The Mavericks will play their third game of a four-game home stand tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies, a team they typically dominate. They have won seven straight and are 29-6 against the Grizzlies in the Dirk Nowitzki era. If you count playoff games, the Mavericks have won 13 total straight against Memphis via their first-round playoff sweep in 2006. During that 13-game stretch, the Mavericks have beaten the Grizzlies by double digits six times and have won by an average of 8.3 points.
Enough dogpiling on the Grizzlies. They come in tonight with a refreshed young squad that has a lot of hope this season. Pau Gasol is in the middle of his prime and is ready for a great season after missing the first 22 games of last season from a broken foot. Once Gasol returned last season, the Grizzlies were too far behind and were never able to get any kind of rhythm going. They finished at the bottom of the league with a record of 22-58, their worst record since moving from Vancouver to Memphis in 2001.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they haven't used that vigorous youthful energy and a revitalized Gasol to accomplish anything so far this season. They will come into the AAC tonight at 2-6 and at the bottom of the Southwest division, a position they are all too familiar with. Even if they end up with another busted season, they still have quite a bit to look forward to, and they aren't a team the Mavericks can take lightly despite their paltry record thus far.
Gasol is the undoubted leader and best player and has developed more as a team leader over the past few seasons. He is trying to become more aggressive, which has always been the biggest knock on his game.
Mike Miller also leads the charge with a strong all-around offensive game and is as deadly as ever from three-point range. Rudy Gay, 2006's 8th overall draft pick, has burst onto the season and is the Grizzlies leading scorer at 20.5 per game.
Rookie Mike Conley hasn't contributed much thus far, and they have only recently started giving Juan Carlos Navarro, the other rookie point guard, any decent playing time over starter Damon Stoudamire and second-string guard Kyle Lowry. It's obvious that Memphis isn't rushing either of these promising young guards, but you could see either of them tonight depending on how coach Mark Iavaroni wants to match up against the Mavericks.
Quite possibly the most intriguing addition to this Memphis squad is fourth-year center Darko Milicic. The funniest part about it is that when the Detroit Pistons drafted Darko as the second overall pick in 2003, they were using a pick traded to them by the Grizzlies. The Pistons had acquired the protected pick from Vancouver in 1997 for an aging Otis Thorpe. Thorpe didn't do much in his 47 games as a Grizzly, and incidentally, Darko didn't do much in his 2 1/2 seasons as a Piston. Now, Darko comes to Memphis as a free agent signing from Orlando 10 years after the Grizzlies traded that pick away.
Darko fills a big hole for Memphis by starting at center and putting quality minutes and allowing Gasol to play his natural position at power forward. Darko's averages of 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks are all career highs. Even better, he's starting to get away from living in the shadow of being drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and many others.
-Scooter Hendon, Hoops Nerd