The Big Picture: The Bobcats beat a relatively equal Raptors squad at home last night, and now they get to stroll into Memphis to face a Grizzlies team that oozes average-ness right now, but has room for growth.
Last year, Memphis surprised everyone (including themselves?) by gunning for a playoff spot in the second half of the season. This year, though it's clear they aren't Hubie Brown's Grizzlies, neither are they Big Country's Grizz, and they have a potent wing/big combo in Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.
Z-Bo, in particular, has been impressive because he's taking fewer shots and rebounding better than he ever has before. Though he'll never really be a defensive presence, it's not entirely crazy to regard him as a Carlos Boozer type, albeit one who occasionally thinks he can hit a three, even though it's pretty much outside his range.
While they've hit a speed bump in O.J. Mayo's development -- he's been coming off the bench -- he's still a major part of their future, and they haven't committed to anyone other than Mike Conley and Gay in a way that will prevent them from adding players who can affect real change.
For the Cats, our biggest concern going into tonight's game is probably Gerald Wallace's health. In the urgency of now, Gay and Randolph present the biggest challenges, but medium-to-long term, keeping Crash healthy is essential to keeping alive any kind of hope for the playoffs. He visibly limped through the second half of last night's game and didn't have nearly the lift he normally does, so if he does play tonight, they ought to treat him with kid gloves.
As a rosterbation side note, if there's a chance we can pry Hasheem Thabeet away from them for a pittance, we should strongly consider it. Thabeet is blocked by Marc Gasol, they're only playing him 8 minutes per game, and they seem to be allowing his obvious offensive ineptitude get in the way of recognizing his potential defensive excellence. Admittedly, he's been one of the very worst players in the league this year, and it was a horrific mistake to draft him where they did, but this also looks like a chance to buy low on a guy whose team has completely forsaken him rather quickly. While Larry Brown is probably the exact wrong guy to coach him (see: Milicic, Darko), it's not too late for some team to snatch him up and begin a real nurturing program.
Musical Interlude: Sarah Taylor and Bill Mumy -- "I've Got Some Presents for Santa"
Key to Victory: What would be ideal for Charlotte is forcing Memphis to play small, with Gasol on the bench and Randolph at the nominal center position, which would "allow" the Cats to play Boris Diaw and Tyrus Thomas together in the front court, their best lineup. Nazr Mohammed has been playing some fabulous offense the past few games, but he's also at a point in his career where it's probably good policy to limit his minutes so that he can contribute that above-average offense late in the season, too.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: I'm assisting my friend/co-worker, Chris Littmann, coach an 8-and-9 year-olds basketball team, and we're looking for team names. Suggestions welcome.