The Memphis Grizzlies (2-6) will play host to the Dallas Mavericks (5-3) on Saturday night. In anticipation, we caught up with Senior Editor Kirk Henderson of Mavs Moneyball of SB Nation to get his takes on where both franchises are at and his predictions for the game.
1.) The Dallas Mavericks are off to a hot start this season, sitting in a tie for second place in the Western Conference behind the Los Angeles Lakers (as of Friday). Has the early season success altered fan expectations for this season in Dallas?
Absolutely. I had them pegged as a 38 to 41 win team before the season and the injuries and the Kings being terrible, but with a start like this it’s hard to ignore how good they’ve looked. Even the casual Dallas fans (Cowboys fans, really) have taken note. Right now, they’re in the only ‘soft’ part of their entire schedule, with Cleveland, Orlando, New York, New York again, Cleveland again, and Golden State all in one month. So, I think their record by Thanksgiving may overstate their actual ability, but in the rough and tumble Western Conference, all wins matter.
I do think, though, given how the West has shaken out thus far, that Dallas should have expectations for playoffs now instead of just hopes.
2.) Last year, Luka Doncic had a tremendous rookie year while Kristaps Porzingis sat out after being acquired via trade. Now seen as the future of the Mavs franchise, how is the chemistry between the two on the court so far?
Rocky at best. Zach Lowe’s column on Friday pointed out the on/off numbers with Luka and Porzingis and Luka without Porzingis and they haven’t been great. Porzingis is really rusty despite having some good raw stats (19 and 8, about). I’ve been beating this drum, but KP really looks like he doesn’t have much of a feel for how to play team basketball on the offensive end. The Mavericks need to do a lot more to get him involved early.
I’ll put it this way: if you see Porzingis post up like he’s 2005 Dirk Nowitzki, then the Memphis defense should be delighted, because he is not that guy right now.
3.) With an aging franchise cornerstone (Nowitzki), Dallas was able to quickly rebuild through the acquisitions of Doncic and Porzingis. With Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. now in the fold for Memphis, what are the Grizz still missing that helped Dallas get back to winning basketball?
Experience. That’s it. Memphis and New Orleans did the thing where they both got a ton better in short order and I remember being very grumpy around draft time as a result. Morant seems to be that dude and Jackson has plenty of time to make the case that he’s the best player from the 2018 draft. I believe in him that much. He was my 1B to the Doncic 1A that year. Brandon Clarke might only be 8 months younger than Porzingis, but he does all of the things you want out of a modern NBA big man.
Memphis is in my top three favorite teams to watch, just because there’s so much talent. Seeing how that talent manifests on the floor is going to take a year or two, but when it does, the Grizzlies will be a force.
4.) What on-court matchup between these teams will be the most exciting for fans to watch on Saturday night?
This will not be a game for defensive-minded fans. I can’t wait to see Jackson guarding Doncic on switches. Luka’s the better player right now, but Jackson has insane defensive instincts and long guys still bother Doncic a lot. On the other end, I have no idea who even tries to guard Morant. The Mavericks have some interesting off ball help defenders in Dorian Finney-Smith and Delon Wright, but they aren’t good enough to bother Morant.
5.) What is your prediction for the outcome of the game?
128-119, Mavericks win in a game that shouldn’t be as close as one might think, but Dallas closes the game out late.
Thank you to Kirk for sitting down with Grizzly Bear Blues for these five questions. Make sure that you follow Kirk on twitter at (@KirkSeriousFace) and Mavs Moneyball at (@mavsmoneyball).