WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jae Crowder (Questionable, hip), Bruno Caboclo (Out, knee)
CLEVELAND: Kevin Porter Jr. (Out, knee), Dylan Windler (Out, leg), Ante Zizic (Out, illness)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
CLEVELAND: Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Alfonzo McKinnie, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Two teams currently on two very different current trajectories meet for the second time in a month tonight as the Memphis Grizzlies welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers to FedExForum. Since these two squads last met - a 114-107 victory for the Cavaliers on December 20th - Cleveland is 4-8 and has had all sorts of drama around them both on and off the court. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are 9-3 and have won six straight in the wake of the loss in Cleveland, good for the longest active winning streak in the NBA. Memphis appears to be the standard for how a young team should play together at the moment.
From the coaching staff to the guys on the court, Memphis seems to be in a much better place currently than their competition Friday night. The offense is clicking and the defense is improving. The young stars of the Grizzlies are playing beyond their years, and the “veterans” have stepped up their games to the point that just about everyone is playing the best ball of their respective careers, give or take a Jae Crowder. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are left wondering just who is worth investing in and whether or not their supposed leader, Kevin Love, is a fit for their roster long-term.
Both teams are possible “sellers” in the next couple weeks as the trade deadline approaches. But both teams are looking at very different realities than they were just twelve games ago.
Here’s how Memphis can avenge a pretty poor loss to Cleveland.
Push the pace
It is safe to say that a major reason Memphis’ offense has been so revolutionary this season is their willingness to speed up the game. More possessions, more points - makes sense enough - and the personnel of the Grizzlies for the most part fits this philosophy. Even as the shooting success cools off a bit in the days and weeks ahead (it’s fair to say their current better-than-the-2014-2018 Golden State Warriors production offensively will not be sustainable), what should make Grizzlies fans excited is the fact this style should be able to be maintained. That will keep them in games, as long as they continue to dictate the pace.
Cleveland wants to play slower basketball than Memphis, so the Grizzlies have to find as many opportunities as possible to get out and run while also creating easy opportunities in the shot clock. Attack the rim, play off of picks and screens and roll to the basket, and dribble penetrate early in a possession to keep the Cavs defense on their toes.
The Grizzlies will eventually lose again. Tonight may well be the night - Cleveland has potential to go off at any point, and their starting two-point guard crew of Garland and Sexton could create matchup issues for the Memphis starting lineup. But one of the main reasons Cleveland knocked off Memphis in December - the bench scoring threat that is Jordan Clarkson - has been traded to Utah. His presence will be missed for the Cavs.
It’s a new year, and more important than Cleveland without Clarkson is the fact that this is a different Grizzlies team than Cleveland saw almost a month ago. As long as the young Memphis group can maintain focus heading in to the national stage that is the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Game, the win streak should continue.
Memphis 124, Cleveland 109