Fresh off a stinging loss in Houston to the powerful Houston Rockets, the Brooklyn Nets fly to the home of Graceland to take on the Memphis Grizzlies at 8 P.M. tonight.
The Nets have dealt with their fare share of injuries, but the Grizzlies lost a core of their identity when center and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol went down with a non-contact knee injury on November 22nd. He was officially diagnosed with an MCL sprain and is out indefinitely, a crushing blow to what was the league’s second-best defensive team last year and an offense that often ran through Gasol at the elbows.
Even without Gasol, the Grizzlies are a talented bunch — but then, compared to the Nets these days, most are. Point guard Mike Conley is blazing fast, ambidextrous, and his basketball IQ has improved each year. He’s shooting 55 percent on two-pointers, leads the Grizzlies in scoring and assists, and nearly has as many steals as turnovers. As Zach Lowe of ESPN’s Grantland once said of the guard: “Conley isn’t close to a superstar, and he might not ever be an All-Star. But he is proof that a player without a single obvious can’t-miss NBA skill can work at all his little sub-skills to become a damn good cog on a damn good team.”
Conley is flanked by Tony Allen on the outside, one of the league’s most tenacious perimeter defenders and funniest Twitter personalities. Rounding out the team’s starting five is the seemingly ageless, lanky wonder Tayshaun Prince, the bull in a post shop Zach Randolph, and Kosta Koufos starting for Gasol.
Off the floor, the Grizzlies are considered one of the leading proponents of analytics in the league. They recently signed John Hollinger of ESPN as their vice president of basketball operations, and after getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, promoted analytics-minded assistant coach Dave Joerger to head coach. They’re a reflection of a trend in the NBA to put more stock in alternative evaluations to traditional scouting, a trend the Nets aren’t following too closely yet.
The Nets can’t be confident going into tonight; they’ve lost seven of their last eight games, haven’t beaten a team over .500 in almost a month, and they’ll be without Paul Pierce, whose doubtful shooting hand isn’t just a metaphor anymore. But the Grizzlies also aren’t 100%, and after two days of rest, this could be a trap game for them.
Or maybe I’m still delusional from the tryptophan. Tipoff at 8 P.M.