This morning I wrote a bit about not knowing just how improved the Toronto Raptors are with Rudy Gay, despite a recent five-game winning streak.
Tonight, as the Dinos look for win number six, we may find out, as they take on a very tough Memphis Grizzly team, Rudy Gay's former club in fact.
The Grizz come into this game on a hot streak of their own, winning their last four, righting a ship that was starting to lose its bearing. 6 and 4 in their last 10, Memphis is coming off a 105 to 91 win over the Detroit Pistons, and has taken advantage of a stretch of matches against some of the NBA's weaker clubs (Detroit, Sacramento and Minny.)
They perhaps aren't viewed as potential NBA finalists at the moment, an honour bestowed upon them earlier in the year, but this should prove to be Toronto's toughest test post Rudy Gay, since they faced off against the Miami Heat.
Here are our three keys:
1) Opposites Don't Attract: One of the more interesting things about tonight's match-up, is how opposite these clubs are in many ways. The Grizzlies win by playing defence, the second most efficient defense in the league in fact. Their offence though isn't so efficient ranking 18th.
The Raps are of course on the opposite end of things this season. While Dwane Casey won games with D last year, this year, it's with O. The club is in the league's top 10 in terms of offensive efficiency and 23rd overall by the same metric, on the defensive end.
So the biggest key tonight is likely the O vs D match-up. Whichever team does a better job playing to their strengths, likely gets this W.
2) Rudy Gay: I've been completely fascinated by Rudy Gay since his acquisition by the Raptors. His top level metrics look great (21 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.6 steals), but his percentages and certain other metrics leave little to be desired. He's shooting a career-worst 38 per cent from the field, including a career-worst 24 per cent from long-range, and his offensive rating is the lowest it's been since his rookie season (96.)
And yet there's no question he's been a boost to this club in various ways. From an overall club perspective, as I noted this AM, I'm still not sure, but there's no question players like DeMar DeRozan look much more comfortable now, and that's backed up by various metrics.
So again tonight I'll be trying to dissect his performance to gauge his impact on this club. This evening's match of course puts him under a wider lens too, as he faces his former team, one that he said some not so positive things about upon leaving. Toronto will need him to be at the top of his game though, and with likely no Wale in attendance, he'll need to self-motivate.
3) Bring Out the Window Washers: Maybe the biggest factor tonight though is the battle in the paint, particularly in terms of rebounding. The Grizzlies possess a formidable pair of big men in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and only added to their staple of bigs via Ed Davis' acquisition. Davis finally got some solid run last night putting up 14 points and four blocks, and he, the aforementioned duo, and the likes of Darrell Arthur, will be a load for the undersized Raptors.
Memphis sports the best offensive rebounding rate in the league (Toronto is 22nd in this metric) so if the Raps don't hunker down and protect the paint, they'll likely be in for a lonnnnng night.