WHERE: BARCLAYS CENTER BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
WHEN: 6:30 Central
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBATV/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Justise Winslow (Out, hip), Jontay Porter (Out, knee), Killian Tillie (Out, hamstring), Xavier Tillman Sr. (Out, Patella), De’Anthony Melton (NBA health and Safety Protocols)
BROOKLYN: Nicolas Claxton (Out, Knee), Spencer Dinwiddie (Day-to-Day, Knee), Jeff Green (Day-to-Day)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
Brooklyn: Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie (?), Kevin Durant (?), Joe Harris, Deandre Jordan
Without a doubt, Ja Morant’s ability on the court continues to amaze and excite Grizzlies and NBA fans alike. However, perhaps even more impressive is his mindset both on and off the court. Morant’s post game comments on Saturday included drawing attention to his lack of getting calls in the lane in an effort to maximize his game, as well as saying his individual stats do not matter more than wins. Yesterday, Dillon Brooks mentioned that Morant reminded him the Grizzlies were 0-2 entering the third game of the season last year with a matchup against these same Brooklyn Nets on the horizon.
Of course, that game would prove to be Morant’s statement to the world that one of the NBA’s next true superstars had arrived, as well as Morant and Taylor Jenkins gaining their first ever win in Memphis.
In that game, Morant took over the fourth quarter, bringing the Grizzlies back to tie the game, blocking Kyrie Irving’s shot, and setting up Jae Crowder for the game winning three. That night, Morant gave the first glimpse at his ability to take over a game, something that we have witnessed every time he has stepped on the court so far this season. However, while that is certainly a positive development, another trend seems to be relevant as well: the current Grizzlies roster is too inconsistent to consistently win despite Morant playing at an All-Star level.
This is not meant to be a knock on Memphis, it is simply a logical observation. For this team to win, they must feature their strengths consistently. So far, that has not been the case. Two of their biggest strengths last season were producing in the paint and a highly productive bench unit. This season, no one is producing in the paint besides Morant and Kyle Anderson, and both reserve units for the Hawks and Spurs significantly outperformed the Grizzlies’ bench. The initial struggles from the trio of Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, and Tyus Jones have certainly played a huge part in the two losses to open the season.
Unfortunately for Memphis, the level of competition actually gets tougher tonight as they arrive in Brooklyn to face the Brooklyn Nets. Though the Nets made the playoffs last year, they did so without two of the premier talents in the league in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. That actually seems to have been a blessing in disguise in preparation for this year, as not only are Durant and Irving healthy and back to their All-NBA levels of production, the Nets have developed plenty of quality depth over the past year. Talents such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and others make the Nets one of the deepest teams in the Eastern Conference. And its not just depth because Brooklyn simply plays 9 to 10 players a night: these are quality talents that can be highly productive offensively.
Without a doubt, the Grizzlies seem to certainly be an underdog heading into tonight’s game. However, a few interesting developments may significantly improve the chance that the Grizzlies could earn a victory tomorrow night.
PICK YOUR POISON
The Nets will decide tomorrow morning if Kevin Durant will play in this back-to-back, Steve Nash says. The Nets face the Hornets tonight and the Grizzles tomorrow.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) December 27, 2020
Nets ruled out Spencer Dinwiddie for rest of game with Charlotte because of a right knee strain.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 28, 2020
Malika Andrews of ESPN reported yesterday that the Nets would decide rather or not Kevin Durant would play both games of the Nets first back-to-back this season as Brooklyn to continues to be cautious with his return. However, though Durant did play 36 minutes last night in the Nets’ loss to the Hornets, both Spencer Dinwiddie and Jeff Green exited the game with injuries. While there certainly is a chance Durant may sit tonight, the fact that the Nets could be without Dinwiddie and Green may force Brooklyn to keep Durant active.
Obviously, if Durant plays the clear focus for any team when facing Brooklyn is how to at least slightly contain Irving and himself. However, the “pick your poison” theory does not just focus on trying to choose who to limit between these two players. It also centers on determining how much effort goes toward that duo while not taking focus away from the rest of the Nets team. Though the season is young, the Nets bench is third in the league in points per game. Even worse for Memphis’s foul troubles is that Brookyln’s reserves lead all NBA benches in free throws per game (numbers as of Saturday). Whether or not Durant plays is certainly going to have a big impact on the Grizzlies chances to win the game. However, how well the Grizzlies bench performs and how good the Grizzlies are at limiting the rest of the Brooklyn rotation besides Irving and Durant may have an even bigger impact.
As mentioned above, the Grizzlies ability in the paint outside of Morant and Anderson has been very hit and miss. That does not get any easier with Deandre Jordan and Jarrett Allen protecting the rim tonight. However, Memphis has produced 27 and 20 assists respectively in their first two games. For the Grizzlies to truly have a chance against Brooklyn, they will need to be highly efficient in finding high percentage looks through their passing, especially from distance.
A couple of ways Memphis could do that is through their lineup decisions. The three and four guard looks that Memphis featured against Atlanta found more success as they played more minutes. Names such as Desmond Bane, John Konchar, and Jones could really support each other with good decision making and timely passing. Furthermore, Memphis could play their starters more minutes tonight. So far this season, the Grizzlies starting lineup has a positive 10.2 net rating. If the Grizzlies find the game close in the fourth quarter, simply trusting the talent and playmaking of their starters may be the best course of action.
Who may or may not be available for Brooklyn could have a big impact on the outcome of this game. However, the Grizzlies are not in a position to focus on things outside of their control. They must limit mistakes, play smarter defense, and make sure to find as many high percentage shots as possible. If they can find success in these areas, Memphis has the ability to earn a much need first win. However, if Grizzlies bench were to struggle and they cannot create significant stretches of effective play, it could be another disappointing night for the Grizzlies.
But hey, its Memphis. Let’s have fun expecting the unexpected.
Final Score: Grizzlies 115, Nets 109