WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (16-22, 8-12 Home ) vs. San Antonio Spurs (16-20, 5-11 Away)
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, TN
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
San Antonio: None
Projected Starting Lineups:
Memphis: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
San Antonio: Trey Lyles, Bryn Forbes, Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan, LeMarcus Aldridge
If you were to look at your calendar, it may not make sense for a NBA game on January 10th to have significant playoff implications. The NBA season is not even half way over, and with the NBA trade season barely begun so much change is still likely to happen. However, as the San Antonio Spurs return to FedExForum, there is no doubt this is a big game for the Memphis Grizzlies. Even if you feel the playoffs are improbable for Memphis, which they logically are, that in no way diminishes how important a win tonight could be.
Many other teams underachieving is a big reason why the playoffs are even a possibility at the moment for the Grizzlies. Yet that should not overshadow the fact that not only are the Grizzlies playing better than expected basketball, they are truly becoming one of the better offenses in the league. Since December 1st, over a stretch where Memphis is 10-9, the Grizzlies are 4th in the NBA in PPG, 5th in FG%, 10th in 3PFG%, 2nd in APG, 9th in OFF Rating, and 2nd in Pace. The fact that the Grizzlies are a top ten team across the board in team offensive statistics shows that not only are the quantity of plays making them competitive, the quality of their play is allowing them to find ways to win.
Perhaps even more importantly than the significant improvement of the offense is the fact that the Grizzlies defense is steadily getting better as well. Since allowing 145 points to the Spurs on 12/23/2019, the Grizzlies are 14th in the NBA in DEF Rating, 14th in opponent FG% allowed, and third in opponent 3P% allowed. Though overall Memphis’s defense is still one of the worst in the league, it is no coincidence they are playing their best basketball of the season right now due to finally playing somewhat competent defense.
As mentioned above, a reason why the Grizzlies are fully alive in the playoff picture is due to the early season struggles of other teams, including the San Antonio Spurs. However, like the Grizzlies, the word struggle would not come to mind if you watched the Spurs recent stretch of play. Consecutive wins on the road against the current top two teams in the Eastern Conference shows Gregg Popovich has his team clicking on all cylinders. Similar to the Grizzlies, a big reason for the Spurs’ success comes from good health and consistent offensive production.
The Spurs are playing like a team that easily could take a hold of a playoff spot and pull away from the pack. They still are right in the middle of a large group of teams vying for the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Though the playoffs are more than three months away, head to head match ups such as this are extremely important for any playoff hopeful.
With that in mind, here a few way that the Grizzlies can significantly improve their chances to win:
Precision on the Perimeter: One area where the Grizzlies can find success against the Spurs is on the perimeter. On the season, the Spurs are 28th in three pointers made per game, 25th in steals per game, 23rd in three pointers allowed per game, 24th in assists allowed per game, and 29th in turnovers forced per game. These numbers show that Memphis can find success on the perimeter with intelligent passing and smart shot selection. If the Grizzlies can take care of the ball and stay patient to find high percentage shots, they should be able to remain in the game and have a chance to earn a victory in the fourth quarter.
Limiting Looks: Though the Grizzlies may have the advantage at the rim and beyond the arc, the Spurs are the better team everywhere in between. At every level between 5 and 24 feet from basket, the Spurs rank in the top ten of the NBA in FGM and FG%. In other words, the Spurs are on of the best jump shooting teams in the league. Even though they do not attempt many threes, they also rank 4th in 3PFG%. With the recent production of DeRozan and others, the Grizzlies could have their hands full again tonight.
The Grizzlies must stay disciplined on defense in order to contest the Spurs shots. San Antonio will efficiently move the ball, as they always seem to do. The key is effective communication and active yet intelligent switching and movement. If the Spurs get off to a hot start like they did a few weeks ago, Memphis could be forced to play outside of their game plan, which is not ideal for a young team. Both teams are going to score plenty of points tonight. However, if the Grizzlies can make a few unexpected stops each quarter, they can emerge victorious.
There is no doubt both teams know the importance of tonight’s game. The difference is obviously that Popovich and his veteran core have been here plenty of times before. If the Grizzlies can limit mistakes and play defense, they can earn the victory. If the Spurs find early success on offense and the Grizzlies endure a stretch where they falter, the experience of the Spurs could make the difference.
The funny thing about experience is that no matter how much of it a team may have, the most relevant experiences are usually the most recent ones. Though the Grizzlies core has played far less meaningful games in their careers than the Spurs core, they have not forgotten the historically bad loss to the Spurs two weeks ago. As a result, the Grizzlies will be ready to play and get revenge on their home court. For one night, excitement and execution will overcome experience.
Final Score: Grizzlies 116, Spurs 110