Mar 12, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) is guarded by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis Grizzlies (38-26) at Toronto Raptors (36-27): 3 keys to victory

Mar 12, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots between New Orleans Pelicans center Greg Stiemsma (34) and forward Anthony Davis (23) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Grizzlies defeated the Pelicans 90-88. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The talented Memphis Grizzlies visit the Air Canada Centre, a venue almost as friendly as their home court. Their last 5 trips here have all produced victories. The Toronto Raptors, who were able to hold off the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, a squad with a pair of dominant big men, must do it again. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will likely prove a much greater challenge, plus the Grizzlies have a vastly superior backcourt.

The Grizzlies have been extremely tough to beat when Gasol’s left knee hasn’t been injured. They are rounding into form as the playoffs approach, having won 6 of their last 7. The Grizz aren’t feasting on the tank brigade; they’ve punched out the Bulls and Blazers among others. Mike Conley starts at the point; he leads the team in points and assists, and will give Kyle Lowry a major workout. Courtney Lee has almost doubled his points per game since arriving in Tennessee from the rebuilding Celtics. Tayshaun Prince at small forward will get up close & personal with DeMar DeRozan. Prince uses his length, crazy-long arms and experience to bedevil opponents’ scorers. Gasol and Randolph have been together several seasons now, and are as good at big-to-big passing as you’re ever going to see. Both men will use their massive upper bodies to back down defenders, and have a ton of moves when close to the hoop. Oh yeah…Gasol was Defensive Player of the Year last season.

Their bench offers little relief. Mike Miller can still hit the long ball if he gets open. James Johnson would like nothing more than to hurt the team and the coach who traded him away, and looks like he’s back for good from the D-League. Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis (yes, that Ed Davis) will rebound and defend. Tony Allen is a useful backup guard.

If the Raptors are going to beat this formidable Western Conference opponent, they must:

  • run, then run some more. Randolph and Gasol aren’t fast, and can’t defend if the Raps get out in transition, then attack the basket before the twin towers get back.
  • hit their open 3-balls. The Grizz have allowed 157 more long balls than they have scored. Terrence Ross needs to snap out of his mini-slump.
  • keep Jonas Valanciunas in the game. While Tyler Hansbrough can help on D, we really need our big Lithuanian to push their bigs away from the paint. Amir Johnson will do his best, but he’s likely to be bullied. We may see a lot of Chuck Hayes.

The Raps are going to need solid shooting from their core players. Memphis doesn’t pile up the points; they prefer a grind-it-out playoff-style match. If the Raps can reach a century, a win is in the cards, so let’s call it 100-96 for our guys.

Tags: Memphis Grizzlies Toronto Raptors

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