After taking down the Blazers in a comeback victory last night, the Grizzlies travel to Cleveland tonight to take on the Cavaliers. The Cavs don’t have an especially impressive record, but don’t let that fool you; this is a tough team that can hang with anyone; just ask the Knicks, who barely escaped with a 102-97 win on Monday night. With Kyrie Irving having evolved into a superstar, and former Grizzly Marreese Speights providing a great spark off the bench while rookie Dion Waiters looks more and more like a star in the making, this time is a lot tougher than their record.
The Grizzlies have gone without Zach Randolph in each of their previous two games, and he’ll be out tonight as well. Since the Grizzlies have come up on a stretch of weaker opponents, it might benefit them to sit Z-Bo for awhile now so that he can be at his absolute best when the playoffs roll around. Still, the Cavs are tough enough that winning without him tonight will certainly be a challenge.
After missing the previous game, Waiters is listed as probable for tonight’s game, which means he’ll be the latest shooting guard to subject himself to the never-ending menace known as Tony Allen. Allen forces foolish mistakes from the best in the game, so a rookie like Waiters is especially vulnerable to his defensive intensity, Still, he has played his best basketball of the season in recent weeks, so it wouldn’t e out of the ordinary to see him make a few flashy moves tonight.
Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller will be starting in the frontcourt for the Cavs tonight, which means Speights will emerge off the bench. Those who followed Speights when he was a Grizzly will recall that he showed flashes of brilliance during his time in Memphis. Still, few could have predicted what would happen once he arrived in Cleveland. Speights has been one of the best sixth men in the league since being traded to Cleveland along with Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby on January 22. He’s averaged 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in Cleveland, despite only starting one game for the Cavs, and only averaging 21.7 minutes a night. This might be the team where Speights finally lives up to his immense potential. He’s certainly off to a fine start.
Of course, the best player on the Cavs is second-year guard Kyrie Irving. Irving is the kind of player who is capable of winning a game by himself, which he almost did in the fourth quarter against the Knicks on Monday, before running out of steam in the closing minutes. Mke Conley will have his hands full trying to contain Irving. It’s worth, the last time these teams met, Irving was out of the lineup, and the Grizzlies had the much easier task of stopping Jeremy Pargo, who has not been seen recently, as Shaun Livingston has taken over the backup point guard duties.
With Z-Bo out of game, and Irving capable of doing all sorts of damage, this will not be an easy game for the Grizzlies. The key will be to force this extremely young Cavaliers team into making foolish errors, and as always, disrupting the flow of the game. If they do that, they’ll be able the shut down the Cavs and make it to 22 games over .500, which would be a season best.