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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When Marreese Speights started the season with the Sixers, he wasn’t able to get off the bench. Now starting for the Memphis Grizzlies in the absence of injured power forward Zach Randolph, he’s on the court more than he’s sitting.
When the Sixers look to break their three game losing streak tonight in Memphis, they’ll be facing a (recently) changed man in Speights. Averaging 14 points and more than 11 rebounds in his last four games, he looks like he’s finally hit his stride. Always a talented offensive player, Speights ended up settling for long jump shots too often in his time in Philadelphia. He’s learned the value of getting to the rim in Memphis and it shows. Speights is shooting 64% in his last four games. Perhaps he’s auditioning for minutes when his role becomes that of a backup, there’s been talk that Randolph could return as early as the first week of March.
The Sixers come into Memphis needing a win badly, losers of three in a row for the first time this season. Sunday night’s loss to the Timberwolves ended in frustrating fashion, with Andre Iguodala being called for a last second foul, allowing Kevin Love to hit game tying and then game winning free throws. Just before the foul, a Lou Williams jump shot could have essentially ended the game if it was taken just a couple of seconds later.
There will be plenty of matchups to watch tonight, aside of course from Speights vs. his old team. Rudy Gay leads the Grizzlies in in scoring, three point shooting, minutes, and is third on the team in rebounds. The job of guarding Gay will go to Andre Iguodala, who has had success on Gay in the past (aside from the time Gay dunked on him a year ago). The Grizzlies also have one of the top three centers in the league in Marc Gasol, who will be a tough assignment for anyone on the Sixers. Still without injured center Spencer Hawes, the job is likely to be split between Elton Brand, Lavoy Allen and Nikola Vucevic.
The Sixers have two games before the NBA’s All Star break, tonight in Memphis and tomorrow at the Houston Rockets.
**UPDATE** Sixers have announced that forward Elton Brand will miss tonight and tomorrow night’s game with a sprained thumb. Andres Nocioni will start in his place.
The game can be heard live on 610 WIP at 8pm.