The Other Side: Memphis Grizzlies
Every time the Wizards head to Memphis for a game, it always takes me back to the first regular season game I covered for the Post in 2004. It also happened to be Antawn Jamison's first game as a Wizard and it set the tone for the leadership and the level of production he has provided for the team. With Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes serving suspensions, Jamison had 34 points and eight rebounds that night in leading the team to an impressive win.
The news that Jamison injured his knee is troubling considering injuries to Arenas and Brendan Haywood. Although Jamison said his knee felt better last night, the Haywood injury that Ivan wrote about this morning has to you make to feel a bit nervous that injuries will again be a recurring theme this season for a franchise that hasn't been at full strength in the playoffs the past two seasons.
Anyway, the remaining Wizards actually have an opponent tonight at Fed Ex Forum - Grizzlies. And they are on in the midst of an extreme youth movement this season that should lead to more lumps for that beleaguered franchise - but also some excitement with Rudy Gay, rookie O.J. Mayo and second-year point guard Mike Conley Jr.
Memphis lost to the Houston Rockets, 96-93, in their preseason debut last night.
Here are some things to look out for with the Grizzlies.
1. Rudy Gay Rising
Rudy Gay truly blossomed after the Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol last summer and effectively placed the franchise in his hands. Gay went on to average 20.1 points becoming the third 20-point scorer in franchise history with Gasol and the recently retired Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He was in the running for most improved player after raising his scoring average by 9.2 points. The Grizzlies are expecting even more from the Baltimore native this season. He struggled with foul trouble last night, but here is what Coach Marc Iavaroni told the Memphis Commerical-Appeal about him:
Iavaroni said that Gay's shown more than physical maturity is a good sign in terms of his ability to lead.
"He's starting to understand that he doesn't just have to lead us in scoring. He's got to lead us in other areas that help teams win making the extra pass and making the big play as opposed to just making the big shot," Iavaroni said. "He's going to get more attention this year because teams will feel if they can clamp him down then the other guys have to perform. That's what's going to happen when you're the star of a team."
2. Extra Mayo
On draft night, O.J. Mayo started out as the reluctant top pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves and ended up in Memphis. Upgrade? Not exactly. But that hasn't affected his attitude about being the NBA, no matter where he plays. The Grizzlies took a chance on him because they thought he had potential to be a huge star, much more than Kevin Love, the player they sent to Minnesota in exchange for Mayo. He has dazzled his teammates thus far and showed a serious competitive streak when he nearly got into an altercation with Darko Milicic. Here's what Ron Tillery wrote about him in the Commercial Appeal:
. . . Mayo, who will turn 21 in a month, is impressing teammates and coaches with maturity that seems to extend beyond his years. They say Mayo's basketball instincts distinguish him from most 20-year-olds. If he seems unflappable, it's because Mayo draws from vast and high-end basketball experiences. He was a part of the 2008 U.S. Select Team that helped the Olympic Team prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Mayo often played opposite Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in those Las Vegas sessions. "I held my own," said Mayo . . .
3. The New Gasol
The most bizarre trade of the season involved Pau Gasol being dealt for Kwame Brown, but the oddest part of the deal was that Gasol was traded for his younger brother, Marc. Pau Gasol fell out of favor with fans of the Grizzlies because, despite his gruff exterior, he had a reputation for being a bit too soft and unwilling to get rough.
His brother, Marc, however, is a bit of brute who isn't afraid to bang - and he has a gruff exterior to boot. Marc Gasol was impressive for Spain during the Olympics, providing a solid interior presence, and Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace saw his acquisition as an extra first-round pick, although Marc Gasol was drafted in the second round in 2007.
Gay had a pretty nice comment on him, although it seem to smack Pau across the face:
An argument could be made that Marc has accomplished something quicker than Pau did in a Griz uniform -- Marc's already earned his teammates' respect. He's diving for loose balls, rebounding with force and finishing strongly around the rim."Whereas Pau is a guy who would rather play out on the perimeter, Marc doesn't mind banging with guys," swingman Rudy Gay said. "He's doesn't mind confrontation down there (in the paint). That's kind of refreshing. He wants to be his own player, and he's working toward that. He's definitely asserting himself."
Marc Gasol then added this comment which should endear him to the fans in Memphis:
"If I have to fight somebody, I will fight somebody," Gasol said. "I like the contact close to the basket. I'm willing to do everything I have for the franchise and the city. Whatever coach wants me to do, I'll do."
October 8, 2008; 11:03 AM ET
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