Conley Key Defensive Cog For Surging Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference thanks in large part to its consistently strong defensive effort. A key cog for the Grizzlies, which ranks second in the NBA in points allowed at just 89.6 points a game, is ball-hawking point guard Michael Conley.

The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA draft out of Ohio State, Conley is considered to be among the best perimeter defenders in the entire league. He leads the NBA with 119 steals this season, which is just ahead of Chris Paul (115) and comes just two years after setting a franchise-record for steals in a season with 144 in 2010-2011.

Pair Conley’s defensive production with the rough-and-rugged inside duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and you can see why only the Indiana Pacers are allowing fewer points per game (89.4) than the Grizzlies.

It’s not just on the defensive end that Conley has proven to be a valuable piece for the Grizzlies. He is also a solid facilitator and adequate shooter at the point guard position. Conley leads the team in assists with 5.9 a game while also averaging 13.3 points a game, which is a solid number for a team’s third option on offense.

As you consider your NBA picks for this week, note the Grizzlies are an excellent 34-23-1 against the spread thanks in large part to Conley’s steady hand at the point guard position. They have also won nine of their last 10 games straight-up to inch within just two games of the Los Angeles Clippers for the West’s No. 2 seed.

This week the Grizzlies have three very winnable games against Portland on Wednesday, at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and at home against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday. Three straight games against non-playoff contenders means the Grizzlies excellent run isn’t likely to end soon.

Mo Williams Nearly Back From Injury

Twenty-four games into the NBA season, Mo Williams went down with a thumb injury. Little did he know that he would be spending the better part of three months on the shelf for the Utah Jazz. The timetable isn’t quite definite for when the point guard will be returning to the fold, but we know that it will be sooner than later, giving the Jazz a real boost in their push for the playoffs in the Western Conference.

The timing couldn’t be better for Williams. He was averaging 12.9 points and 6.7 assists per game when he was the starting point guard for this team, but he has since been replaced by Jamaal Tinsley, who has been ineffective at best.

The Jazz currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference, and they are one of the five teams that are separating by just a total of five games in the standings. Three will get into the second season. Two will be left behind.

Utah has had problems on the road all year long, as demonstrated by its 11-19 ATS mark and its 10-20 SU record. The team is on the road for the next three games, facing the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and New York Knicks before coming home for three of the next our and heading out for three more in the Lone Star State. Williams’ return would be a huge boost for the team.

Williams joined the Jazz this year in the offseason after playing for the Los Angeles Clippers for a season and a half. Making NBA picks is going to be a heck of a lot easier with Williams in the fold than to be counting on Tinsley, who should immediately go back to the bench and become a reserve player once again for this playoff-hopeful club.

DeRozan Helping To Carry Raptors

The Toronto Raptors made the boldest play of the trading season, picking up Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. Many figured that would make the men from the Great White North instant contenders to get into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. It isn’t going to happen in all likelihood after a four-game losing streak to end February/start March, but this is still a team that many won’t want to mess with down the stretch.

DeMar DeRozan has quietly become a huge success for the Raptors. He is having the best season of his four-year career, averaging 17.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Many figured that when Gay came to take, DeRozan would fall off of the map, but that just hasn’t been the case.

Over the course of the last nine games, DeRozan has continued his push as one of the most underrated scorers in the NBA. He has averaged 19.7 points per game since February 12th, putting him on one of the better runs for players in the Eastern Conference since that point.

Unfortunately for Toronto, it hasn’t been the best team to make NBA picks on down the stretch. The team has failed to cover four in a row, and DeRozan is seemingly doing better in games in which the team isn’t covering than when it is. The Southern Cal native has averaged 19.2 points per game over the course of the last six that the Raptors haven’t covered. He is only averaging 17.3 points per game in the last four in which they have beaten the spread.

DeRozan is setting a career-high for scoring (17.8 PPG), rebounding (4.1 RPG), assists (2.5 APG), steals (1.0 SPG), and free throw shooting percentage (83.1%) this season, and if he can carry this into next season with Gay, the Raptors might ultimately become one of the scarier teams in the East.