WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: FOX Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Mario Chalmers (Questionable, ankle), Mike Conley (Out, heel), Chandler Parsons (Out, illness), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, knee)
CLEVELAND- Kevin Love (Out, hand)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP-
MEMPHIS- Andrew Harrison, Tyreke Evans, Dillon Brooks, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
CLEVELAND- George Hill, J.R. Smith, Cedi Osman, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson
Oh hi, Grizzlies.
It’s been a while.
After a nice, long All-Star Break, your Memphis Grizzlies return to the home hardwood of FedExForum tonight to begin the home stretch of their season. It’s different this year than it’s been in the past seven seasons - gone are aspirations of playoff races and prime seeding. They’ve been replaced by daily checks of tankathon.com and breaks at work watching college highlight reels (in-between reading GBB articles, of course).
No longer the team no one wants to play, Memphis returns to the reality of now tonight with their Grizzlies. No postseason. No Believe Memphis. Only lottery wishes and Marvin Bagley III dreams.
The race to the bottom, and the subsequent end of this lost campaign for the Grizzlies, resumes tonight against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is reborn in the wake of an active trade deadline. Cleveland and their leader, the greatest player in the NBA today (and maybe of all-time) LeBron James, somehow turned over roughly half their roster and got younger, healthier, and more athletic, all while not giving up the coveted Brooklyn Nets first round pick they got from Boston in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer.
That is some dang good GMing.
The Cavs, last night’s loss to the Washington Wizards aside, are back to being the favorites in the Eastern Conference (sorry Toronto and Boston, have to beat LeBron in a seven-game series first before I believe you’re favorites). In LeBron’s first appearance in Memphis in some time (he has sat out the last couple trips the past two seasons), the Grizzlies will be underdogs...as they will be pretty much the rest of the season.
So how does Memphis pull the upset?
Stick and move
Much like a smaller fighter in any fight, the Grizzlies on offense must be both aggressive and opportunistic. The Cavaliers are improved after all their roster moves, with a better ability to switch defensively and close out on shooters. But defense is still a major weakness for Cleveland - in their last 15 games, the Cavs have only held opponents under 100 points scoring twice, and under 110 points five times. The biggest issue for Cleveland - the lack of a true rim protecting center - is still a pretty prevalent problem, as they were not able to get DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers at the deadline despite their best efforts.
Yes, the Cavaliers are a different team that those last 15 games show. There are still adjustments being made as these new pieces learn to play together, though. The Grizzlies must move the ball, pass out on dribble penetration, and take advantage of open shots on the perimeter when they get them.
And they will get them. Making them, of course, may be the issue.
STOP FOULING SO MUCH
Yes, that’s easier said than done against the King. This is just as much a rest-of-the-season goal as it is one for tonight. Are the referees out to get the Memphis Grizzlies? No. What it is more than anything else, perhaps, is Memphis developing a reputation for being overly aggressive and reaching, and the Grizzlies have earned that rep. Watch games, look at the placement and leverage of Memphis defenders, see their feet die, their missed rotations, and their hands reach out at driving players who beat them off the dribble or through a screen. Yes some foul calls are questionable, but at the same time when you’re as prone to fouls as the Grizzlies have been, in a 50/50 spot it makes sense that Memphis will not get the benefit of the doubt.
The Grizzlies younger players need to show growth in this area. This season is especially unique as the youth of Memphis plays a role, but improvement here will determine whether or not the Grizzlies stay competitive as the season closes out.
In the past when I have written game previews, I have been called a “homer” for writing so many Memphis wins into this space. Keep in mind, we are a Grizzlies blog, covering the Grizzlies, as fans of the Grizzlies. I would look for hope, and try to opt in to the bright side of thinking even in front of lofty challenges. More often than not I was realistic, but when you follow a group as closely as I do from afar, you want to see them succeed.
This year? The opposite.
For what is best for Memphis in the here and now is to lose. As many games as possible. That doesn’t mean the players don’t play, and the coaches don’t coach. It means fans hope for competitive games, for development of younger players and signs that veterans that almost surely will return next season (Gasol) and hopefully will be back (Evans) lead and keep the team in the contest until the better team, more often than not the opposition, takes the win.
It will be strange to be in this place when the Grizzlies take on comparably bad teams and picking them to lose may be viewed as the “homer” option. Tonight isn’t that night. Cleveland has King James, and his new crew of Cavaliers will be able to handle Memphis.
Cleveland 112, Memphis 105