The Wizards are in Tennessee tonight to take on the Memphis Grizzlies, their fifth consecutive game on the road. While Zach Randolph is back in action for the Grizzlies after suffering an MCL injury earlier this year, the Wizards are still without the services of their most recent acquisition, forward/center Nene, who is scheduled to make his official debut in New Jersey this coming Wednesday. Both Washington and Memphis have lost three of their last four games, but with the Memphis still fighting for a playoff spot, expect a focused Grizzlies team to make things difficult for the Wizards at FedEx Forum. For tonight’s 3-on-3 we have Josh Coleman (@3SOB) and Chip Crain (@chipc3) from the TrueHoop Grizzlies blog, 3 Shades of Blue, along with TAI’s John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend). Let’s get into it… Three questions, three answers starts now:
#1) The Sunday night Wizards-Grizzlies showdown features an intriguing match-up between John Wall, the second year guard averaging 17 points, just under eight assists and about four turnovers per game, and Mike Conley, the league leader in steals at 2.55 per game. Which guard do you like and why?
COLEMAN: This is definitely an interesting battle to watch, as it is a contrast in the raw talent and potential of John Wall versus the savvy veteran play (at only 24 years old) of Mike Conley. Outside of being the best “thief” in the NBA, Conley doesn’t do any one thing well enough to make others take notice… Yet he’s incredibly effective in running a team, finding the open man, penetrating the lane to create chances for others, and hitting timely buckets. John Wall is one of the most athletic and talented point guards in the league right now. His learning curve is starting to flatten out too, which is bad news for everyone else, because his lack of experience and occasional questionable judgment is the only thing keeping him from being top 5 in the league. In this particular match-up, I’ll give a very slight edge to Conley just based on his ability to push others into making bad choices or causing them to rush things to avoid having to deal with his active and sticky hands. Wall will probably score more than Conley, but is likely to have double the turnovers, too.
CRAIN: Tough call. John Wall is much more talented. His record setting assist rate reflects that. However, Memphis isn’t a guard-oriented team, and Wall has never shown himself to be the type of player who makes others on his team better. Wall’s impressive speed with the ball allows him to get to the basket before most opposing big men can respond. His assists usually result after the defense’s break down from his penetration. His penetration into the lane works best with perimeter scorers, than on a team with bigs looking to get the ball in certain locations more than reacting to fast moves by a point guard.
That isn’t Conley’s role. Conley’s role is to keep the team on an even keel, to disrupt the opponent’s offense and to most importantly get the ball into the front line where others make the plays. Conley’s assists come from fast break opportunities as much as from the offense. Conley’s inconsistent shot has been distressing. however, as his 1-for-7 night against Toronto reflected. But even with his poor shooting, he’s a better long-range shooter than Wall.
Both players are very young, so age doesn’t really matter. I suppose the deciding factor is not so much which player individually is better, but which player fits in better with their team. Conley appears more of a team leader right now so I suppose he fits better on the Grizzlies. Wall, however, is a sensational talent who could be a superstar with the right pieces around him. Conley’s ceiling isn’t that high.
TOWNSEND: John Wall has put up even better numbers since the All-Star break, averaging 19.5 points, 9.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. However, his nine turnovers against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday matched a career-high, and Wall will have his hands full against Mike Conley, a tough guard who should be able to force the ball out of Wall’s hands. Conley “watches more film, he reads scouting reports” and has learned to play more efficiently this season, according to Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins; I like Conley to teach John Wall a lesson or two about playing point guard in the NBA (especially since he’ll be backed by a motivated, defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies team that is coming off consecutive overtime losses at home against the Lakers and Raptors).
#2) Zach Randolph is finally back from injury, who, despite being “a little rusty on both ends,” put up 25 points, nine rebounds, and two steals in 25 minutes against the Raptors on Friday night. What must the Wizards do to slow Z-Bo (and the man they call “Wendigo,” Marc Gasol)?
COLEMAN: The key to stopping Zach — and Marc, as well — is to push him out from under the basket on both ends of the floor. The Grizz big men grab rebounds like fat kids grabbing candy on Halloween. In other words, there’s always room for just one more. Keeping them out of the paint is a key to limiting their ability to control the boards. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of danger, as both of them hit mid-range shots with frightening regularity. Playing both of them physically — and by extension, getting away with fouls that aren’t always called — is really the only way to effectively slow them down.
CRAIN: Trevor Booker needs to make sure Z-Bo doesn’t work the offensive glass, and the Wizards’ bigs need to focus on keeping Gasol shooting jumpers and not allow him to get into the lane. The problem most teams have is that Gasol is such a great passer that he can get other players great looks when out on the elbow and still poses a scoring threat from there. The offense really runs through Gasol more than Conley in Memphis.
Slowing Randolph requires a physical presence that forces him away from the basket, keeping a body on him when shots go up and making him work on defense, especially away from the hoop. Randolph is a great offensive rebounder but not so much on the defensive end. If you can make him work harder on the defensive side, his offense usually suffers.
TOWNSEND: Randolph, like most NBA power forwards, will have a slight size advantage over Trevor Booker. And while Booker should be strong enough to force Randolph to take shots from the perimeter, that isn’t always enough against capable mid- to long-range shooters (roll tape of Booker’s defensive showing against Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who torched the Wizards for 30 points and 10 rebounds). Cook Book will have to show discipline and refined defensive technique (getting into Randolph’s body, taking away his space, and boxing out after shot attempts) in order to slow Z-Bo.
#3) The Grizzlies will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak at FedEx Forum since last season in a meeting against the Wizards, a team that hasn’t won a game in Memphis in more than seven years. The Grizz are 12-3 against sub-.500 teams, while the Wizards are 0-12 against teams with winning records. Do the Wizards stand a chance on the road?
COLEMAN: If there is one thing that I’ve learned about the NBA, it is that any team can beat any other team on any given day. After all, the 1995-96 Bulls won 70 games, but one of their losses came to the newest expansion team, the Toronto Raptors, who won all of 21 games that year. So, of course they have a chance. That being said, would I place money on it if I were a betting man? Probably not. The Grizzlies are pissed off about these last two losses — both of which should have been wins, despite missing key personnel in one of them — so they are likely to come out with lots of aggression and attitude. That means lots of tenacious defense and hard, decisive moves on offense. That’s bad news, no matter who their opponent is.
CRAIN: Washington is catching Memphis at a fortuitous moment. The last two games have resulted in overtime losses (to the Lakers and Raptors) and the team is still adjusting to the return of Randolph. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Grizzlies are playing their last home game until March 30, and they can ill afford another loss if they intend on staying in the hunt for a home court playoff series. The last two losses have the team hurting, but they have responded well in the past to these situations.
Memphis’ size will cause problems for the Wizards inside, so to beat the Grizzlies Washington will have to hit from the perimeter. They will also need to take better care of the ball. Nine turnovers from John Wall will not get it done against the Grizzlies, who feast on other team’s mistakes. Memphis plays with intense effort and their fans feed off that effort. Washington needs to start fast, keep control of the ball and be patient to find the open holes in the perimeter defense. If they do that, Memphis doesn’t have the type of team that can win on talent alone.
TOWNSEND: Washington’s undermanned, undersized and inexperienced frontcourt will struggle against the three-headed monster that is Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — it’s no surprise the Wiz are 12.5-point dogs. But there’s certainly reason for optimism: The post-trade deadline Wizards have played better team defense and executed their offense with greater precision… It probably won’t be enough to knock off the Grizzlies at home, but I could see them covering the spread.