Updated: January 21, 2013, 8:10 PM ET

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Pacers-Grizzlies: Which Will Go Deeper?

By Kevin Pelton
ESPN Insider

When the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies square off in Monday's annual matinee celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., both teams might feel like they're looking in the mirror. In a league trending toward smaller lineups, the Pacers and Grizzlies feature inside-out offenses built around a pair of quality big men. Those post players also anchor elite defenses. There's one key difference between the two teams, and it's one that could determine Memphis' direction before the trade deadline -- the Grizzlies are stuck in the loaded Western Conference, while Indiana has an easier playoff path in the East.

In November, it looked like the Grizzlies might render such concerns moot by joining the West's elite. Along with the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis was the surprise of the early season, starting 12-2 behind a suddenly elite offense. After rating no better than average in offensive rating during their current run of contention, the Grizzlies used unexpectedly hot shooting to surge to fifth in the league in offensive rating in November.

Whereas the Clippers were able to maintain and even improve upon their own fast start, Memphis' proved to be a fluke. (Or maybe, more appropriately for a team that used to play in the Pyramid, a mirage.) The Grizzlies' offense collapsed in December, sinking to 28th in the NBA, but they were able to compensate by tying -- with Indiana, naturally -- for the second-best defense on a per-possession basis.

Memphis' offense has rebounded a bit in January, but the defense has lacked the same bite. That's why the Grizzlies were beaten soundly in three consecutive 20-point losses last week. The distraction of trade rumors was blamed, but it's difficult to discern why Memphis was able to shake off the rumors for a hard-fought overtime win over San Antonio right before the losing streak. More realistically, the Grizzlies have such a thin margin of error with their current offense that they are vulnerable to blowouts when one thing -- like Rudy Gay's absence due to personal reasons against the Clippers -- goes wrong against elite opposition.

Read the full story at ESPN Insider Insider

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