arenas, we're playing at the 8th-slowest pace in basketball this year.  As indicated above, Memphis is playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league.  They're also among the most undisciplined half-court defensive teams in the league, so we need to keep the game there instead of letting them use their athletes in the open court.  AD has to play much, much better tonight that he did against the Cavs, and everyone else needs to shoot smart shots instead of firing away quickly from the perimeter.

This is an open game thread, so Darko and JCN jokes go here.