WHERE: Madison Square Garden New York, New York
WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Bruno Caboclo (Out, Left Knee Soreness); Grayson Allen (Out, Hip); Jae Crowder (Day-to-Day, Knee), De’Anthony Melton (Day-to-Day, Hand)
New York- R.J. Barrett (Out, Ankle)
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
NEW YORK- Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Julius Randle
As the young Memphis roster heads to the Big Apple to face the Knicks Wednesday night, they do so with a 10-3 record during the month of January. Though this rate of winning may be unsustainable, both traditional and advanced statistics suggest the Grizzlies success has been far from a fluke. For the month of January, Memphis is fourth in the NBA in points per game, third in field goal percentage, fifth in total rebounds per game, and first in assists per game. They also rank seventh in offensive rating and fifth in net rating while ranking second in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, and fourth in pace of play. Simply put, the Memphis Grizzlies are playing their style of basketball each time they take the court, and they are playing it fundamentally well. As a result, they have the chance to reach a .500 record for the first time in over a year.
This extended stretch of good to great play over the past two months should provide confidence that Memphis can remain competitive against anyone in the NBA. However, other factors will become a little less favorable leading up to the All-Star Break. Memphis had eight of its 13 games at home this month and won seven of them. Nine of their 13 opponents are currently under .500, and Memphis earned victories in eight of those games. The Grizzlies are certainly showing they have one major characteristic that separates playoff contenders and pretenders this time of year: they are winning the games they are expected to win, and earning a few unexpected victories as well. However, the level of competition and travel will both become more difficult in the near future.
Of their seven games before the All-Star Break, five are on the road. Furthermore, five of these games are against opponents who are still within reasonable striking distance of the playoffs. Logic would suggest the Grizzlies best chance for a win is tonight; however, this is the second half of a back to back, and the Grizzlies were at home last night. Fortunately, the Knicks also played last night in Charlotte.
While New York is 4-11 in January, they have certainly been playing better basketball as of late, especially on defense. Currently, they rank 28th in defensive rating. However, since Mike Miller took over as their coach after the firing of David Fizdale, the Knicks have steadily improved. They rank 20th in Defensive Rating in the month of January, and rank third since January 15th. While they remain one of the worst teams in the league offensively, they have remained quite competitive over the past 10 days. With the Grizzlies dealing with injuries and likely a bit fatigued, they must put a high priority on avoiding extended stretches of sloppy play.
Though staying disciplined will be the priority, the Grizzlies should be able to earn a victory if they continue to effectively play their game. Here are a few ways the Grizzlies can grab the lead and momentum early tonight:
Limit Offensive Boards: The Knicks are first in offensive rebounds per game, second in offensive rebounding percentage, and third in second chance points per game. Their success comes from being able to feature size throughout the game due to their depth of frontcourt talent. The Grizzlies, despite being eighth in defensive rebounding percentage, do not have as much size. Furthermore, with a shorthanded roster that will likely be a bit tired, the Grizzlies could be susceptible to the Knicks physical attack on the offensive boards. As a result, if Memphis cannot contain the Knicks second chance opportunities, New York will likely stick around throughout the entire game. The key is to effectively box out and communicate once shots are in the air.
Thriving with Three Pointers: Memphis leads the NBA in points in the paint per game. The Knicks are third in allowing points in the paint. The Knicks also are third in the NBA in opponent 2PFG%. Despite the Grizzlies success near the rim, it is likely the Knicks will make life difficult in the paint.
As an alternative plan, the Grizzlies could attack from deep. New York is 29th in threes allowed per game and 30th in opponent 3PFG%. Memphis is seventh in 3PFG% in January, and should be able to find plenty of good looks at the basket. With Kyle Anderson now a starter, the Grizzlies have become even better at moving the ball for good looks at the basket. If they can convert on these opportunities, they can negate any difficulty they find scoring near the rim.
While fans will unfortunately not be able to see Ja Morant and R.J. Barrett battle tonight, it will still be an entertaining game. Though the term “trap game” may be overused, this contest certainly fits the description. The Grizzlies will rightfully be favored, but with everything that has happened this week on and off the court, tonight will certainly be a task for Memphis’s young roster. In the end, while New York will keep it close, the Grizzlies offense should have the resourcefulness to find a way to win. If they can shoot effectively from beyond the arc and limit turnovers, they should earn the victory.
Final Score: Grizzlies 109 Knicks 103