Well an 0-3 road trip was to be expected to start out the season, despite your level of optimism or lack thereof going into opening night. The Kings were a bad road team last season and are still in the infancy stages of rebuilding. But I don’t think anybody saw them losing the three games this way. If anything, a close hard fought game against the Thunder followed by double-digit losses to the Hornets and Spurs away from Arco was the most likely scenario. Instead, we saw the Thunder kick their teeth in, a near redemption loss to the Hornets at the new Hive, and then the Spurs being the Spurs.
What we’ve seen so far is a team that struggles to score because the shooting has been so bad (sub-44% eFG). But they give up the most points per 100 possessions in the league so… yeah… that’s cool. They rebound at a very encouraging but more likely to fall rate. Although if you believe that Spencer Hawes can rebound at a high rate when he gets consistent minutes then perhaps the Kings can stay in the top ten to 15 in this category throughout the year, which would be a HUGE improvement from the effort and results last season. This is a team that tries to play defense but still doesn’t really get it. Tyreke Evans gives you a band-aid at the top of the key because it’s really hard to penetrate against him if you aren’t Tony Parker running pick-and-rolls. But if the wings don’t double down effectively, the team keeps going for wild steal attempts (Ziller does a nice job of bandying this idea around), and there is no real shot blocking presence inside, Tyreke Evans could become the Kevin Garnett of defensive point guards and it isn’t going to matter.
Now, they’re back home in front of an alleged sellout crowd (hopefully, the place is packed) against another bad team looking for its way.
And with that…on to tonight’s game!
Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies
Tip-off Time: 7:00PM PST
Where To Watch: Comcast Sports Net
Record Last Year (Road Record): 24-58 (8-35)
Record Against Last Season: 1-3, 1-1 at Arco Arena
Kings Out With Injury: Francisco Garcia (Wrist)
Grizzlies Out With Injury: Darrell Arthur
What the Grizzlies Did Well Last Year: Free Throw Shooting (9th), Opponents’ Turnovers (8th)
When it comes to coverage of the Memphis Grizzlies, Chip Crain and company over at 3 Shades of Blue have just about everything covered. So I asked him to break down the matchups with me for tonight’s Kings home opener. Here’s how we think everything shakes out:
Point Guard: Tyreke Evans vs. Mike Conley, Jr.
3 Shades of Blue says: Former Tiger Tyreke Evans is matching up against a player that while more experienced is not nearly as big as he is. Evans should be able to get his shot off against the diminutive Conley. The question is whether that is a bad thing for the Grizzlies. Evans is struggling finding his range and with this Kings team he is still expected to take a lot of shots. Conley is the 3rd straight lightning fast PG Evans has faced and so far has struggled to stay in front of Tony Parker and Chris Paul. Conley isn’t expected to attack the basket nearly as much but if he doesn’t attack at all then teams have too much freedom to double down low. Conley will have to attack the rookie and look to use that penetration to dish off as much as shoot himself. Conley has experience and speed on his size but somehow I expect the cowbells to give Evans enough incentive to exploit the battle.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Tyreke Evans has already gone up against three really good point guards that all excel in different areas of basketball. Westbrook was extremely athletic, strong, and a good defender. Evans was able to handle him for the most part but couldn’t take away his ability to set up teammates. Paul is the best point guard in the NBA and does a great job of getting his team involved. Well, Evans took that play-making away from Chris Paul and forced him to be a scorer. And against Tony Parker, he faced probably the fastest player he’ll ever have to deal with. The result wasn’t very good but a big part of that was help defense that arrived too late or not at all. Conley is a nice player but he doesn’t excel at anything other than being Greg Oden’s friend. I fully expect Evans to push him around and get to the basket no matter what. I’m a little concerned about the ankle but Evans can still get to the rack on just one good ankle against Conley.
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin vs. O.J. Mayo
3 Shades of Blue says: Kevin Martin has been a long time Grizzlies killer but this time he will need to find his shot if he wants to deliver his team the win. Against the Spurs Martin seemed to find his stroke however shooting 8-14. Where Martin is most deadly is his ability to get to the line. If Martin is able to get Mayo in early foul trouble this match could end quickly. Mayo has not shot well this season but found his mark in the 4th quarter against Toronto. Mayo is more than just a scorer, unlike Martin, as he is a playmaker and decent rebounder for a guard. That complete game would give him the edge assuming he can avoid foul trouble. Losing Mayo to early fouls could put the Grizzlies in big trouble.
Cowbell Kingdom says: I was a little worried about the shooting stroke of Kevin Martin until the game against the Spurs. But he scored a very efficient 26 points on 13 shots against a team with a very good perimeter defense system. The game against the Hornets was horrible but it was also an aberration. Martin is going to get to the line and he’s going to get there a lot. Even with the zero free throw attempts against ‘NOLA, he’s still averaging just over eight attempts per contest. That’s still really good. As for his matchup against O.J. Mayo, this is going to be really difficult. Mayo is coming off of a 40-point outing in Denver and the only thing that will slow him down is tired legs from running against the Nuggets last night. With Martin’s defensive issues, I wonder if we’ll see him guarding Mike Conley and Evans attempting to slow down Mayo?
Small Forward: Desmond Mason vs. Rudy Gay
3 Shades of Blue says: Mason is replacing Francisco Garcia in the starting lineup but could give Rudy Gay fits on offense despite his complete lack of an outside shot. Mason has been a good scorer driving the ball but that part of his game has dropped with age. So far this season Mason has yet to take more than 5 shots in a game. and at 32 will have to rediscover his younger self to exploit the defensive weakness of Gay. Rudy is playing for a big contract next summer assuming no deal will be reached prior to the game. His scoring is down so far this season at only 16.5 ppg but he is averaging more rebounds and assists than previous seasons. Rudy also isn’t forcing as many shots as his shooting percentage is above 50%. What Rudy hasn’t done is get to the line shooting only 4 free throws in the first two games. Rudy needs to use his athleticism against the older Mason and be aggressive against a fine defender in Mason. Perhaps the hangover of playing Carmello on Sunday night won’t be too much to overcome.
Cowbell Kingdom says: I feel like this is the reason why the Kings signed Desmond Mason – to guard guys like Rudy Gay. Rudy Gay is a physical anomaly and really gifted basketball player. But he doesn’t quite have the head or the heart to be consistently dominant. I think Mason can get him out of his comfort zone with physical play and veteran know-how but at the same time, Gay won’t have to expend ANY energy on the defensive end of the floor unless they try to use his length against Kevin Martin, which is a possibility. Gay will easily win this battle because he’s a much better basketball player than Mason. But if Dez can make him work for what he gets, the Kings won’t be burned by a 20-point effort.
Power Forward: Jason Thompson vs. Zach Randolph
3 Shades of Blue says: Jason Thompson is a mutli-talented big man who hustles and gets garbage hoops. What he isn’t is polished. Thompson is averaging nearly 10 boards a game but under 9 points a game. THe points should improve as he increases his shooting percentage currently hovering around 36%. That shooting percentage is surprising considering he averages over 4 offensive boards a night. Randolph is playing a much more mature game now than at any time in his career. While not yet getting double figures in rebounds yet, Randolph is not hoisting up a ton of ill-advised shots and is pounding the offensive glass. He exploded for 30 pts against Chris Bosh and the Raptors but he also surrendered 35 pts to Bosh so defense is still an issue. Something that can’t be allowed against a player like Thompson. Assuming Randolph continues to pass the ball out of double teams (averaging 2.5 apg) and hits the boards hard then he is just too talented for Thompson to control.
Cowbell Kingdom says: This is a matchup that worries me for Jason Thompson. Zach Randolph is a stat-whore but he’s a good stat-whore. He’s like the Ricky Davis of power forwards. He’s going to be a load to keep out of the paint and he’ll bring Jason Thompson away from the basket with his mid-range game. But JT is very strong himself and should be able to punish Z-Bo in the low block if he wants to on offense. And when all else fails, just let him do this:
Center: Sean May vs. Marc Gasol
3 Shades of Blue says: Can anyone explain Sacramento’s insistence on starting Sean May over Spencer Hawes? Maybe the Kings feel they have enough offense in the starting five but needs more points off of the bench. May has done little to warrant the starting role so far averaging only 5.7 ppg and 3.0 rpg. Marc Gasol is playing the best ball of his career and right now has to be considered one of the stronger centers in the league. Averaging 20 ppg and 11 rpg while blocking two shots and hitting 70% of his attempts gets you mentioned among the best in the league. Gasol shed a lot of weight this summer but it hasn’t seemed to deter his physical style of play and he is becoming a force to be reckoned with around the basket especially with teams already concerned about Z-Bo. What Gasol does extremely well is get to the line averaging 9 free throws a game.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Sean May bounced back nicely against the Hornets and Spurs after playing so terribly against Nenad Krstic. But he has to deal with a very good and underrated center in Marc Gasol. Gasol is a load inside and a hard worker that won’t stop if May is physical with him. He’s a very good rebounder and good at getting to the line. Sean May will have to hope he can slow him down early and that he’s easy to find when boxing out. Any separation from May and Gasol could result in an offensive rebound and easy bucket.
3 Shades of Blue says: Sacramento is building with youth but bringing experience off of the bench. Spencer Hawes is coming off the bench but outplaying Sean May who starts, Andres Nocioni is only playing 22 minutes a night and struggles with his shot probably is why but he still is a capable scorer. Beno Udrih is a former starting PG who provides quality if unspectacular play. The biggest surprise off of Sacramento’s bench has been the play of Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA. The rookie is averaging nearly 9 ppg in only 18 minutes of action. Memphis’ bench gets a big lift with the return of Allen Iverson. Suddenly the backcourt has a legitimate substitute behind both Conley and Mayo. DeMarre Carroll has been the energy guy the team advertised and his activity is creating scoring opportunities for himself and the team. Marcus Williams may see his minutes reduced behind Conley with AI’s return but then again he may not. Thabeet may see another DNP-CD as backup Hawes doesn’t like to play under the basket and Thabeet hasn’t shown the ability to contribute when outside of the paint.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Allen Iverson is going to make his debut with the Grizzlies tonight and that definitely can’t hurt their bench. They put him with the likes of DeMarre Carroll, Sam Young, Hasheem Thabeet, and Marcus Williams to form a very nice and versatile second unit. The key to combating will have to be the play of Beno Udrih and Spencer Hawes. The Kings need the offense to keep running efficiently when Beno is in and they need the interior to be taken care of when JT and May are on the bench. Spencer Hawes played so well against the Spurs, it makes you think he should definitely be up against the challenge of taking on Hasheem Thabeet. If he brings Thabeet away from the basket, he takes away his effectiveness completely.
3 Shades of Blue says: Memphis is playing their first game where they actually could have been considered favorites if not for the wicked schedule maker who has them playing two straight games while Sacramento rests in their beds for their home opener in front of a packed house. This is only the Grizzlies second road game but fatigue will definitely play a factor as the starters played long minutes in the game at Denver despite the referees questionable foul calls. The young backcourt of Conley and Mayo is starting to get together as both players have elevated their games from the opening night debacle. The front line continues to punish teams as Marc Gasol has emerged as a legitimate scoring and rebounding threat in the middle, Zach Randolph continues to impress as a prototypical power forward and Rudy Gay terrifies opponents on the wings with his shooting accuracy and athleticism. Tonight the Grizzlies move one step closer to full strength as well with the return of Allen Iverson leaving only Darrell Arthur out from the players the team’s brass wanted on the court this year.
Cowbell Kingdom says: One of the things about this game is that it’s a game the Kings SHOULD win if they’re truly improved from last season. Tyreke Evans will be able to do whatever he wants against someone as small and average as Mike Conley but Evans still has to actually do it. If he can get the paint infiltrated all night and open things up for the big men inside (he did an incredible job of this late in the Spurs game before he was injured) while freeing up Kevin Martin and Andres Nocioni on the outside, the Grizzlies will be on their heels as they try to implement a new piece in Allen Iverson. The Kings need to win this game to get some good momentum on their side. Tough losses (especially at home) will crush the spirit of a young team over the long haul of the season.
One final thing of note: this will be a historic showdown in the fact that Hamed Haddadi and Omri Casspi could be on the court together. Haddadi is Iranian and Omri is Israeli as you all know. David Stern has to love this international progress.