WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: Barclays Center Brooklyn, New York
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (out, hip), Brandon Clarke (out, quad), Jaren Jackson Jr. (out, knee), Justise Winslow (out, back)
BROOKLYN: Kyrie Irving (out, shoulder), Kevin Durant (out, Achilles), Garrett Temple (questionable, shoulder)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, DeAnthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
Brooklyn: Caris Lavert, Spencer Dinwiddle, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince
Before “Ja”ggles and #Headband12”...
Before “tell that MFer about me” versus James Harden....
Before the “Triumph among the Trees” for a game winner in Charlotte.....
There was “The Block.”
Though Ja Morant has truly had several memorable moments during his rookie season, only one can truly be classified as his “arrival”. The first iconic image of proof that not only was Morant now in the NBA, but he could shine as a star. That moment occurred back on October 27th, 2019, the Grizzlies third game of season. It was a night in which Morant scored 17 fourth quarter points to lead a Grizzlies comeback to tie the Nets, followed by his timely block of Kyrie Irving’s game winning shot attempt to force overtime.
Though Morant scored only two points in overtime, he set up former Grizzlies starter Jae Crowder for a game winning three. On the night, Morant scored 30 points and totaled nine assists, and perhaps more importantly, showed for the first time he could truly take over a game and will his team to victory. Beyond Morant, it was the first Grizzlies official win since the last member of the Grit and Grind Era, Mike Conley, had been traded in the off season, as well as Taylor Jenkins’ first win as a head coach. Simply put, that night was a perfect storm of memorable moments that truly introduced the new era of the Memphis Grizzlies to the NBA.
Flash forward four months later, as Memphis visits Brooklyn to face the Nets tonight, and the Grizzlies are still at their best when Morant is having success. On the season, Ja Morant is averaging 17.6 points and seven assists per game while shooting 49.3% from the field. In games in which Morant has exceeded his season averages (18 or more points, seven or more assists, 50% or better on shot attempts), the Grizzlies are 11-3, including victories in the last seven games Morant has achieved this production line. Just as he did on October 27th, Morant has continued to solidify himself as the true leader and difference maker for the Grizzlies, one fully capable of putting the team on his back and willing them to a victory.
Most Bench Points, @memgrizz History:— Grizzlies PR (@GrizzliesPR) March 3, 2020
72, TONIGHT at Atlanta
72, April 19, 2006 at Minnesota (2OT)
72, Jan. 24, 2007 at Utah (OT)
71, Dec. 31, 2006 at Houston
71, April 13, 2015 at Golden State
Fortunately, Taylor Jenkins has done an impressive job in developing the rest of Memphis’s roster so that Morant does not have to do the heavy lifting or play 35-40 minutes every game. This has become especially true since the losses of Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. to injury. With former reliable reserves De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson now starters, Tyus Jones, Josh Jackson, John Konchar and Gorgui Dieng have excelled in their roles, which has helped Memphis maintain one of the best benches in the league. The ability to play nine to ten bodies significant minutes every game allows for everyone to stay fresh and productive. The Grizzlies will need productive depth to continue to be an advantage for them in games as the schedule gets tougher.
Though more difficult competition lies ahead, the Grizzlies have no margin of error to look past tonight. The Nets, currently 26-34, are in the midst of their own playoff push. Unfortunately, Brooklyn’s hopes were dealt a major blow with the recent news that Kyrie Irving is out the rest of the year due to shoulder surgery. Since that news, the Nets are 1-5. Nevertheless, this roster still has many of the same talents that made them a surprise playoff contender over the past few seasons. This will likely be a close game for all four quarters, a growing trend in recent years when Memphis faces Brooklyn.
With the Brooklyn defense struggling, the Grizzlies may be able to have good stretches of offense throughout the game. However, defensively, the Grizzlies must minimize a few potential weaknesses that otherwise could cost them a win.
Here a few key takeaways for tonight’s game.
Box Out Bonanza
Both Brooklyn and Memphis are above average when it comes to rebounding, as the Nets and Grizzlies are second and seventh in total rebounds per game this season. However, with Clarke and Jackson Jr. out, the Grizzlies will be at a size disadvantage. Brooklyn is eighth in offensive rebounds per game this season. When the Nets grab at least 10 offensive rebounds and at least 50 total rebounds this season, they are 11-7. When Memphis corrals at least 40 defensive rebounds, they are 13-4.
If the Grizzlies can limit second looks and box out effectively, their chances to earn a win certainly improves. If the Nets convert several offensive rebounds into points, they can easily gain a victory tonight.
Contest Open Shooters
While Memphis certainly needs to focus on the paint, they cannot forget the perimeter. The Nets are ninth in the NBA in three pointers per game, mainly because they are fifth in three point attempts per game. Brooklyn is 25th in the league in 3PFG%, so their production is usually a byproduct of quantity than quality. For the season, Memphis has been in the bottom third of the NBA in defending shots beyond the arc.
In fact, the Nets average 12.9 threes per game, while the Grizzlies allow 12.8 threes per game. On the season, when the Grizzlies allow 13 or more threes in a game, they are 11-20. As a result, the Grizzlies wings and guards must stay disciplined and not allow open looks. With Memphis having limited three point options on offense, a good shooting night for Brooklyn will be tough to overcome.
The Grizzlies are coming off back to back games in which they have prevented their opponents from scoring 90 points. While it will be hard to prevent that from happening a third straight night, the Grizzlies can win this game if they can get stops. Boxing out, contesting shots, and creating turnovers must be the focus every defensive possession. The Grizzlies can be efficient on offense and effective on defense, they have a good chance of extending their winning streak to three.
Final Score: Memphis 119 Brooklyn 112