After racking up wins in their last two games against the Warriors and Timberwolves, the Grizzlies will be at home tonight, taking on the Sacramento Kings, who have looked surprisingly strong lately. This past weekend, the Kings defeated the Jazz and Rockets, letting us know that while they may not be a playoff team just yet, they should hardly be taken lightly. The Kings are still young, and there is some overcrowding – especially in the backcourt – that keeps the team from reaching its full potential, but they are hardly an easy win, and the Grizzlies will have to play with the same inspiration and passion that they did against golden State and Minnesota if they want to pick up a third straight victory tonight.
The key to defeating the Kings is preventing third-year forward DeMarcus Cousins from having a big game. Cousins has an unfortunate habit of making more news for his behavior problems than for his on-court performance, but he’s still an extremely talented player, and if opposing teams aren’t prepared, he’ll light them all game long. Luckily for the Grizzlies, they are as well-equipped to handle Cousins as any team in the league, with their incredibly strong frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. While these guys are great at putting points the board, what will matter most tonight is their excellent defense, especially that of Gasol, who should be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. Since Gasol is the Grizzlies’ best defensive big man, it is likely that he will guard Cousins for the majority of the game. If Gasol can frustrate Cousins early on, that could be a huge key to victory. As talented as Cousins is, he’s also immature; if he gets frustrated early on, it could prevent him from being effective. If Gasol manages to draw a few early calls on Cousins, that would be even better. Anything to prevent the Kings best player from doing serious damage.
In the backcourt, the Kings pack a considerable punch with Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas. While Evans has been disappointing since his excellent rookie campaign, he is still an effective scorer, and can put up buckets against any defense that takes him lightly. Meanwhile, Thomas has looked great the past few games, topping 20 in each of them, and scoring 17 in the fourth quarter against Houston on Sunday. His stats don’t look immediately impressive, but he is a fast, scrappy young player with a bright future ahead of him. Luckily, the Grizzlies should be prepared to handle the threat of Evans and Thomas. Mike Conley has quietly turned into a better defensive guard every year he’s been in the league, and this season, his defensive rating is down to a career low 100. Additionally, he’s great at racking up steals, averaging 2.2 a game, which is currently good for second in the league. Against a relatively inexperienced point guard like Thomas, Conley should be able to force a few key turnovers.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see who is given the task of defending Tyreke Evans. The smart money says it would go to Tony Allen, since Allen is the Grizzlies best defensive guard, but Tayshaun Prince could be effective in that role as well. Evans is capable of playing the 2 and 3 positions, so the duties of defending him could rotate throughout the evening. this is where the Grizzlies acquisition of Prince can come in handy. While he’s not the scoring machine that Gay was, he’s a better defender, and in a game like this, he could potentially share defensive duties with Allen, without their being a large drop-off in quality. In any case, the Grizzlies should have enough defenders to prevent the Kings backcourt from having a particularly effective game.
The Kings are better than their record, as these last few games have demonstrated. Still, they are a young, inexperienced team, and going on the road against a defensive juggernaut like the Grizzlies should be immensely frustrating tonight. If Z-Bo and Marc can contain Cousins, and if Tony Allen keeps Tyreke Evans from being an effective, the Grizzlies should be able to walk away with their third straight victory tonight.