This will be the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. It will be a gracious-as-a-back-to-back-can-be introduction to the rigors of an NBA season for the rookies, with both teams having flown from Texas the previous night. Same timezone, at least. Sure, there will be a ho-hum factor to this game, as there is with any preseason game, but the overnight travel will give both sets of coaches an early (some might say nearly meaningless) glimpse at how the players for each team will respond to two nights in a row. I'll be missing this one in person....for the best reason ever...Hudson Graham Noe, 9lbs3oz, 7:34 PM on Oct. 1st :). Yes, he's doing fine, and thanks for asking :).
Ok. Enough proud papa stuff.
On to the game.
Point guards: Mike Conley v. Antonio Daniels
Sadly, it looks like AD might be doing a bit more than keeping Gil's spot warm, as the "arthroscopic washing" that Arenas just received is gonna keep him out for a while. "Injury history" is becoming a very important phrase when discussing Gilbert Arenas, and it's a shame, because he's one of the truly exciting players to watch in the NBA. Sure, he's not afraid to let you know that he knows just how exciting he can be, but that doesn't diminish his status. Daniels, however, is not exactly chopped liver. He is very physically strong with the ball and without it and is a good defender. He's not gonna shoot the lights out, but he can score at a reasonable level and can use his strength to get close to the hoop. It should be a good (preseason-style) test for Conley to see if he can blow by AD a time or two. Conley's much-heralded increase in physical strength over this offseason will be key in this matchup, and if he has trouble blowing by AD, we'll also get a chance to check out whether Conley's shooting work this summer will help him out. Should be quite fun to watch, but Daniels is very physically strong, and Conley is still learning to use his tools.
Shooting guards: OJ Mayo v. DeShawn Stevenson
Ah, OJ. Save us, OJ. Ah, the ballyhoo, the hype, the seventh grader playing for the varsity team. Time to show us where it's at, OJ. I personally think that he's going to come out of the gate firing. He'll be looking forward to being the second option on offense and has already looked to assert himself as a leader. Will he try to do too much? Or will he try to play within himself and the team? Finding out the answers to those questions will be fun for Grizzlies fans. DeShawn Stevenson is an undersized two who can intermittently play the one and can hit the three, although Ray Allen he ain't. Decent ballhandler but not a worldbeater. If Mayo can keep himself moving, he could take this matchup on talent and drive.
Small forwards: RU-DEE Gay v. Caron Butler
In the regular season, this matchup would be a primo fix for an NBA junkie such as myself. In the preseason, it should still be good, but probably limited in terms of minutes, since both of these players is well-cemented in his respective starting lineup. Caron Butler has a nice-sized arsenal of offensive weapons,and is not a putrid defender either. He is strong, and can play and bang inside well for a 3. Can he stop Rudy? We'll have to see about that. If Rudy makes a leap this season similar to the one he made last year, the NBA at large could be in trouble. Let's not forget, however, that Rudy has a ways to go defense-wise, and playing against Caron, even in preseason, will surely test his D to its current limit. If these guys match up for any decent number of minutes in this game, it will be reason to watch (as if it were going to be televised, dangit). Rudy will have more to prove in this game, and will play as such.
Power Forwards: It doesn't matter v. Antawn Jamison
The Grizzlies are in all sorts of trouble with this matchup, depending on how much Jamison plays in this game. Sure, Jamison is not exactly a lockdown defender, but offensively, he can explode at will (but his twilight time is coming). Darko Milicic, Hakim Warrick, Antoine Walker, Derrell Arthur...none of these four guys is going to stop Antawn. He has the height to spot up on them, and can blow by them if needed. Could work out ok if a Grizz PF gets hot from the perimeter, but still doesn't look good for the Grizzlies.
UPDATE: Jamison left the game at Dallas 10/7/08 with a sprained knee. Any basketball fan hates to see any player injured any time of the season, but especially now. Looks like my man Blatche may get more playing time in this game than Eddie Jordan might have originally intended.
Centers: Marc Gasol v. Etan Thomas
Enemy or not, I'm rooting hard for Etan Thomas. It will be great to see him come back from a major heart ailment and long rehab. Marc Gasol, while a rightfully recognized international talent, is a completely unproven quantity NBA-wise. Good size,and as much as some Grizz fans might not want to acknowledge it, there's basketball talent in that DNA. We'll see if he can keep his hands on the ball and not fumblerooski around the paint. Etan Thomas is staring straight at a ton of minutes with wrist surgery unfortunately seeming a part of Brendan Haywood's all-too-near future. Pretty good interior defender, can block some shots, but does not particularly excel at any facet of the center's game. No real threat offensively. Gasol, however, will certainly still be nowhere near finding his footing in the NBA by only his second preseason game.
Andray Blatche is one of my very favorite up-and-coming NBA players-he should see fair time in this game. He must learn to use his size while maintaining control of himself physically and mentally, and he'll become a well-rooted regular in the NBA. Dominic McGuire has received accolades for his offseason work and should see minutes, at least in the preseason, to see if he can garner a rotation spot. If Darius Songalia can keep healthy, he knows how to play hard and can hit the open shot. Memphis' bench does not suffer from the precipitous dropoff in talent that one might think-Antoine seems to really want to play, Kyle Lowry could scare off a pack of starving Staffordshire terriers, and Quentin Ross is a very good wing defender, as is Greg Buckner. Haddadi is certainly a project, but thankfully knows a lot more about rebounding position than he does about the English language. Jaric, perhaps Arthur, perhaps Milicic will be out for this game, which does make the Grizzlies bench shorter than a Paris Hilton trip to a buffet line.
If this game can be as close as the MEM/HOU game was on the previous night, those who make the trip to the FEF should see some pretty darn decent NBA ball.
Preseason style, of course.