This Friday, snow-crazy edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s opponent victim, the Memphis Grizzlies.

Despite the Griz’s smooth offensive talents, their athleticism and the recent winning ways (5-3 in their last 8), we expect the Sixers to get a W tonight and establish their first four game winning streak of the season.  However, we don’t think it’s going to be an easy W tonight (Even though the 76ers have won six of the last seven meetings between these squads).

The major issue for the Sixers tonight will be containing Memphis bigs Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.  We all know that the Sixers struggle mightily with big men who can bang, rebound and score.  It just so happens that in Z-bo (20 & 13) and Gasol (11 & 7) the Grizzlies have two bigs who can do all of those three things and together they form one of the best big men duos in the League.  Additionally, Randolph is absolutely rolling right now.  He is coming off his 12th consecutive double-double (32 double-doubles on the season) with 20 points and 16 rebounds vs. the Nets on Wednesday.  Randolph is averaging 23.0 points and 14.7 rebounds during that 12-game stretch.  Gasol has been no slouch of late either.  In his last three runs, he’s hitting for 17.6 ppg. to go along with 10 rips per night.  We’ll need a major effort from Brand, Hawes and Speights to keep Zach and Gasol under wraps, but it is not an impossible task.

We imagine the Sixers game plan will be to try pressure the Memphis perimeter players so that they can then get out a run on the OJ Mayo-less, road weary (4 straight away games) Grizzlies.  The 7-6 should be able to do that successfully tonight as Memphis averages 14.4 turnovers a game.  Thus, if Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and the new, “improved” Mo Speights can keep the Grizzlies’ two bigs from taking over the game, we love the Sixers chances of extending their win streak to four games. 

For a little more insight into the Grizzlies team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Chip Crain from 3 Shades of to answer two questions on the Grizzlies from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this Memphis squad from an insider’s perspective.

Philadunkia :  Before their defeat at the hands of the lowly Nets the other night the Grizzlies appeared to be playing decent ball and had run up a 5-2 record in their last 7 games.  So were the Grizz actually playing solid ball during that stretch or was it a mirage?

Chip Crain @ 3 Shades of :  Memphis is a good but not great team. When everything is working they are tough to beat as wins @ Dallas, against Miami, two wins against the Lakers and OT losses at San Antonio and against Boston attest. However, it doesn’t take a lot to go wrong for the team to really struggle. 

The loss to Nets attests to this. The Grizzlies were in total control in the first half taking a 32-16 lead after one and being comfortably ahead at the half. In the second half the team got out of sync and never really got it going again. 

Memphis was on a roll after coming back to beat Houston but even in those game their immaturity was visible. The team list big leads at Milwaukee and at Toronto but held on to win both games. 

If the Grizzlies play hard they can beat anyone but get a wheel lose and the team struggles. With no serious outside shooting threat and a very inexperienced bench it is just a matter of time for the wheels get lose too.


Philadunkia :  Since he is a RFA after this season and will probably get a nice payday this summer, it’s a given that Zach Randolph will be traded by Memphis before the deadline. However even before he got suspended for 10 games there were rumors that OJ Mayo was on the trade block. Do you think one or both of these players get moved and what are you looking for the Griz to secure in return?  

Chip Crain @ 3 Shades of : First off I wouldn’t assume Zach will be traded. The team has made it clear they want to keep him.

Mayo is a different matter. The series of events leading up to this situation suggest that Mayo may not be in their long term plan anyway. 

The Grizzlies drafted a SG in Xavier Henry. They signed a SG In Tony Allen and draftee Grevius Vasquez can play SG as well as Sam Young, the current starter. Why accumulate all these players if the future is OJ?

Then OJ experimented, and failed miserably, playing the point in Summer League. On Media Day Head Coach Lionel Hollins said Mayo wasn’t going to be a PG. Mayo replied that you have to overcome criticism. A strange response to hearing your coach tell you what he expected this season. Mayo clearly sees himself as a NBA PG and that attitude affected his play this season.

The benching was a bigger deal in the media than reality. The team was being burned by opposing SGs all season and the bench wasn’t scoring. Moving a defensive SG into the starting lineup and giving Mayo a free reign to shoot off the bench was a logical move. Mayo still closed games after all.

The fight with Tony Allen earlier in January and now this situation with the DHEA supplement just makes his situation even more tenuous in Memphis but don’t look for a firesale ala Pau Gasol unless the Grizzlies fall out of the playoff race over the next 10 games.


Two Points of analysis from Chip Crain @ 3 Shades of : 

1) The Grizzlies inside game is among the most dominant in the league and something Philadelphia will need to focus on stopping if they want to have a chance in this game. The good news for Sixers fans is that no one on the Grizzlies, especially with O J Mayo suspended for 10 games, is particularly good at hitting the outside shot. Teams have used a matchup 2-3 zone with great success against the Grizzlies lately so don’t be surprised if you see the 76ers playing some form of a 2-3 zone in this game.

A zone is particularly effective against Memphis because the team prefers isolation plays on offense. Often the Grizzlies will dump the ball down to Rudy Gay or Zach Randoph and allow them to make individual moves against their defender. A zone provides a quick and effective way to double around those players in those situations. Neither player is particularly good at passing the ball and no one else is confident or capable of hitting consistently from the perimeter when the outlet pass comes. Marc Gasol is one of the better interior passers in the league but that strength is also neutralized by a zone defense as defenders are not getting caught out of position as much from a cutting player.

Doug Collins may be an old school coach but he knows how to implement winning strategies so don’t be surprised to see the Sixers playing a lot of zone defense in this game. 

2)  For a team supposedly building through the draft the Grizzlies are a peculiar lot. The team has been playing much better over the last season and a half but not because of their draft picks. The Grizzlies traded Kevin Love for O J Mayo in 2008, drafted Hasheem Thabeet and DeMarre Carroll in 2009 and Xavier Henry in 2010. None of these players are making significant contributions. Also the team has not started maturing. The roster is younger and less experienced this season than last! That lack of a non-essential veteran off the bench has hurt the team this season. Most teams have an old and aging veteran on their team who doesn’t play a lot but is capable of doing things on the rare occasion he does enter the game. Jason Kapono is a prime example on the Sixers bench. The Sixers also have Darius Songalia and Tony Battie for that matter. These players are veterans who can help serve as role models for the younger players as well as contributing if called.

The Grizzlies bench, even with O J Mayo, has no such veterans on it. Hamed Haddadi (25), DeMarre Carroll (23) are the end of the bench guys who will suit up but not play unless disaster strikes. Tony Allen at 28 is the only person not on a rookie deal currently on the Grizzlies bench. So when the starters come out there isn’t anyone else the coach can turn to with real experience. Rumors are that the Grizzlies might be pursuing Jason Williams (JWill to his fans) to help in that regard for the remainder of the season

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