WHEN: 3:00 PM CT
WHERE: The Arena - ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World in Orlando, Florida
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones (Out, Knee), Justise Winslow (Out, Hip)
SAN ANTONIO: LaMarcus Aldridge (Out, Shoulder), Trey Lyles (Out, Appendix), Bryn Forbes (Out, Quad), Marco Belinelli (Doubtful, Foot)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
SAN ANTONIO: Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl
After dropping their NBA restart opener to Portland in an overtime thriller “on the road,” the Memphis Grizzlies look to rebound in their “home opener” vs. the rival San Antonio Spurs in their second seeding game. The Grizzlies lead the season series 2-1 with the Spurs and look to revive their success from their January 11th 134-121 victory, as they look to stretch their lead in the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The Grizzlies entered the seeding contest with one of the toughest remaining schedules, and it showed Friday as the resilient Blazers fought back to win in overtime. Even with that small hiccup, the possibility of holding on to the eighth seed with no play-in game is still within reach. The Spurs beat the Kings in their opening contest. The New Orleans Pelicans, the Grizzlies’ opponent tomorrow, have dropped their first two games. Portland stole a game from the Grizzlies, but they have a gauntlet of top playoff contenders for the rest of their seeding games. Sunday’s matchup with the Spurs provides Memphis with the chance to handle business on their making a LaMarcus Aldridge-less Spurs team chase for eight even more difficult.
The opening game slipped from Memphis’s grasps here is what the fiery young squad can do to bounce back.
Know Your Personnel
Coach Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are in uncharted waters in the absence of Aldridge. The Spurs, a team known historically for their All-Star caliber big men, are now relying on a small ball lineup featuring the 6’7” DeMar DeRozan playing Power Forward, and 6’8” Rudy Gay playing a majority of his minutes at Center off the bench spelling 7 foot starting Center Jakob Poeltl. While the Spurs have taller players such as Tyler Zeller and Luka Samanic on their roster, neither has cracked the rotation, as they have relied on smaller players to get the job done.
This provides the Grizzlies an opportunity to play through their big men Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas as well as Brandon Clarke off the bench. The Spurs’ defense has been a liability for the duration of the bubble, especially when they have seen quality big men who can stretch the floor or play physical basketball — which plays right into the Grizzlies hands. Valanciunas has been a standout player since the Grizzlies returned, and with Jackson Jr. and Clarke coming off really good games, they must feed the hot hands and go to work, as all three have an opportunity to have double doubles against smaller matchups.
Control the Pace
Although the Spurs conquered the Sacramento Kings Friday night, a glaring issue was their struggles in transition. The Kings led the game in total turnovers (18-13), yet the Kings doubled the Spurs in fastbreak points (26-13). De’Aaron Fox got to the rim with little to no resistance in transition slicing in and out of the Spurs 25th ranked defense.
Per nba.com, The Grizzlies are currently seventh in the NBA in Pace at 103.25 possessions per game, fourteen spots ahead of the Kings. If the Grizzlies can play their traditional style of basketball, and get out and run with Ja Morant leading the pack, it could spell a recipe for disaster for a team struggling with both interior and transition defense. The question will be will the officials let them? Officiating has been noticeably tight in the absence of fans thus far in the bubble, slowing down fast-paced offensive teams. If the Grizzlies can avoid the foul trouble that slowed Friday’s contest and control the pace the sky’s the limit.
Even after their opening loss, the Memphis Grizzlies still control their own destiny in Orlando. The Grizzlies open as 3-point favorites over the San Antonio Spurs heading into this game. Vegas sees this as another tightly contested game in the bubble that could go either way, but there is a chance this could also get ugly. The Grizzlies are simply too big and too fast for this incarnation of the Spurs, and the loss of Marco Belinelli does not help their case, as they lose another perimeter threat.
There is no “must-win” game for Memphis, but this is a game that they can and should win due to the previously mentioned mismatches. And if they can return to their run-and-gun style of play, this will not be particularly close.
Prediction: Memphis 117, San Antonio 105