The Atlanta Hawks have won 8 of their last 9 games and are 11-5 this season. Atlanta won at home last night 104-95 against he Washington Wizards. The Hawks trail the Miami Heat by a half game in the Southeast Division. Now the Hawks travel to another red hot team Saturday night.
The Memphis Grizzlies have the best record in the league at 14-3. They have won 6 of the last 7 games including 96-89 last night at the New Orleans Hornets. The Grizzlies lead the San Antonio Spurs by less than half a game in the Southwest Division. Memphis has beaten 13 straight Eastern Conference teams dating back to last year and is 9-1 at home this season.
The Hawks are 9-2 all time against the Grizzlies, but Memphis won the only meeting between the teams last year 96-77. Despite being less than 400 miles apart, these two southern teams are in different conferences and only play twice a year. They only played once last year because of the lockout shortened season. The Grizzlies will make the trip to Atlanta February 6.
Atlanta is outscoring teams 97-94 this season. The Hawks are 6th in the league in points allowed. The Hawks are shooting 45.7% from the field, including 37.4% from 3 point range. Atlanta is in the top 10 in both categories. The Hawks struggle at the free throw line making just 69.4% at the stripe. Atlanta averages 40.3 rebounds per game and gives up 43.1. Hawks’ opponents are shooting 43.4% from the field and 35.8% from 3 point range. Atlanta is in the top 10 in opponents’ field goal percentage, and is the only team in the league not to allow a team to shoot over 50% from the field. The Hawks average 23.4 assists, 9.25 steals, 5.1 blocks, and 14.9 turnovers a game.
Atlanta small forward Josh Smith averages 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game. Center Al Horford averages 16.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game. Shooting guard Louis Williams averages 13.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Point guard Jeff Teague averages 13.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. Shooting guard Kyle Korver averages 10.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1 steal. He is doubtful with a back injury. Guards Devin Harris, DeShawn Stevenson, and Anthony Morrow along with forwards Zaza Pachulia, Ivan Johnson, and Anthony Tolliver make up the rest of the rotation.
Memphis is outscoring teams 99-91 this season. They lead the league in points allowed and are #11 in scoring. The Grizzlies are shooting 44.4% from the field and 36.5% from 3 point range. The Grizzlies are #11 in three point shooting. Memphis is #2 in the league in free throw shooting at 80.5% from the line. The Grizzlies average 42.5 rebounds per game and give up 39.2. Memphis is #2 in rebounds allowed. Grizzlies’ opponents are shooting 43.4% from the field and 34.8% from 3 point range. Memphis is in the top 12 in the league in both categories. The Grizzlies average 21.3 assists, 9.6 steals, 5.6 blocks and 14.9 turnovers a game.
Small forward Rudy Gay averages 19.1 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.4 steals a game. Forward Zach Randolph averages 17.5 points, 12.9 rebounds to lead the team, and 1.4 assists per game. Randolph is second in the league in rebounding. Center Marc Gasol averages 15.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game to lead the team. Point guard Mike Conley, Jr. averages 14.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 2.7 steals a game to lead the team in the latter two categories. Guard Tony Allen, forward Marreese Speights, Bayless, forward Quincy Pondexter, Guard Wayne Ellington and forward Darrell Arthur make up the rest of the rotation. Allen starts at shooting guard. Gay (back) and Allen (groin) are both listed as day-to-day but have played the last 2 games against Phoenix and New Orleans.
This should be a tough defensive struggle that could be in the 80’s or low 90’s. Although both teams made the playoffs last year, both were middle of the pack teams. No one expected either to be near the top of their respective conferences. It is December, and way too early to be talking about potential Finals previews. However, if these teams continue their great play they each could make deep runs into the playoffs. For this game, I think the Grizzlies win a close game at home.