WHERE: Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah
WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN
MEMPHIS-- Marc Gasol (back soreness-probable), Kyle Anderson (illness-questionable), JaMychal Green (broken jaw-out)
UTAH--Thabo Sefolosha (suspension-out), Raul Neto (right hamstring-out)
MEMPHIS-Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Chandler Parsons, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marc Gasol
UTAH-Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
For at least a few days, it appears that the sky isn’t falling in Memphis.
On Friday night, the Memphis Grizzlies reminded everyone that they are in fact good at basketball with a 131-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. It was a much-needed win and morale boost after a pitiful opening loss to the Indiana Pacers.
However, in order for the Grizzles to have their first winning streak of the season, they will have to beat what will likely be one of the best teams in the league in the Utah Jazz on the road in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz are off to a solid start to the season. On opening night, they defeated the admittedly-hapless Sacramento Kings. They also lost to the Golden State Warriors on a last second tip-in by...*checks notes*...Jonas Jerebko?
Man, losing to the Warriors because Jonas Jerebko beat you is like surviving a nuclear bomb only to die because you later tripped over a piece of furniture and broke your neck.
Life is truly cruel sometimes.
Existential dread aside, here a few things to watch for as the Memphis Grizzlies take on the Utah Jazz tonight.
The Future is Now
Poor JaMychal Green. He struggles to catch a break as much as Wayne Selden Jr. struggles to catch a basketball.
For now the second straight year, Green has suffered a freak injury during the Grizzlies’ home opener that will cause him to miss extended time. He broke his jaw against the Hawks on Friday, and he will now miss 4-6 weeks.
Since the Grizzlies were already relatively thin in the front court, they really have only two options for replacing Green in the starting lineup.
Of course, they could start Jaren Jackson Jr., the possible Rookie of the Year and universally accepted future of the franchise who is coming off a spectacular second game in the Association in which he had 24 points and 7 rebounds. His transcendent two-way talent will allow him to mesh perfectly with Marc Gasol. Also, he is already far and away the third best player on the team and probably should have already been starting in the first place.
Or the Grizzlies can start Kyle Anderson.
What a tough decision!
A Look at Both the Present and Future of Marc Gasol
Although most of the discussion was centered around the NBA draft, there was still a major question that both intrigued and haunted fans of the Memphis Grizzlies over the offseason: Who really is Marc Gasol as a basketball player in 2018?
There were certainly many other factors involved, especially in a tanking season, but Gasol’s statistical regression last year made many wonder if he is still close to the same player that he was. Was last season merely a fluke in a lost year? Or is he beginning a drastic physical decline?
Obviously, no answer can be found within the first few games of the season. After a rough preseason and awful season-opener, Gasol did rebound with a performance closer to his standard against the Hawks, as he finished with 13 points on 4-7 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.
However, a clearer picture of Marc Gasol’s current state will be seen in his matchup with Rudy Gobert, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best centers in the league.
If Gasol can have a vintage performance against Gobert, it will go a long way toward easing people’s fears about him. It will give people hope that the present Marc Gasol is close to the same player that he was in the past and that he will continue to be close to that same player in the future.
A Real Test Against the Elite
Last season, the Utah Jazz went 48-34 while Rudy Gobert missed 26 games. Although he is still a young player, Donovan Mitchell has had another summer of development after playing at an all-star level during the second half of last season. Joe Ingles is also playing like Larry Bird if Larry Bird looked like your mother’s gynecologist.
The point is this: The Utah Jazz are among the NBA’s best and are only getting better. They will likely be competing for home court advantage at the end of the season.
If the Memphis Grizzlies want to prove to everyone that they are playoff contenders once again, they will have to show that they can compete with—and possibly beat—the NBA’s elite. Beating the Jazz on the road would set the tone for a successful season to come.
The Memphis Grizzlies will win a close and thrilling game to establish that the misery of last year will be entirely staying with last year. To be sure, the Utah Jazz are undoubtedly the superior team, but the Grizzlies have a running trend in recent years of defeating superior opponents in the early part of the season. That trend will continue tonight.
Of course, many things will have to go the Grizzlies’ way for them to pull this off on the road. Mike Conley will have to dominate his matchup with Ricky Rubio, and Marc Gasol will at least have to play Rudy Gobert to a standstill. Jaren Jackson Jr. will have to continue his excellence from his game against the Hawks.
Also, Garrett Temple’s shooting is going to come crashing back down to earth so hard that it will kill the ghosts of the dinosaurs. But with an impressive showing from the other members of the Grizzlies’ supporting cast, it won’t matter in the end.
Memphis- 108, Utah- 106