WHEN: 7:00 PM CST
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (out, knee), Justise Winslow (out, back), Grayson Allen (out, hip), Brandon Clarke (out, quad)
Sacramento: Marvin Bagley—OUT (left foot), Richaun Holmes—OUT (right shoulder), De’Aaron Fox—QUESTIONABLE (lower abdominal tightness)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
Sacramento: De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles
There may still be a solid 23 games left in the NBA regular season. It’s still probably too early to make bold proclamations about how this is “a must-win game”. But for the badly slumping and short-handed Memphis Grizzlies who can feel their grasp on the Western Conference eight seed starting to slip, this is about as close as it gets.
Unfortunately, just because the Grizzlies likely need to beat a sub-.500 team like the Sacramento Kings when they have the toughest remaining schedule in the league doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be expected to do so. For starters, the Kings themselves have played very well since even before the All-Star break, winning 6 of their last 10 games. And to put it bluntly, the Grizzlies just simply do not have the talent at the moment in the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and Justise Winslow to beat a remotely decent team.
With all due respect, it’s exceedingly difficult to beat anyone in the NBA when players like Yuta Watanabe, John Konchar (sorry, John Konchar fan account), and Marko Guduric are getting solid rotation minutes.
So here are the Memphis Grizzlies, desperately needing a win after a very ill-timed four-game skid after the all-star break against a talented Kings team that is coming off a 112-108 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder the night before.
Here are a few areas of emphasis for tonight’s game:
Ja v. Fox IV
Let me clarify a few things before I state the difficult truth. Ja Morant is incredible. He might be having the best rookie point guard season of the last two decades. He will do incredible things in the NBA as he continues to grow and mature.
However, De’Aaron Fox is at least momentarily a nightmare match-up for Morant, a thorn in his side that he yet to figure out how to pluck. He’s one of the rare match-ups that Morant can’t overcome physically, and he’s generally demonstrated that he is at least, for now, the superior player. He dominated their last meeting, totaling 26 points and 4 assists while Morant was -26 when he was on the court.
None of this is necessarily unexpected. Fox should be bigger and stronger since he’s been in the league for two more years, and Morant is far better than Fox was as a rookie. But with the Grizzlies being severely short-handed at the moment, it goes without saying that Morant will have to find a way to win this match-up.
If he doesn’t, then the Grizzlies could very well find themselves at the wrong end of a third rout in as many games.
Defending the Three-Point Line
When the Grizzlies played the Kings last week, Harrison Barnes turned into King Klay Thompson, scoring 32 points and splashing 7-11 threes. The Kings as a team shot 19-39 from behind the arc, which was up there as one of their most prolific shooting nights in franchise history.
There’s a concerning pattern here.
Here’s a complex math lesson: You can’t trade threes for twos, especially when you can’t score twos or threes efficiently at the moment. The Grizzlies are missing nearly 30 points worth of offensive production in the absence of Clarke and Jackson, and they simply can’t afford to let the Kings bomb away with efficiency when they simply don’t have the firepower to keep up.
Rotations must be crisp, and the Grizzlies’ will have to stonewall dribble penetration if they are to keep the Kings’ many shooters at bay.
Is Dillon Brooks Okay?
Since even before the All-Star break, Dillon Brooks has been in the midst of a nightmare slump of almost biblical portions. Over the last 10 games, he has shot 29% from the field and 22% from three while shooting 58% from the foul line.
However, he finally was able to find a rhythm against the Houston Rockets...maybe? In one of the most carefree performances on a basketball court that I’ve ever seen, Brooks scored 22 points and made 4 threes while also shooting a putrid 9-26 from the field. He didn’t really get out his slump so much as told the slump to piss off as he persistently threw the ball at the rim like it was a live grenade.
Maybe, just hitting 9 shots in a game was just what the doctor ordered for Dillon Brooks. On a team that is currently strapped for offensive firepower, he will need to be superb as a three-level scorer like he was for much of the last 2-3 months.
I’m just going to be blunt here: This current iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies is bad. They lack shooting, defense, and legitimate NBA players. And as wonderful as he is, there is only so much that a 20-year-old Ja Morant can do.
I think the Grizzlies will lose this game—and no one should be upset or angry if they do. They were already an overachieving team that was primed for regression, and unfortunately the injury bug has made that regression even worse. The Kings are simply more talented at the moment, and the Grizzlies have several non-NBA players in their rotation.
It will remain close throughout, but the Kings have superior shot-makers, and they will make just enough shots down the stretch to close out the Grizzlies for their third win in four tries against them this season.