Memphis Grizzlies (25-9) at Atlanta Hawks (26-8)
Philips Arena, 7:30 ET, League Pass
Tonight’s Hawks-Grizzlies showdown pits two of the most unlikely conference powerhouses against each other. Heading into the season, not many predicted Atlanta would be at the top of the East in January and no one knew that Memphis would jump out to an impressive 25-9 record either. But that’s why we play the games! True contenders in their own right, ATL v. MEM should provide excellent theater for fans who favor “grind it out” battles.
For those who haven’t paid much attention down south, here’s a few things you need to know about ATL heading into tonight’s matchup: Atlanta is surging right now, on a 5-game winning streak and sitting on top of the Eastern Conference for the first time since December 27,1997. They rank in the top 10 in points, field goal%, 3-point %, and assists by playing excellent team ball. Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Kyle Korver (51% from three) are ALL legitimate threats to play in the All-Star game.
Teague, who is averaging a career-high 17.4 points to go along with 7.1 assists, has been as dynamic as any guard in the NBA as both a scorer and floor general. Facing Mike Conley is like looking in the mirror for Jeff, who plays a similar style. The two Indianapolis natives both love to attack in transition and are underrated passers and shooters from deep. If Teague can find open looks for guys like Korver and DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta will have the Grizz on their heels.
For Memphis, staying at the top of the daunting Western Conference is proving to be a tough exercise. They have not played their best ball as of late, losing in 5 of their last 10 games and looking uninspired in some of those games. Anticipate them to bounce back in this one since the Hawks are, basically, their Eastern Conference counterpart. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol match up closely with ATL’s Millsap and Horford, they both surrender just 97.6 ppg to opponents, and prefer to grind out victories in favor of nightly highlights.
Atlanta is 9-2 versus Western Conference opponents. For them to protect home court, Coach Mike Budenholzer will urge Teague to set the pace and establish both his big men and shooters from the opening tip. If Conley is able to counter on the other end, bench play should tell the story. If Randolph can’t give it a go, Atlanta’s bench (Mike Scott, Dennis Schroder, Thabo Sefolosha, Pero Antic) might prove too much for the Grizz to overcome.
Jeff Teague: Projected Top D.O.G.
Doggy Bag (News & Notes):
Ahh, the modern age! Tonight, the Hawks are having “Swipe Right” night in partnership with Tinder, a popular social networking application for young singles. Seems like a win-win. It’s both a clever way for the team to attract young fans and they’ll be treated to a meeting between two elite squads.
Just don’t swipe left.
Grizz fans better hope Z-Bo can give it a go despite dealing with a knee injury. In 2013-14, Randolph tallied 38 points and 18 rebounds in 2 victories over ATL.
Jon Leuer (MEM) & DeMarre Carroll (ATL)
If Randolph is out of the lineup, expect Leuer to absorb the majority of his minutes at the four. Memphis should look to feed him at the elbow early on to extend both Millsap and Horford away from the basket. If Leuer can knock down his 15-footer, he might provide enough of a spark to offset the loss of Z-Bo.
ICYMI, we profiled Carroll as one of the top UnderDOGS in basketball right now. One of the most undervalued two-way swingmen, DeMarre is adept at stroking it from deep (38%) and pestering the opposition’s top perimeter threat. Don’t be shocked to see him defend Conley down the stretch of game. Expect similar numbers (17 pts, 8 rebs, 4 assists) tonight to the ones he put up against the LA Clippers on Monday.