The Golden State Warriors (44-27) are hosting the Memphis Grizzlies (43-28) in a Western Conference showdown on Friday night. It is a must win game for both teams as they are each looking to be a playoff lock with just a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season. There are just three games separating the five through nine seeds in the stacked Western Conference and there is no room for error.
Heading into Friday night’s match-up, Memphis has won three straight and eight of their last ten. Since the return of center Mark Gasol they have made a furious push towards the postseason, going 26-9 and surpassing both the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks in the standings. They hope Golden State can be their next victim.
However, the Warriors have possibly more at stake than the Grizzlies. With rumors circulating about Mark Jackson’s relationship with management, the Warriors high offseason hopes need to come into fruition every game forward. Being able to sneak into the fifth seed and avoid playing their new in state rival Los Angeles Clippers in the first round would be a wise move. They would much rather face the Houston Rockets, especially considering today’s news of Patrick Beverley’s torn meniscus.
Memphis has had the Warriors number over the past few seasons. The dominance of both Zach and Randolph and Marc Gasol have been tough for the Warriors bigs to handle. While Warriors center Andrew Bogut is a defensive juggernaut, forward David Lee is not known for his defense to say the least. Friday may be a night when Mark Jackson decides to roll the dice on Jermaine O’neal, considering he is the much more physical player. O’neal has played well for Golden State this season, especially when called upon. These are the exact late season situations for which GM Bob Myers signed the 17 year former All-Star.
But whether or not Golden State can stop the Memphis frontcourt may be a moot point if the Grizzlies can’t stop the Warriors backcourt. Both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been on as of late. Curry is putting up his usual spectacular numbers, averaging nearly 28 points to go along with seven assists and four rebounds over his past five contests.
Thompson on the other hand has averaged nearly 20 points per game over the month of March while shooting nearly 50 percent. These are drastic improvements over the season’s previous months. But what’s been most impressive is Thompson’s perimeter defense. He has been a large part of the reason that the Warriors currently rank 3rd in the NBA in defensive rating.
Another key to their defensive success is Andre Iguodala. Iguodala has missed the Warriors last three games due to tendinitis in his right knee but is expected to be back in the starting lineup Friday night and should be a big boost.
Memphis is 2-1 against Golden State this season and is looking to win the season series and move into a tie for the sixth seed with them. The Warriors, however, have had a rare five days off and should be as fresh as a team could possibly be considering the current point in the season. With both teams hungry for a taste of the playoffs, Friday night should be a classic Western Conference showdown.
Commentary by Rich Peters