WHEN: 9:00 PM CT
WHERE: Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jae Crowder (Questionable, ankle)
SACRAMENTO: Marvin Bagley III (Out, foot)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
SACRAMENTO: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, Richaun Holmes
The first game of the new year for the Memphis Grizzlies fittingly might as well be the David Stern Bowl.
Stern passed away Wednesday after suffering a brain hemorrhage and being in the hospital for three weeks. I wrote about his impact on the NBA and more here, but if there were two franchises and fan bases in particular that should be very thankful for David Stern as NBA Commissioner it should be the Grizzlies and the Sacramento Kings. For Memphis, it is relatively obvious - the Grizzlies began in Vancouver, and relocated to Memphis during the tenure of Stern. Clearly he saw the value in Memphis in an NBA market, and it has paid off in terms of civic memories and moments that have helped the city develop.
In the case of Sacramento, the Kings could’ve very likely been the latest NBA team to relocate if not for the efforts of fans (shoutout Sactown Royalty) and Stern himself. He recognized the need for Sacramento to keep their team and helped in the process where he could. Small markets had a friend in David Stern.
Rest in Peace.
Now, to the keys to a game that is...sigh...apparently important in playoff positioning.
Big and guard of the future vs. big and guard of the future...sort of
The futures of both Memphis and Sacramento have eerily similar cornerstones positionally.
The Grizzlies of course are counting on the continued development of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., who should make both the All-Decade team of the 2010’s and the one for the 2020’s if things go the way many expect them to. Jaren is having a tremendous season shooting beyond the arc and is a force defending the rim at times as well, while Ja is explosive offensively and is a threat to make a highlight-level play at any time.
Tonight was supposed to be Morant and Jackson Jr. against the two key cogs of the Sacramento future De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III. Unfortunately, Bagley III is out due to a foot injury, and Fox vs. Morant will have to do. However, there is a reserve big battle brewing that could be interesting in and of itself.
Brandon Clarke is the Grizzlies pseudo-sixth man at this stage, producing at an extremely efficient clip off the bench. The absence of Bagley means Harry Giles III is getting meaningful minutes for the Kings, and though he’s been in the league as long as Jaren Jackson Jr. has he has not had the impact or opportunity to produce at a high level. Giles surely sees this as an opportunity to earn more consistent minutes and a larger role moving forward, and Clarke is an excellent target to focus in on performing well against.
Ja and De’Aaron will get the headlines. But Clarke vs. Giles III will be key for whoever wins this game.
So this is weird to write, but...the Kings are the slowest team in basketball in terms of pace (30th out of 30, dead last), and the Grizzlies are one of the fastest (5th).
We are, indeed, out of the mud.
So, it is still taking some getting used to, but Memphis must impose their will in terms of running and gunning up and down the floor against Sacramento. If the Kings are able to slow the game down and make it half-court possession basketball, Memphis will not be able to hang for a full game. The Grizzlies need to push tempo whenever they can, getting outlet passes off of rebounds out quickly and running in transition at every opening. Sacramento wants to muck up this game. Memphis cannot allow that to happen.
The Grizzlies offense is a lot of fun to watch, but what will doom their already very lofty/unlikely playoff hopes is their defense. If Memphis wants to truly grow and push this overachieving thing in to another stratosphere, they have to focus on that end and actively attack possessions more on that end. Tonight’s game is a good place to start - when the Kings do get the tempo at their liking (they will at times), Memphis must win those individual battles time and time again to grow a lead that’ll be enough to put the plodding Kings away.
Are they capable? Sure. But we need to see it...and with Bagley out, and Buddy Hield struggling so far this season, barring a heat up from Hield this contest sets up for an awakening for Memphis on the defensive end.
Memphis 114, Sacramento 107