WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Memphis- JaMychal Green (Out- Ankle), Wayne Selden Jr. (Doubtful- Quad), Ben McLemore (Out- Foot)
Dallas- Seth Curry (Out- Leg), Josh McRoberts (Out- Knee)
MEMPHIS - Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis III, Jarell Martin, Marc Gasol
DALLAS - Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, Nerlens Noel
Editor’s Note: This preview has been edited to be up to date with the second night of this back to back.
This is more fun than we thought it would be, right?
Even the most optimistic of Grizzlies fans probably wouldn’t have imagined Memphis would be sitting at 3-1 heading into this home and home back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks. With the New Orleans Pelicans, Golden State Warriors, and Houston Rockets all on the schedule to begin the 2017-2018 campaign, 2-1 seemed to be the realistic, if not hopeful, goal.
And yet, here we are.
Led by a dominant Marc Gasol, timely Mike Conley contributions, and a team defense that appears to be far ahead of where most thought it would be at this stage, Memphis is currently among the best of the Western Conference. The other two western undefeateds - the Clippers and Spurs - were expected by most to be playoff teams (L.A.) or in the mix to contend (San Antonio). Lots of preseason prognostications had the Grizzlies falling out of this level of competition...
So far, they’re wrong.
But games like tonight are ones that will matter more in April than people realize. As great as the start to this season has been, there will be down times over the span of a long, 82-game run. Memphis needs to rack up as many early wins as possible. Against a Dallas team on the opposite end of the conference rankings, the Grizzlies hopefully make it a priority to buck the trend of past squads and not play down to the level of their competition...like they did last night
If they do it again tonight, it will be a tough middle of Texas Week. Here are some things to watch for.
Dealing with Small Ball
Dirk Nowitzki started at center in Dallas’ game against the Golden State Warriors. He started the game there as well on Opening Night, but between that game and this two-game series with the Grizzlies, Dirk and his Mavericks have used multiple different starting lineups. It was more of the same last night, as Nerlens Noel slid in to the starting lineup for Yogi Ferrell. Part of that has to do with health, while surely another piece to that has to involve the fact that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle isn’t quite sure what he has on this Dallas roster. Dirk is the constant, and Harrison Barnes is a key cog in the Dallas machine moving forward, as is rookie Dennis Smith Jr.
From there? Things are up in the air. Noel, the subject of free agency drama this past offseason, has been coming off the bench more often than not as the Mavericks try to get as much shooting and athleticism on the floor as possible while still starting the elder statesman Dirk. This could come in handy for Memphis, especially with Marc Gasol playing as well as he has been the past two games. Dirk has never been known as a dominant defender, but at this stage of his career he cannot hang with Gasol. Neither can Barnes in the post.
Or, Carlisle could stick with these starters to try to deal with the dominant Gasol. Depending on Carlisle’s adjustments to the lineup, it could be a very good night for Marc.
The Bench Mob Cometh
Much has been made in recent days of just how good the Grizzlies bench has been so far this season. Led by Mario Chalmers and Tyreke Evans (who closed out Monday’s game against the Rockets alongside Gasol/Conley/Ennis), this group has outperformed all expectations. They have not just maintained leads handed to them by the starters; they have built upon them. They haven’t just scored the basketball at a high clip; they have defended very well. Even rookie Dillon Brooks, who cooled off against the Rockets Monday but still did some good things, and Chandler Parsons, who is looking more and more comfortable on the floor, are contributing to the success.
Add in the athleticism and ability to run of Brandan Wright, and you have a dangerous crew. They are playing so well that there have been times this season where fans have been clamoring for the reserves to start coming in the game. That’s rarely (if ever) happened in the time I have been following this team. Meanwhile, Dallas’ main minutes contributors off the bench so far this season have been the previously mentioned Noel, J.J. Barea, Dwight Powell, and Dorian Finney-Smith. While those players are no slouches, they have not shown the ability as a group to play together as well as the Grizzlies reserves so far this season.
Noel and Barea are the key. If the Grizzlies can keep those two in check, the bench should see another game of stellar play. The bench struggled Wednesday in Dallas. Here’s to hoping some home cooking helps Memphis’ reserves.
Keep Bringing the Effort
A major reason the Grizzlies defense is so ahead of where so many thought it would be is the culture that has been established in Memphis. This is the long-term “Grit and Grind” mentality of hard work and effort on that end of the floor that has been ingrained in players like Conley and Gasol, but also David Fizdale’s more short-term vision and scheme at work. Combining the switching and movement of Fizdale’s defensive calls with the blue-collar work ethic that has become a calling card of the Grizzlies, and you have a defense that currently ranks 6th in the NBA in efficiency at 96.7 points per 100 possessions.
The players are skilled as well, of course. The athleticism and length that the Grizzlies committed to emphasizing this offseason is paying off early. But as the season continues on, for Memphis to maintain their standing as an elite team on the defensive end of the floor they must remain committed to what has gotten them here. Execution of scheme and complete effort has to stay at the forefront, as the defensive side of the game feeds these Grizzlies on the offensive end as well.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Remember, this serves as the preview for both games, as there will be no new preview for the game Thursday night in Memphis. The Grizzlies will need Mike Conley to be more present offensively the entire game for Memphis to pull out a victory. They also will be depending on that bench, since the first back-to-back of the season for the Grizzlies probably means Coach Fizdale monitoring minutes more than maybe he usually would.
These are games that Memphis should win. But history tells us that it is hard to sweep a back to back against the same team - the Grizzlies weren’t able to do it against the Cavaliers last season, or against the Miami Heat (although that home and home had a day off in between). These Grizzlies also have had a history of allowing for lesser teams to hang around with them. This Mavericks team isn’t as good as the Cavs, or maybe even that Heat squad from a year ago. They still have shooters who can get hot, though, as well as Carlisle, who remains one of the very best coaches the NBA has to offer.
Memphis should win both against the Mavs...and that will be the prediction here. But do not be surprised if the Grizzlies slip in one of these contests, with the most likely candidate being tonight. (Editor’s note: Hey, I was kind of right.)
GAME ONE PREDICTION- Memphis 105, Dallas 101 (Final was Dallas 104 Memphis 93)
GAME TWO PREDICTION- Memphis 108, Dallas 95