WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedexForum in Memphis, TN
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Projected Starting Lineups:
Memphis: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
Charlotte: Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Bismack Biyombo
The last time the Memphis Grizzlies faced the Charlotte Hornets was on November 13th, a game in which Ja Morant took steps towards solidifying himself as the Rookie of the Year frontrunner with an incredible acrobatic game-winning layup. While endgame heroics may or not be a part of the proceedings this time around, the Grizzlies will look to complete the two-game season series sweep in Memphis tonight.
For the Grizzlies, this game will be the second night of a back-to-back after a loss in Denver yesterday afternoon. The Hornets are coming off of a 104-102 loss in overtime to the Thunder at home.
Here are a few areas of focus for the Grizzlies tonight:
Slow Devonte Graham Down
There very well may not be a better feel-good story in the NBA than Devonte Graham right now. In less than two years after being a marginal second round pick, he has developed into essentially the poor man’s Stephen Curry, a superb facilitator that has nearly unlimited range. He’s currently averaging 19.2 points and 7.6 assists per game, while ranking second in the league in 3PM per game (3.8) while making 40% of them.
The Memphis Grizzlies in particular have had the chance to experience what a thorn in your side Graham can be. Graham totaled 18 points and 7 assists in just 25 minutes of play against them in preseason, and he then followed that up with 19 points and 8 assists against them in November.
To be sure, Graham and his gravity have become perhaps the most pivotal part of the Hornet’s offense. Ja Morant and Tyus Jones will have to do a stellar job of fighting over screens with him, and it may be worth tinkering with the usual defensive scheme—it may be a long night if Jonas continually drops in pick-and-roll coverage like he usually does.
Play the Right Way and Win
While it may seem premature to make this judgment, the Grizzlies are a bad matchup for the Hornets. They simply excel in areas where the Hornets are weak.
The Grizzlies are currently the top paint scoring team, averaging 54 points per game in the paint. The Hornets rank 26th in the league in paint defense, surrendering 50.6 points in the painted area.
Although they once usually resided in the bottom half of the league in assists, the Grizzlies have fully embraced the pace-and-space mantra of Taylor Jenkins, ranking third in the league in assists per game (26.9). Unfortunately for the Hornets, they are currently the league’s worst team when it comes to stifling the ball movement of their opponents, giving up 26.9 assists per game.
Make no mistake about it: the Grizzlies and Hornets are relatively equally-matched teams. But if the Grizzlies stay true to themselves and play their brand of basketball, they are very difficult for the Hornets to beat.
After a frustrating loss in Denver, I believe that the Grizzlies will come out focused and poised to beat what is probably a slightly inferior opponent at home. The Hornets will be focused themselves after a difficult overtime loss against the Thunder and will keep the game close for over three quarters. However, the Grizzlies will be able to pull away late in the fourth quarter behind Ja Morant’s best game since the Grizzlies’ visit to Oakland. Valanciunas will also have 20+ points and 10+ rebounds against a suspect Charlotte frontcourt.
Grizzlies-115, Hornets- 106