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Hornets hit the road to take on Western Conference leading Grizzles

The Charlotte Hornets face off against the Memphis Grizzlies on the road on the second game of a back-to-back. Memphis currently sits atop the Western Conference at 5-1.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What: Charlotte Hornets at Memphis Grizzles

Where: FedEx Forum; Memphis, Tennessee

When: 8:00 p.m. EST

How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

So, you the Memphis Grizzles; the team that tends to get overlooked or counted out seemingly every season? Well, they’re 5-1 and in 1st place in the Western Conference. Just as we all expected.

With wins against the Warriors, Rockets, and Pelicans, the Grizzlies have proven themselves in the very early goings of the regular season. As surprising as it may seem, its more surprising they aren’t 6-0 given that their lone loss was against the 1-6 Mavericks.

As expected, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley lead the way. Gasol averages 21.8 points, 10.2 points, and 3.3 assists per game. Oh, and add in 1.8 blocks per game as well. Conley, meanwhile, averages 17.5 points, 4.0 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game.

Beyond them, however, just one other player — Tyreke Evans — averages double figures in scoring. In fact, Memphis ranks just 20th in points per game, and 28th in assists. Defense is their strength, where they are 3rd in points allowed at 94.2 per game. Even better, they rank 1st in opponent field goal percentage at 39.6 percent, and are the only team holding opponents to under 40 percent from the field (as of 10/29 anyways). They also defend the 3-point shot well, holding teams to 31.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Charlotte, on the other hand, sits right in the middle offensively, but they’ve cracked the top ten on defense (at least in points allowed). They have proven capable of turning up on both ends, as was the case last night against Orlando, but they’ve yet to string two good games together, and doing so tonight won’t be easy in the second game of a back-to-back.

That said, I like the balanced scoring so far. Four players — Walker, Howard, Jeremy Lamb, and Frank Kaminsky — are averaging at least 14 points per game, and all are shooting above 40 percent from the field.

Speaking of Kaminsky, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer is reporting the Hornets exercised the 4th-year option on Kaminsky’s rookie contract:

This was probably coming regardless, but his positive start to the season certainly makes the decision easier. Hopefully he can go tonight (he was a late scratch against Orlando due to illness).

On the defensive end, containing the two stars will be a priority. Gasol will be Dwight Howard’s biggest test yet. Howard has been effective at getting opposing centers into foul trouble; doing so with Gasol could be a way to contain him. But Gasol will test Howard, particularly from the perimeter, where the big man is currently shooting 40 percent from 3, averaging over four attempts per game. Gasol’s 3-point shooting is a new wrinkle to his game; however, and he remains a potent low-post threat.

Walker vs. Conley should be a fun matchup. The two both go under the radar as far as star point guards go, but are equally important to their team’s success. Conley averaged 22.5 points per game in two matchups against Charlotte last season, shooting over 50 percent from both the field and beyond the arc. Let’s hope that doesn’t continue tonight.

Along with those two, keep an eye on Evans, who shooting the ball well to start the season. Chandler Parsons has been prolific from deep, connecting on 61.1 percent of his 3-pointers on 3.6 attempts per game. Additionally, Rookie Dillon Brooks has been a nice surprise, and totaled 19 points and five rebounds in his debut.

I don’t expect a win tonight given the circumstances, but beating Memphis on the road on the second game of a back-to-back would certainly be a momentum builder.

Feel free to share your thoughts on tonight, and also look for a closer look at last night’s game coming at noon today.