WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: FOX Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS - Ben McLemore (Out, foot), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, quad), JaMychal Green (Out, ankle)
CHARLOTTE - Frank Kaminsky (Questionable, illness), Michael Carter-Williams (Questionable, knee), Julyan Stone (Out, hamstring), Nicolas Batum (Out, elbow)
PROBABLE STARTERS -
MEMPHIS: Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis III, Jarell Martin, Marc Gasol
CHARLOTTE: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Dwight Howard
The Memphis Grizzlies are the best team in the NBA.
No, that is not a typo. And yes, it is October 30th and only six basketball games have been played by the Bears of Beale Street. But it is still really cool, and a lot of fun, to say.
Here is proof, for posterity.
Mike Conley is off to a slow start? So what. Three likely rotation players, including two starters, are out with injury? No matter. These Memphis Grizzlies are walking tall, defending their tails off, and relying on a strong October from their bench on their way to a 5-1 start.
This is the best start to a season for the Grizzlies since the 2014-2015 campaign, when Memphis extended their early winning ways to a remarkable 21-4 record through their first 25 games. They were arguably the best team in the NBA at that point too, with a much larger sample size...
Until, of course, they weren’t.
By no means should anyone rain on the parade of these Grizzlies, who have shown real grit as they grind their way through this early October slate (see what I did there?). Those 2014-2015 Grizzlies won 55 games, nothing to stick your nose up at by any stretch, as the second best single season win total in franchise history. This is more of an acknowledgement that these prosperous times can be fleeting, and that we have a lot more basketball ahead of us.
The challenge for David Fizdale and his team is to keep racking up early wins and start out with a lead over those competing with them for playoff positioning. They cannot be content with being at the top of the NBA in October - it is a marathon, not a sprint.
The race continues tonight against a Charlotte team on the second night of a back to back, having beaten Orlando (Memphis’ next opponent) last night. How does Memphis take advantage and secure a winning home stand?
Play Kemba to a Draw
Mike Conley has started slow this season as teams focus in more on him as the straw that stirs the offensive drink of the Grizzlies. It will probably take time for Mike to adjust to this new reality of being the focal point of opposing teams’ defensive game plans. Roughly 40% from the floor overall and 31% from beyond the arc are well below the standard Grizzlies fans, and Conley himself surely, have set for our Conductor.
Enter Kemba Walker.
Kemba absolutely destroyed the Orlando Magic last night. 34 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 15-25 shooting. Walker wasn’t efficient shooting from three (2-7) but he beat up on a surprisingly good Magic team who was without Elfrid Payton, their starting point guard. Kemba is capable of these kinds of performances every night.
Mike doesn’t need to put up that kind of a stat line, but he does need to play even with Walker. He must limit his offensive potential on the defensive end, and he has to try to get in a rhythm on offense. Look for the Grizzlies to try to get Conley going early through pick and roll sets and off-ball screens, trying to tire out Walker if he is given the Conley defensive assignment.
Be Better on the Glass
Of course the Grizzlies were going to have some growing pains while changing over this roster. One of the areas where it was most expected was rebounding, considering that they lost a still-almost-elite rebounder in Zach Randolph and a wing in Tony Allen who had an elite season last year on the glass. Those struggles don’t extend to Marc Gasol, who has answered the call to be a better rebounder to the tune of 10.2 per game, but beyond him, it’s rough. The next two leading glass cleaners for Memphis? Tyreke Evans (5.7 per game) and James Ennis III (5.2 per game).
That isn’t going to cut it.
Charlotte, meanwhile, is 5th in the NBA in total rebounding, led by long-time dominant rebounder Dwight Howard and athletically inclined Cody Zeller. The Hornets give themselves a chance in games by limiting second chance opportunities for their opponents, as they rank 2nd in defensive rebounds in particular. The Grizzlies offense is still finding its rhythm, especially among the starters, and every extra shot they can generate is valuable.
Jarell Martin and anyone else who eats those minutes at the four has to be better at attacking the boards.
This Charlotte team will not simply lie down for Memphis. They have several players, like Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who are quite gritty in their own right and won’t shy away from the challenge of these new-look Grizzlies. They won’t be impressed by a win over the Warriors, or two victories against the Rockets. The Hornets will come to play.
The non-Marc-and-Mike starters for Memphis have to do a better job supporting Conley and Gasol so that they don’t have to expend so much energy to get a lead early in the game. The bench has to stay relatively hot - maybe not Chandler Parsons 24 points hot, but Chandler Parsons 10-14 points hot - for the Grizzlies to build upon anything the starters get. And they cannot allow players like Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky if he plays, who are currently averaging over 17 points and 14 points per game, respectively, to take over the contest.
Look for Conley to rise to the challenge and have a more Mike-esque performance as Memphis wins a close one by pulling away late.
Memphis 105, Charlotte 98