WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Marc Gasol (Probable, back), Omri Casppi (Questionable, Illness) Joakim Noah (Out, personal), Kyle Anderson (Out, ankle), Dillon Brooks (Out, toe)
Charlotte: Cody Zeller (Hand)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Justin Holiday, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marc Gasol
NEW ORLEANS: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo
Ten months ago, the Memphis Grizzlies visited the Charlotte Hornets on March 22nd, 2018. That day, Memphis lost to the Hornets by 62 points. It was the worst loss in franchise history, and could be considered rock bottom in one of the organization’s worst seasons. It was hard to believe that things could ever get worst.
Fast forward to the present, and the Grizzlies are preparing to face the Hornets tonight at FedExForum. Without a doubt, the roster in place now is better, and the overall record proves it. However, a 7-23 record over their last 30 games, including losing 12 of their last 13, has made this season begin to feel like last year. Now with the news of Conley and Gasol possibly being on the move, many may argue right now arguably feels worse than that forgettable night 10 months ago.
Speculation, rumors, frustration, and some potentially unfortunate realities await over the next two weeks. But fans should compartmentalize their feelings about all that, and set them to the side. If this is perhaps the end of the road for Marc, Mike, or both as Grizzlies, fans should take every opportunity to cherish the next four games of this homes stand.
So what could help? What could make it easier to set aside all the mixed emotions that everyone is likely feeling right now? What could make the focus return to the court?
That is it. A simple victory. A night where our team played well and better than the other team. And it would be our 20th win, a standard we did not achieve until March 26th of last year.
Unfortunately, the Hornets will not make a win an easy task. Despite being 22-24, they are 8th in the East. With Kemba Walker they have a player capable of taking over a game any given night. Beyond Walker, they are a very fundamentally sound team, with players such as Nicholas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marvin Williams who add value without scoring too many points. They lead the NBA in fewest turnovers per game, and commit the second lowest amount of fouls per game. One reason they are not easy to beat is because they rarely beat themselves.
Despite being a team that makes few mistakes, the Hornets do have a few weaknesses that the Grizzlies can expose to have chance to win. And that starts with a familiar strategy of success for Memphis:
Play Inside Out: When Cody Zeller went down, the Hornets weakness as a team became an Achilles heel. Their top 8 scoring sources are either guards or wings. Yes, Willy Hernangomez and Bismack Biyombo can defend the post, but neither is a consistent offensive threat. As as result, only one of them is typically on the court at any given time. If Charlotte chooses to go small, the Grizzlies will have an advantage if a combo of Marc Gasol, Jaren Jackson Jr., JaMychal Green, and Ivan Rabb are on the court. For Memphis to win, they must produce points in the paint on offense while causing disruption against the close looks on defense. They also must stay out of foul trouble to remain a threat the entire game.
Priortizing the Perimeter: While Memphis may have the size advantage inside, the Hornets will have the length advantage outside. Batum, Williams, and Kidd-Gilchrist can impact the game by getting long rebounds on offense, and creating tough looks for shooters on defense. The Hornets are 9th in the league in 3 pointers made and 11th in three pointers attempted. This is a logical approach, as they have plenty of players who can shoot the three, and plenty of perimeter length to get long rebounds. The Grizzlies must defend the perimeter by limiting open looks, but also by making sure to mark a man once a shot is missed to prevent extra possessions for Charlotte.
Limit Role Player Production: In Monday’s loss to New Orelans, it was the out of nowhere dominance of Jahlil Okafor that created the advantage for the Pelicans. The Grizzlies must ensure that does not happen tonight. It likely will be an easier task with the limited offensive games of the Hornets bigs, but they must be kept off the offensive glass. Beyond the post, the Grizzlies must stay disciplined on defense to man up on shooters. The Hornets usually win when Jeremy Lamb, Malik Monk, and Batum step up as shooters to support Walker. If the Grizzlies can disrupt ball movement and stay in place so open areas are not easy to find, that would have to put the pressure on Walker to take over. While definitely not an ideal plan, it increases Memphis’s chances to steal a victory.
The Prediction: As I have mentioned before in a few previews, the Grizzlies significantly increase their chances at a win when they keep their opponents under 100 points. The Hornets have failed to reach the century mark only 6 times this year. However, 3 of those 6 occurrences have been in their last 6 games, and Charlotte is 1-5 in those contests overall. The fact that Charlotte struggles on the road also provides a bit of hope.
Therefore, the blueprint should be simple. For a franchise that needs to be 100% committed to building for the future, they need to be a 100% committed to keeping Charlotte in double digits Wednesday night.
I have faith that they will, with the hope this win brings some positive buzz this team sorely needs.
Grizzlies 97 Hornets 93