Which Grizzlies await Raptors?

Grizzlies centre Marc Gasol drives around Spurs forward DeJuan Blair in San Antonio, Texas on...

Grizzlies centre Marc Gasol drives around Spurs forward DeJuan Blair in San Antonio, Texas on December 18, 2010. (JOE MITCHELL/Reuters)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:10 PM ET

TORONTO - With the holiday break over, the Raptors made their way to Memphis on Sunday, but what was awaiting them there was uncertain.

The Grizzlies are one tough team to figure out.

Are they the outfit that stampeded through the pre-season with an 8-0 mark?

The squad that has had four- and three-game winning streaks this season?

Or the one that had lost three in a row — heading into Sunday’s game against Indiana — that had also dropped five and four straight at other points of the season?

Though the Grizzlies sit last in their division, on paper they are a much better team than the Raptors and are made up of all kinds of players that traditionally give the Raptors fits.

There’s athleticism to spare in the form of Rudy Gay — who is posting career numbers in most offensive categories — and size with centre Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph, an imposing combination down low thanks to size, strength and a bevy of post moves.

Gasol and especially Randolph have had some massive games against Toronto in the past.

Last season, Randolph averaged 27 points and nine rebounds in two meetings and back in 2004, Randolph went off for 60 combined points and 32 rebounds over two games against the Raptors.

Meanwhile, the burly Gasol has shot almost 60% from the field against Toronto over the course of his career. Without a true centre on the roster and given Amir Johnson’s propensity to pick up fouls, stopping that duo could be an insurmountable task on Monday night.

Meanwhile, point guard Mike Conley has come into his own after being rewarded with a contract extension and is a super-quick distributor who causes havoc in the passing lanes thanks to his instincts and aggressiveness defensively.

What Memphis lacks is depth and consistent play out of the two-guard spot. The drama constantly swirling around the franchise due to poor attendance and a penny-pinching owner also surely has a poisonous effect on the players.

Former franchise cornerstone O.J. Mayo was shuffled off to the bench for a spell before being reinstated over rookie Xavier Henry — who held out when owner Michael Heisley didn’t want to pay him the rookie scale salary every other rookie receives. Mayo’s shooting has abandoned him and his offensive numbers have fallen sharply almost across the board, but he is back with the first unit and will go up against fellow USCproduct DeMar DeRozan.

The Grizz have also received precious little out of former No. 2 overall draft pick Hasheem Thabeet. The 7-foot-3 project has not managed to advance at all since joining the team last season and has been offered league-wide on the trade market with no takers.

Despite those issues and the assorted losing skids, Memphis has beaten powerhouses Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles, so there is no question taking the team lightly based on its poor 12-17 record would be a mistake by the Raptors.

Memphis is much closer to the middle of the NBA’s pack than it is to the cellar-dwellars.

Memphis has a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 106.3, which is 14th in the league. The Raptors, on the other hand, have a won-loss record only two games worse, but a defensive rating of 111.5, 27th in the league.

Couple the Grizzlies’ ability to score in transition or inside and Toronto’s failure to stop opponents from dominating in transition or scoring down low against them and this could be an ugly one for the visitors.

But as these Grizzlies have established, nobody, including the Raptors, can really be sure what to expect out of them.


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