WHO: Memphis Grizzlies at Miami Heat
WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Radio (Memphis)
ODDS: MIA -7.5, o/u 212.0 (via ESPN)
MEMPHIS: Jonas Valanciunas - (Foot, Probable)
MIAMI: Udonis Haslem (Sprained Left Wrist, Out), Dion Waiters (Team Suspension, Out), James Johnson (Conditioning, Out)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
MIAMI- Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo
After one of the most transformative offseasons in franchise history, Memphis Grizzlies basketball is finally back on the court.
The front office underwent a massive reshuffling with Zach Kleiman and Tayshaun Prince now leading basketball operations. Taylor Jenkins has been hired as the new head coach after being an assistant under Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have become the faces of the franchise and the cornerstones to build around.
Yes, we’ve seen versions of this team in Summer League and preseason. That hasn’t done enough to whet the appetite of Grizzlies fans who are no doubt excited by a young core to hang their hats on. Potential and promise can only get you so far; eventually we’re going to need to see how they all play together in real game action.
Memphis has also had its fair share of drama this offseason. After taking a first-round pick from Golden State to take on Andre Iguodala’s salary, many assumed the Grizzlies were going to flip him to a contender for more assets before the season started. Well, the season is starting, and Iguodala remains on the roster, but not with the team after coming to an understanding.
Front office minutia and the potential of draft picks like Morant and Brandon Clarke have powered us through the dog days of the offseason. Now we can watch some actual basketball. First up, a trip to visit the Miami Heat.
Here are some things to watch for tonight.
The Heat’s new look
Memphis was dealt a favorable hand by the Heat when they announced that they suspended G Dion Waiters for the first game of the season against the Grizzlies. Despite that, both teams come in their opener an improved version of themselves. While the Grizzlies overhauled their roster, the Heat got Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade that sent Josh Richardson to Philadelphia. While they lose Dwyane Wade, they gain another star, one still in his prime, in his place.
With that move, the Heat were able to add an All-Star while maintaining continuity nearly everywhere else on the roster. A year ago they went 39-43 with Josh Richardson. One would assume they’ll win some more games by swapping him for Jimmy Butler. And with the improvements Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow made over the course of 2018-19, the Heat could be threatening for a top-four seed if everything breaks right.
So this Miami Heat team is an excellent first test for this young Grizzlies team. Not exactly the Bucks or the Lakers, but a strong team to find out whether or not rookies like Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke can hang. Will they look lost on defense in their first night out? Will they be able to adjust to the Heat’s in-game adjustments? Are they constantly moving to the right spot on offense? These are the little things that need to be proven against NBA competition and not against half-speed preseason and Summer League competition.
Battling young bigs
Another enticing matchup in this will be Jaren Jackson Jr and Bam Adebayo. Jaren is coming into his second season fresh off of a 1st team All-Rookie selection and the expectation will be that this is the year he makes the “leap” into All-Star caliber play. Premature or not, that road starts with this second season and with a great test in Adebayo, a young center who shows quite a bit of potential himself.
Jaren Jackson Jr. showcased his talent his rookie season with his defensive versatility and surprisingly strong ball-handling. If this truly is the evolutionary year for him, he’ll cut down on his insane foul rate (5.2 per-36-minutes) and up his three-point efficiency (35.6% on 3.4 3PA-per-game). If Jaren can defend against a player as large as Bam without fouling while also stretching him away from the rim, that would be a huge success for the game and his improvement. Coming out of the gate in this season opener playing clean(er) defense and making more three-point shots would validate anyone who believes in his massive potential.
Memphis Grizzlies 119 @ Miami Heat 125
I expect the Grizzlies to try and make this a track meet to show off their young talent and new offensive system. Both teams ranked in the bottom third of the league in pace a year ago. Miami will likely keep that strategy but Memphis will probably try to shock the Heat’s system by playing much faster than anticipated. However, I don’t think it’ll lead to actual success in this game. The Heat will have an All-Star in his prime that they’ll want to show off who just so happens to be coming off of a strong playoff performance.
I think the Heat will end up winning this, but Memphis will keep it a close game and cover the 7.5 spread.