[Note by your friendly BullsBlogger, 01/16/12 11:45 AM CST: per KC, Rose out, Rip still out, CJ maybe back. ]
[Thanks to THEKILLERWHALE for today's game preview. Gamethread at...noon! -ed.]
The Bulls once again have the honor of playing in Memphis on MLK day (I personally do not see why this carries prestige since his only association with the town seems to be that he got shot there. People wishing to honor JFK do not immediately think 'Dallas'! ). The narrative surrounding this game seems to be that the Grizzlies are now making their way out of a slump whose source lies in Chicago. In a single game, the Grizzlies lost their star player and were humiliated on the court in a 40 point blowout. As the symbolic origin of their recent travails, the Bulls can expect an extra intense game from a Memphis team hoping to turn things around. On to the match-ups!
Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. Rudy Gay. I have started with this match-up since the Grizzlies recent spate of W's has a lot to do with them returning to their pre-ZBo identity. This means Rudy Gay, the one-time franchise centerpiece. In the past three games, Gay has averaged 21.67 points and has generally been quite dynamic. Luol Deng has been playing well but playing ugly. He has not averaged over 50% from the field recently and even had a 5/21 stinker in Washington. A lot of this had to do with 40+ minutes a night as a lot of his misses seem to arise from a lack of lift. He had big shots when we needed it in the Boston game but a lot of his shots are falling short. Fortunately, Deng took a good part of the second half off against the Raptors and will have a day off before the game. If Deng can challenge shots, restrict access to the paint and box Gay out, the Grizzlies will have a long game ahead of them.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs. Mike Conley. Conley was out with an ankle injury in our previous meeting and the Grizzlies looked bad. Even before ZBo got hurt. He was an integral part of this Memphis team when they were clicking in last years playoffs. He is a pretty solid PG and will challenge Rose on the defensive end. As usual, the more aggressive DRose gets, the better the Bulls play. DRose also has an inch or two on Conley so perhaps we will see the post-up game that DRose spent the entire summer working on (which thus far has resulted in all of one forced basket in a preseason game).
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs. Marreese Speights. I have not seen too much of Speights. Apparently, he is a bit of a black hole. In his first start with the Grizzlies, he touched the ball 22 times. These resulted in 19 shots, 2 turnovers and 1 pass. 1 pass! Talk about cajones! He just strolls into town and puts up 19 on his first night! I have heard complaints that he settles for jumpers too much and does not like to tangle in paint, although the sample size is pretty small (this seems to ring a bell...). Anticipate him and Boozer encouraging one another's worst habits as they each exchange 20 foot jumpers, jog leisurely back to the defensive end of the floor, yell too much and push one another in the back as the other blows by them towards the basket.
Center: Joakim Noah vs. Marc Gasol. Noah really needed that Boston game. He needed to go up against a hated adversary and beat them with hustle and energy. He needed to encounter genuinely distasteful human beings and remember that he too can be one mean SOB. Throw away games against the Wizards were not going to cut it. He needed KG to make him strong again.
Noah will bitch slap Marc Gasol into next Tuesday. Every stereotype about the soft European big man will be validated.
Bench: If CJ is back, I give this to the bench mob hands down (no updates from KC). The Grizzlies bench was pretty productive in the playoffs last year and Mayo had a few huge games with big minutes. He was a non-entity against us earlier this year (unless you count injuring ZBo). However, he is coming off of an 18 point game and maybe got his groove back. Our bench bigs are the best in the league while the Grizzlies can barely fill their starting frontcourt with ZBo sidelined. Expect Taj and Omer to make quick work of whatever Estonian scrub they slap a uniform on.
Coaching: Thibodeau vs. Hollins. There are three match-ups that the Bulls will always win. PG, Bench and Coach. Even beyond that, I think that Hollins does a decidedly bad job. I have argued this on BaB in the past, but I am of the opinion that Memphis routinely under-performs relative to their roster. The only time they were running on all cylinders was last years playoffs and they looked great. This only served to make it all the more infuriating that they do not play that well all of the time. When this happens, there is something wrong with the organization. When ZBo is healthy, they have, arguably, the best starting front-court in the league. This has not translated into results. As much as people think that Mayo is overrated, he was an 18ppg rookie who has now been marginalized and is rotting on the bench. They have had their injury issues, but who doesn't? A solid, well-coached team does not nosedive with one injury, no matter who it is. Sorry, I had to get that rant out of my system.