WHERE: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana
WHEN: 6:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: FOX Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Ben McLemore (Questionable, knee), Deyonta Davis (Questionable, knees), Mario Chalmers (Questionable, hamstring), Dillon Brooks (Questionable, knee), JaMychal Green (Doubtful, ankle), Mike Conley (Out, heel), Chandler Parsons (Out, knee), James Ennis III (Out, illness)
INDIANA- Lance Stephenson (Questionable, thigh), Glenn Robinson (Out, knee)
MEMPHIS- Andrew Harrison, Wayne Selden Jr., Dillon Brooks, Jarell Martin, Marc Gasol
INDIANA- Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
At the bleakest point of the season, when it felt like the Grizzlies were on a fast-track to the bottom, they won. Memphis beat the Phoenix Suns on Monday night, another team barrelling towards the basement of the NBA. Every day is the first day of the rest of the season, and this day brings about a new challenge.
While the perception around the league pre-season was that the Indiana Pacers would be like one of those two teams, they’ve surpassed expectations by a long shot. Their pre-season win over/under was 31.5 according to Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas. They’re already at 28 and on pace to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference led by new All-Star Victor Oladipo. This test is going to be much harder for the Grizzlies tonight.
On the Memphis side, they are playing better lately. They’ve been able to avoid cratering over the past six weeks despite an awful season. The Grizz haven’t lost more than two games in a row since mid-December. That doesn’t sound like much, but avoiding a pit of despair during this type of season says a lot about the players and coaches’ commitment.
To determine who will come out on top when the Grizzlies take on a tough Pacers team on the road, here are a couple of keys to watch throughout the contest.
Who can stop Victor Oladipo?
Nothing makes me quite as happy as seeing a player put everything together and come into his own. Some are late-bloomers, some shine early, but Victor Oladipo has become an All-Star player in his fifth year, as he was given the freedom of his very own team in Indiana after he and Domantas Sabonis were traded for Paul George. Playing with Russell Westbrook is difficult for a player who needs the ball in his hand and now that Oladipo is the primary ball-handler, his full skill-set can be used.
Oladipo’s been his best this season by just about every available metric. He leads his team in usage rate while also being 2nd in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. He’s notching career-highs in PPG, APG, steals per game, FG%, 3P%, and According to nbawowy.com, their offensive rating drops by 5 points-per-100 possessions when Victor Oladipo sits. Not only that, but their defensive rating gets dramatically worse too, going from 107.0 when he’s on the court to 118.5 when he’s off the court. While the defense does a great job being anchored by Myles Turner (more on that later), the offense is in Dipo’s hands.
Forcing the game in his hands might make the Pacers even more-equipped to win the game. Wayne Selden, Dillon Brooks, and whoever else may be guarding him needs to be ready to hound him on pick-and-rolls, where he ranks in the 87th percentile in the league in efficiency.
Interior defense and you
The Pacers are one of the most three-pointer-averse teams in the league. They rank 27th in the league in 3-point rate. So unless they turn into the Rockets and jack up 35 threes on Wednesday night, Memphis will have to make sure their rim protection and interior defense are up to snuff. That includes stopping their drives on the perimeter and contesting shots at the rim.
Indiana is 9th in the league at shots within 5 feet, however they are dead-center in the league, 15th, at actually making those shots. The Grizzlies are ranked 6th and--yeesh--24th in the same categories. So the Grizzlies take a lot of easy shots, but miss them. That might explain the whole losing record hubbub. However, on the defensive end, the Pacers allow the 2nd-highest field goal percentage within that range and the Grizzlies rank 18th. Rim protection hasn’t been a problem for the Grizzlies, but it could be without JaMychal Green and (possibly) Deyonta Davis.
Myles Turner’s rim protection has been great for Indiana in the limited time he’s played. Turner faces more shots within 6 feet than anybody in the NBA, 7.8 such attempts a game, and allows a paltry 56% on the “easiest” shots available. He’s only played in 35 games, when he does play, his rim protection is key. So the Grizzlies need to take advantage of Sabonis when he’s on the court and do well on long-range shots if Turner is rejecting shots--which he’s likely to do, as he leads the NBA in block percentage as well.
Memphis has been playing better basketball than their valleys of the season. This is true. But it’s still hard to feel confident in them winning a game ahead of time, particularly a road game. Memphis has a horrible road record, and honestly, just because they won on Monday, I’m assuming they lose Wednesday night. If that’s the only reason that they lose, I won’t be surprised. Fate is weird.
For basketball reasons, I just don’t know how effective Memphis’ defense is going to be against Indiana. They have a top-10 offense and good young talent while Memphis is coming to the fight young, but less heralded, players. With the injury report the Grizzlies are sporting, the margin of error to succeed is significantly smaller.
Indiana Pacers 113, Memphis Grizzlies 96