WHEN: 1:00 PM CT
WHERE: Visa Athletic Center at the NBA Bubble in Orlando, Florida
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Memphis: Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee-OUT), Justise Winslow (hip-OUT), Tyus Jones (knee soreness-OUT)
Toronto: Patrick McCaw (knee-OUT)
In Marc Gasol’s media availability from yesterday, he had a memorable quote that will warm the heart of anyone who has ever lived in Memphis. He said, “I was a fan of the Grizzlies from 16 to 22 so now I get to be a fan again.”
And the quote got me thinking: if you’re a fan of a sports team, don’t you naturally want them to win whenever they play a game? If my logic is in fact logical, then it only makes sense for Marc Gasol to do everything in his power to make sure that the Grizzlies earn another crucial win in their quest to make the playoffs against all odds. After all, if the Grizzlies win even one of their next three games, then it will be extremely difficult for the Portland Trail Blazers to surpass them in the standings.
Unfortunately, Marc Gasol and the rest of the Toronto Raptors are not likely to take it easy or rest anyone against the Memphis Grizzlies. Even though they are already locked in as the second seed in the East, they received a 122-100 thrashing at the hands of the Boston Celtics on Friday night. So they will have plenty of incentive to right the ship and bury the inferior Grizzlies at a time when they desperately need the opposite to happen.
If the short-handed Grizzlies are going to beat this Raptors team that is being compared to the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons, they will have to be excellent in several areas:
Even in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors have been able to become one of the league’s best teams in no small part because of their fearsome defense. They are a team of extremely high-IQ veterans that regularly put on a clinic for what defensive rotations and textbook closeouts should be, and as a result, they have the second best defensive rating in the NBA (104.7).
So how do you beat a team that excels in team defense? It’s simple: you play with consistent pace and ball-movement that will stretch their defensive rotations to the breaking point, which wouldn’t normally be an issue for a Grizzlies, a team that ranked second in team assists this year. However, the chemistry on the offensive side of the ball just simply hasn’t been as present in the bubble for the Grizzlies (which shouldn’t be a surprise due to their multitude of injuries), as they have only ranked 18th in team assists (24.4) and haven’t been able to find the same offensive rhythm.
To be sure, the Grizzlies aren’t going to be able to rely on just isolation, post-ups, and heavy pick-and-roll against a great defensive unit that includes elite individual and team defenders like OG Anunoby, Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol. They will have to move the ball side to side to find the offensive rhythm that they will need to win.
Containing Dribble Penetration
Considering the Grizzlies’ issues in defending opposing ball-handlers and perimeter shooters in the bubble, the Toronto Raptors may prove to be an especially problematic opponent. The Raptors have several guards in Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Terence Davis who have regular success in penetrating the defense and creating opportunities for open shots from the perimeter. And their success is clear: they are 5th in three-pointers made per game (13.7) and 6th in three-point percentage (37.2).
This particular strength of the Raptors has been one of the Grizzlies’ most debilitating weaknesses in the bubble. They rank 17th out of the 22 bubble teams in opponent three-point percentage (38%), and they have mainly done so because of poor individual defense of opposing ball-handlers which has led to drive-and-kick opportunities that have caused the Grizzlies significant distress.
If the Grizzlies are going to have a chance, they will have to be better at defending in isolation and in pick-and-rolls to prevent easy dribble penetration.
I would love to lie to you and say that while my head tells me that the Grizzlies don’t have a chance of winning this game, my heart tells me that they will find a way to pull it out against all odds. Well, even my heart tells me that I’d be stupid to believe that the Grizzlies will win this game.
I just don’t see it happening. If the Raptors come out and play with complacency in what amounts to a meaningless game for them, then there is definitely a chance. But after their blowout loss to the Celtics, I imagine that they want to make a statement. And they will.
Yet the Grizzlies will make things interesting. Ja Morant will post a 20 points, 10 assist outing, and De’Anthony Melton will have his best scoring outing of the bubble games (not a high bar to clear there). Jonas Valanciunas will outplay Marc Gasol in their individual match-up, and the game will be close well into the second half. But the Raptors will use their superior depth and talent to eventually pull away late in the third on their way to a double-digit victory.