WHEN: 6:00 PM CT
WHERE: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (Questionable, ankle)
CLEVELAND: Dylan Windler (Out, leg)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
CLEVELAND: Colin Sexton, Darius Garland, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Here’s how to get folks fired up on a Friday night.
TWO TEAMS. TWO SMALL MARKETS. TWO SQUADS WELL UNDER .500, COMPETING FOR LIKELY LOTTERY POSITION!
LET’S GET READY TO STUMBLE!!!
That’s not entirely fair to these players, of course. Kevin Love, while he may not be longed for Cleveland long-term, is still a fun player to watch with a variety of skills that can make the Cavaliers competitive. Tristan Thompson is having a monster season, and between him and Love rebounding is oftentimes taken care of in terms of any “key to the game”. They obviously have flaws - you don’t start a season 7-21 and 4-10 at home by being a juggernaut - but if Memphis doesn’t play a complete game, they will lose.
The Grizzlies know all about that. For a little over a half of basketball on Wednesday night Memphis looked like the playoff team some desperately tried to see after a four wins in five games stretch. Then, the bottom fell out, and Oklahoma City pulled out a victory after being down as many as 24 points. The Grizzlies are young, as we all know already, but sometimes you can forget that with that youth comes mistakes and shortcomings.
Wednesday night was a reminder. How can Memphis avoid another misstep?
Force Sexton outside
Collin Sexton is the leading scorer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on the season, scoring 17.9 points per game. That number isn’t staggering, but what makes it more impressive is the fact that he is doing it as the worst “volume” three point shooter on the team. Of the 8 players in Cleveland that take at least three three pointers a game on average, Sexton is 8th in conversion percentage at a paltry 28.9%. The next worst shooter, Kevin Porter Jr., is a full 3% better than Collin.
A major reason Sexton is the leading scorer for the Cavs is he takes the most shots (15.3 attempts - Love is 2nd at 11.6). If Memphis is wise, they will go under picks and screens on Sexton all night and make him be more perimeter based. He attacks well and can get to the charity stripe, but as a shooter he leaves much to be desired. He will likely be happy to take that shot...but the Grizzlies will be happy to let him do so.
A better bench showing
The main reason that the Grizzlies collapsed in Oklahoma City Wednesday night was the failing of the Memphis bench. That doesn’t include Brandon Clarke, who dominated OKC and may be Ja Morant’s best competition for Rookie of the Year. His fellow reserves - Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, and Solomon Hill in particular - were bad at best, atrocious at worst. They couldn’t defend, they couldn’t facilitate functional offense, and if it weren’t for Clarke (and to a lesser extent Kyle Anderson) the Grizzlies may have lost that game by 20.
Dennis Schroder and Abel Nader were the main issues for Memphis against the Thunder. While Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. maybe aren’t as threatening as those two - especially Schroder, who is a dark horse 6th man of the year candidate - they are very able to attack the rim off of picks and screen and rolls and beat up on these same Grizzlies bench players. Better execution and focus must come from these three for Memphis to win.
The Grizzlies aren’t a playoff team. That’s OK - they’re still better than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Look for Memphis - who will likely not be at full strength Saturday due to the back to back nature of the next two games - to have a better sense of urgency throughout this contest on their way to a hard-fought victory.
Memphis 118, Cleveland 111