WHEN: 6:00 PM CT
WHERE: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jevon Carter (Probable, knee), Tyler Dorsey (Probable, knee), Joakim Noah (Probable, heel), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, quad), Kyle Anderson (Out, shoulder), Dillon Brooks (Out, toe), Jonas Valanciunas (Questionable, Personal)
Cleveland: Tristan Thompson (Out, Foot), John Henson (Out, Wrist)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Mike Conley, Avery Bradley, Justin Holiday, Ivan Rabb, Jaren Jackson Jr.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Colin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizac, Kevin Love, Brandon Knight
GRIZZLIES BASKETBALL IS BACK!
The Official #PlaytoConvey has has resumed!
With the Trade Deadline and All-Star Break now in the rearview mirror, the Grizzlies have a 22-game mission in front of them to accomplish their goal of adding certainty to their future. While relinquishing a pick may not be as exciting as the playoffs or a top three draft position, it definitely is a valuable goal to achieve. At the very least, it is a sign the franchise has shifted its focus to the future.
Stating the goal is the easy part. Playing well enough to accomplish the goal is a whole other story. While the post deadline roster is arguably deeper and more versatile, ailments and personal matters are taking their toll on the Grizzlies. Three games in four nights certainly is not an ideal way to start the stretch run. Now, with Jaren Jackson Jr. likely missing at least several games, #PlaytoConvey has turned into #PrayWeMightConvey in less than 24 hours.
On the second night of a back to back, Memphis heads to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers. And let there be no doubt about this game. For the Grizzlies to accomplish their goal, tonight is a must win. This is one of only four opponents remaining on the Grizzlies’ schedule with a lower win total than the Grizzlies. For Memphis to truly have a chance of sending their pick to Boston, 33-35 wins is the target by the end of the season. That means the Grizzlies must play at a .500 level of basketball. Even with a potentially better roster, that is a tall task to ask from a team that has gone 11-31 since Thanksgiving.
While the Grizzlies do seem to have the advantage on paper, Cleveland has played well of late. Coming off their victory against the Suns last Thursday, the improved results have come as the result of better offensive play. Like Memphis, Cleveland experienced its own significant roster turnover through recent trades. And just like the Grizzlies, the Cavaliers’ roster arguably is better now than it was a few weeks ago. A big reason for their strong play as of late is the productivity of their bench. With the Grizzlies overall health less than ideal currently, a second straight night facing a strong second unit is quite a bit to handle.
While depth and health may be an issue, the Grizzlies still should win this game based off talent and skill. Here are a few specific ways to gain an advantage early:
EFFECTIVE BALL MOVEMENT
Cleveland is currently 30th and 29th in the NBA in Opponent’s 2 point field goal percentage and 3 point field goal percentage, respectively. They also have the worst team defensive rating in the league. For the season, the Grizzlies are averaging 23.6 assists per game and 14.1 turnovers a game. However, in the 4 games since adding Avery Bradley, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and with Justin Holiday starting, Memphis is averaging 26.3 assists per game and 12 turnovers per game.
The significance of these numbers could be the key to victory for Memphis. The Grizzlies backcourt is now more efficient with its offensive execution. They are being more decisive and intelligent with their passing, and it is leading to more scoring opportunities. Furthermore, the back-court is showing better shot selection, and is becoming more reliable on jump shots and three pointers.
If Memphis can move the ball effectively and convert good looks early, they can grab momentum and control of the game from the start.
FEATURE RABB AND....WELL NOAH, ALSO
With Jaren Jackson Jr. out and Jonas Valanciunas an uncertainty for Memphis, the Grizzlies will once again rely on Joakim Noah and Ivan Rabb. If Valanciunas plays, you obviously feature him. However, Rabb and Noah provided significant production in last night’s loss to the Clippers. The Grizzlies will likely feature smaller lineups to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ inability to defend. However, to combat Kevin Love and Ante Zizac on the boards, both Rabb and Noah should see significant minutes.
If they maintain the efficiency they showed against the Clippers. it will greatly benefit the Grizzlies.
As mentioned above, it seems the one advantage the Cavaliers have in this match up is their bench. However, Cleveland also has the upper hand when it comes to fouls and free throws. Memphis is 26th in the league in fouls committed per game, while the Cavs are 4th in team free throw percentage. With the Grizzlies depth already in questions, early foul trouble could be costly.
If Memphis cannot stay fresh, it provides more opportunity for the Cavaliers bench to produce. And if the Cavs find opportunities at the line, they will convert. This means you have a game flow where it seems the Grizzlies can never pull away. Cleveland will have fresher leagues at the end of the game and the confidence to get the upset. Good communication, effective team defense, and avoiding silly fouls is the key to prevent this outcome from occurring.
If Memphis can play decent to above average defense, they should find enough offense to secure the victory. In a must win situation, the Grizzlies must come together, keep things simple, and produce as they know they can.
Memphis 101- Cleveland 89