WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (out, hip), Brandon Clarke (out, hip), Jaren Jackson Jr. (out, knee), Jontay Porter (out, knee), Justise Winslow (out, back)
ORLANDO: Al-Farouq Aminu (out, knee), Jonathan Issac (out, knee), Evan Fournier (out, elbow)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
ORLANDO: Markelle Fultz, Wes Iwundu, James Ennis III, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
The cavalry is coming for the Memphis Grizzlies. They just aren’t here yet.
Yesterday the Grizzlies announced that within the next week Justise Winslow is expected to make his debut with Memphis. To make matters even better for the bears of Beale Street, Jaren Jackson Jr. also should be back on the court within the next seven days, barring any injury setbacks. Brandon Clarke’s return will have to wait a while longer - the Grizzlies did say they expect him to return this season, but did not provide a timeline - but between the starter Jackson Jr. and the eventual wing starter (but likely to start as a reserve on a minutes restriction) Winslow, some much needed depth is about to return to the Grizzlies.
Just in time, too. Seven of the next eleven games to close out the month of March for Memphis come against current playoff competition, beginning with tonight’s contest against the Orlando Magic. The Magic are below .500 by a considerable amount, but if you go in to this game underestimating Orlando you’re likely to be both surprised by how they play and disappointed if Memphis has issues with their roster. Nikola Vucevic is very similar to Jonas Valanciunas in terms of how he can impact a basketball game, Aaron Gordon is an elite athlete who can be a match-up issue for any team, and Markelle Fultz is experiencing a second chance renaissance that Memphians can truly appreciate.
This is a game the Grizzlies can, and should, win. It could also slip away from them if they’re not careful, even without Evan Fournier - their best wing scorer. The Houston Rockets just lost to this Magic team. Memphis could suffer the same fate.
Here are some keys to avoiding that possibility and picking up a win to get over the .500 mark.
Protect the basketball
The Magic are quite solid defensively, believe it or not. They are ranked ninth in the NBA in defensive efficiency and are actually quite adept at blocking and stealing the rock against their opposition. Orlando averages 8.3 steals and 5.8 blocks per game, good for 6th and 4th in the NBA, respectively. While two of the top three thieves on the Magic are out (Issac is 1st, Fournier is 3rd, making up 2.7 steals per game respectfully) six Magic players average at or around a steal a game, with Markelle Fultz leading the way among active Orlando players at 1.3 steals a game.
For all the wonderful aspects of Ja Morant’s game, his turnovers can be an issue at times. Fultz has the length and athleticism to take advantage of that, and he’s not alone. Memphis must find ways to keep lost possessions to a minimum, making smart decisions passing the basketball while not dribbling in to poor situations/in to pressure. Make the Magic earn their points - Orlando is 24th in offensive efficiency, 27th in field goal percentage, and 26th in three point field goal percentage. They have the most success when their opponents make mistakes.
Don’t give them extra opportunities.
Win the front court battle
While statistically speaking Jonas Valanciunas is outplaying Nikola Vucevic to this point in the season, it’s fair to say that both men can cancel each other out if they each compete to their respective capabilities. Jonas may well beat Nikola in their individual showdown, but it probably won’t be by much. Looking beyond those two, Memphis is staring down an Aaron Gordon/Mo Bamba/Khem Birch vs. Kyle Anderson/Gorgui Dieng/Anthony Tolliver or Josh Jackson. The name value would suggest that the Magic should win each of these pairings/the overall match-up here, but the Grizzlies have seen improved play from their makeshift front court of late.
The Grizzlies miss Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke against players like Gordon and Bamba, especially. The combination of length and athletic prowess could cause problems for an undersized and slightly slow footed Memphis unit with Clarke and Jackson Jr. out. But the shooting ability of Tolliver and Dieng, and the movement/creative skills of Anderson and Jackson, could shift the tide in the favor of Memphis.
Even with the likes of Jackson Jr./Clarke/Winslow still out, Memphis should win this game. Orlando’s own injury issues help with that, but even with Fournier the Magic would struggle to score. The Grizzlies need to maximize possessions and get good looks without committing turnovers while not allowing Orlando to get easy looks and extra possessions themselves. If they can do that while commanding the pace of the contest (the Magic are 26th in pace, the Grizzlies are 7th), Memphis will grab the supposedly easiest game against a current playoff team left as they take on their fellow current eight seed from the Eastern Conference.
Memphis 119, Orlando 108