The Grizzlies may not have kicked off the season in the fashion they had hoped, but ever since they recovered from the injury bug, Memphis has been one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
Here to elaborate on the effects of Marc Gasol's return, preach of the awesomeness that is Mike Conley and shed some insight on how the Grizz stack up against the Hawks is Chris Faulker of Grizzly Bear Blues.
Question (Daniel Christian): The Grizzlies got off to a rough start to begin the season, largely due to injuries. Now with Marc Gasol and others back in the fold, Memphis has righted the ship and planted themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. How, specifically, has Gasol's return allowed the Grizzlies to flourish again? What were the other circumstances that allowed for this turnaround?
Answer (Chris Faulkner): Marc Gasol had an immediate impact on the defensive end when he returned for the Grizzlies. Memphis was hanging around the bottom half of the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency during Gasol's absence and have quickly found themselves back near the median of defensive ratings. Part of this can be credited to Gasol's huge mass plugging up the paint again, but Gasol also directs his teammates on defense to ensure proper spacing and better angles. Grizzlies fans hope to see Marc make this sort of impact on the offensive end as he regains his pre-injury form.
Q: One reason Memphis was even able to stay afloat during their disappointing early start was Mike Conley. He won't play against Atlanta, but explain his effectiveness this year. Was he snubbed from the All-Star Game? Where will the backcourt production come from in his absence against the Hawks?
A: What a season Mike Conley is having. One of the more amazing aspects of Conley's 2013-14 season is that his usage went up considerably when Gasol went down, and over that span of time his efficiency has actually gone up with that usage - a rare combination to see in the NBA from a point guard. One of the reasons Mike has been so effective is this new aggression we've seen from him on the offensive end. He's taking an average of 3 more shots per game than he has in his career, and he's making a career high 45.8% of those shots. It's been fun to watch the development of Conley over the past few years. He's really become a force on both ends of the court.
A: I'll say that I really enjoyed Jerryd Bayless as a person, but his inconsistent performances this season were maddening. The Grizzlies' front office has a penchant for the efficient player, and Bayless was becoming the exact opposite of that mold. The trade for Courtney Lee strapped on some extra expenses for the SG position, but his impact was nearly immediate on the court. He's far better at the catch-and-shoot, plays better defense with his longer frame and, simply put, just knocks down more open shot for the Grizzlies. To put it in perspective, Courtney Lee has almost as many double-digit-scoring games in the one month he's been in Memphis than Jerryd Bayless had in his first two months of this season in Memphis.
Q: Who wins and why? Give us a final score prediction.
A: It's looking like both our teams will be without their leading scorer from our earlier match in Memphis (Millsap and Conley.)* The Grizzlies have so many moving pieces and shifting lineups right now that it's hard to pinpoint exactly who will take the reigns with Conley sitting, but I'm guessing they'll go back to their bread and butter and feed Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph for most of the game. If Gasol can find a rhythm early it may be hard for the Hawks to take the Grizzlies out of their mode, but with Nick Calathes at point guard there is no guarantee of consistency for the Grizzlies on offense. Memphis does not play well when they get behind early on, so if Atlanta piles on the points in the first half this one could prove difficult for the Grizzlies.
Prediction: Grizzlies 94, Hawks 90
*Editor's Note: Millsap will play against the Grizzlies.
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