Taming the Grizzlies (Update: Joe Johnson Questionable)
The Grizzlies visit the Highlight Factory tonight brimming with confidence after taking down the defending champion Lakers last night behind a season-high 28 points from Mike Conley. Given the remarks made after practice on Tuesday, one person that doesn’t sound like he would be too surprised is Hawks head coach Larry Drew.
“I like them a lot,” said Drew of the Memphis squad. “The more I see Conley, I like him more and more. He is a guy that can get in that paint it seems at will. He’s a good decision maker. Of course Rudy Gay, Mayo and their rookie Henry are all guys that can really make shots… and they play hard.”
One recent pattern that could be huge for the Hawks tonight is the ability to jump on teams early. The Grizzlies are feeling good about themselves, and if the Hawks can land the first punch then it could cancel out any momentum they gained from last night’s big win.
UPDATE FROM SHOOTAROUND
First thing is first. Joe Johnson is questionable for tonight’s game pending results from additional evaluations of his sore right elbow. Joe missed practice yesterday and did not participate in shootaround this morning. While Joe has not been ruled out for tonight’s game, Coach Drew will be mentally prepared to take the court without his leading scorer.
Additional Thoughts on Mike Conley
Conley is the type of player the Hawks have really struggled with in recent years. He is quick and can get deep into the lane and make things happen. Defensively the Hawks do not have an answer for “lightning quick” in the form of a single player. Bibby is a smart defender but he has physical limitations at this point in his career, and while Jeff Teague is the best option, he has not shown that he can be a lock-down, on the ball defender up to this point. The best answer for the Hawks is team defense that features quick rotations when Conley gets past his man.
“He’s always a match-up problem. His speed, his quickness, and he’s really improved his shot. Our first game of the season up there he got away from us a little bit. He got to the basket and made some jump shots. He is always a tough guy to defend. He’s just gets better and better. We are going to have to do a good job on him collectively. It’s not going to take one guy. You know Mike Bibby, Jeff Teague and when Jamal’s guarding him one guy is not going to keep him out of the paint. Try to contain him and force him into jump shots, Contest his shots, but more importantly keep him out of the middle.”
Thoughts on Memphis’ Big Men
Marc Gasol is not Pau Gasol. Pau’s younger brother is a load inside. He has skill and touch, but he likes to bang and draw contact. Similarly, Zach Randolph is a very big body. The Hawks have struggled with big bodies this season (see lines for Shaq and Brooke Lopez) and will need to take the court tonight ready to bang. Interestingly enough, if Joe is forced to sit because of his elbow, it will open a spot on the bench for Etan Thomas, easily the Hawks biggest body. If Atlanta needs someone to go in and bang for a few minutes here and there, Etan may be the right guy for the job.
“They are a big ball club. They are a big team, a strong team. They’re a physical team. There are going to be some times where we are definitely going to have to match up with their size, but there may be some cases where I may force them to try to match up with us as well.”